Introduction - Welcome!

Hello, and welcome to my blog. My aim is to make this an entertaining blog about the frustrations and amusing situations that arise when one works full time at a photo shop (where we sell cameras, develop pictures, and offer related services and products). While the subject matter might not sound intriguing (I’m sure you would not want to work at a store all day) do trust me in that plenty of situations arise there that are truly entertaining. When I started writing this (thoughts/reflections/observations about my job), I’d been working at a photo shop for only three weeks, and the funny and absurd stories and observations I had already collected would by themselves make for interesting reading, I promise you.

I’m not just writing to entertain the world, of course. Like any blogger, my main goal is to vent my frustrations, and to give you a glimpse of the mini-hell of doing what I do (in my case, working retail). But after hearing two people tell me that my experiences would make a great blog, and after thoroughly enjoying blogs about porn video rental stores and special-ed classrooms, I think my stories will be painful in the most entertaining way, if I manage to write them well enough.

Now, allow me to introduce myself… or, rather, not to. It should be obvious that my co-workers and especially my customers should not find out I am writing about them. Also, it would probably be alienating to you if I told you too much about myself, like my hobbies, my tastes in books and movies and TV, what I studied in school, where I’m from, and so on. Suffice to say I’m a male in my early twenties, looking for a job in the field I studied in school, but so far failing at that, and having to work retail to pay the bills. Possibly the only pertinent details are that I am a bit of a gadget freak and love digital cameras of all shapes and sizes, which is what led me to work at a photo shop. I’m sure you’ll be able to deduce other things about me as the blog progresses.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog or about myself – or, heck, if you want camera or photography advice – feel free to
email me. Also, please post comments/replies to the posts in this blog - Anyone (that means YOU) can add your comments to the blog. (Thing You Can Deduce About Me #1: I have a big ego, and think you will bother to write me, and comment on my writing).

I should also say, I’m really not a bad person, IMHO. However, dealing with impatient customers all day who do not try at all to figure things out for themselves, and having to behave according to conflicting expectations and mutually exclusive ideas of what a good salesman is, can make one kinda tired of acting nice, and here I can compensate by being extremely not-nice. Most of what you will read in this blog is cynical bitching, me making fun of customers who don’t really have any good reason to know as much about gadgets or photography or computers as I do. It will sound intolerant, disrespectful, and overly harsh. (So while this blog is not as bad as this guy's site, my blog is largely inspired by his tone and the nature of his complaints. One of my favorite quotes by him: "People are the worst!").

Please believe me when I say this is not the way I talk about (or to) people in real life. Thing is, in writing down the initial set of thoughts that led to this blog, writing down the STUPID things people said/did, turned out to be more fun that I imagined (because, of course, it made me feel smarter than everyone else), so it kinda snowballed into a major theme. I can only ask you to trust me when I say I’m a pretty nice guy. It’s just that a blog entry about how much I love my family, how awesome my girlfriend is, or how much I miss my little dog who now lives far away, would seem out of place here (but would be a better reflection of who I am most of the time). This is a distillation of all the bitchiness and apathy and irritation in me. I promise to try my hardest to make it sound entertaining.

All right. Enough with introductions. Let’s get going.

Good vs Pushy salesmen, and Things I Can't Control

When I applied to this job, I was asked what I thought the difference was between a good salesman and a pushy one. I answered that a good salesman finds out what a customer needs and works to fill those needs, while a pushy salesman tries to sell as much as possible without any regards to the customer’s needs or decision-making abilities. I was told this was a “Good answer!”. However – and I don’t know why I was surprised to find this out – I am apparently expected to be a “pushy salesman” a lot of the time.

For example, I am expected to sell about $150 worth of accessories with every digital camera. Now, with one-Gig cards costing less than a hundred bucks, most camera bags going for 10 or 20, and most cameras’ rechargeable batteries costing for $30-70 (except for rechargeable AAs, which are about $15), you can see I’d have to sell pretty much EVERYTHING in order to make that mark. We also sell membership cards and damage-protection warranties, which I guess would also help me reach that mark. But the fact is, not everyone needs $140 worth of crap with their camera. Most people today are buying their SECOND digital camera (I’m looking at my 5th, myself), so they already have a memory card and a bag. If the camera is AA powered, people will probably not want extra batteries then and there, and if it’s powered by one of those little Lithium-Ion rechargeable blocks, not every customer will decide it’s worthwhile buying an extra one for $70. Not every customer will want a damage-protection warranty, which is kinda expensive (cheaper than getting the camera fixed if it breaks, especially if it breaks multiple times, but still more than you’d like to spend). Some customers DO want it all, but most will take just one or two of these extra items. If I’m looking to fulfill my customers’ needs, how can I be expected to sell them $140 worth of crap with every camera? Given their picture-taking habits, and stuff they already own, it would make no sense for most of them to spend that much. But I am still told I should sell more add-ons. More add-ons. Gotta have those add-ons, baby. Guys, guess what, I got a FEVER, and the only PE’SCRIPTION, is MORE ADD-ONS. Yeah, I WISH Christopher Walken were my manager. Oh, wait, no, I don’t.

My performance is also monitored by what fraction of my camera sales also had damage-protection warranties, what fraction of my photo-finishing sales (developing film) had film sold along with the pictures, what fraction of my photo-finishing sales had a membership card sold along with the pictures, etc. Now, what if my customers don’t WANT film? Most of them buy film at Costco, where it’s cheaper. Many of them already have membership cards (which cost $16 but get them big savings on photo-finishing – It pays for itself if you get double-prints 3x a year or more), or have decided they don’t take enough pictures for the card to pay for itself. Why should my performance as a salesman be judged on what fraction of the population needs or doesn’t need this or that? Because rating my performance through how well I fulfill people’s needs is much harder, and because the bottom line is how much money I bring into the store, not how well I fulfill customers’ needs. Ideally, a salesman’s duty is to his customer, but in practice, it’s to his employer. So I guess it’s “Now that we see you know What a good salesman is vs What a pushy salesman is… be as pushy as you need to be to make us as much money as you can".

I make everyone aware of all the options that they could possibly want (no one buys ANYTHING without being offered a membership card and told what it gets you, and NO ONE buys a camera without having our optional damage-protection warranty explained to them), and people buy what they think they need. If they think they need very little, I remind them of the benefits, and of how easy it is for this or that to pay for itself. But if they don’t want it, they don’t want it. I’m doing my best, and just how good that ends up being (sales-wise) is determined by what people want/need, which is NOT something I can control. My manager tells me, “You should try to sell more damage protection warranties”, or, “Last week your percentage of film-per-photofinishing-order was low, you should sell more film”, and I say “Ok, I’ll try harder”, and I think “I’m already trying as hard as I can”. Of course, when I say “Ok, I’ll try harder”, I have to ACT as though I really want to try harder, as if what customers have been getting were determined not by what they need but by what I Jedi-mind-trick them into wanting. I can’t just say “I’m trying my best already, you stupid manager”, I have to sound convincing in saying “The fact few people this week needed film was actually MY fault”.

And while we’re on “things I can’t control but am told I should improve”… Our DISTRICT manager sometimes reminds us how sales are going down, the store made more money in photo-finishing on October last year than it did on October THIS year, etc… First of all, how many photo-finishing orders we do depends on how many customers walk in the door with film (or memory cards). It’s up to THEM. We’re not supposed to go knocking on doors, asking “You got any pictures you need developed/printed/enlarged/scanned?”. So what are WE supposed to do about this? Secondly, WELCOME TO THE DIGITAL AGE. Why do you think I bought a digital camera? Because taking pictures, and developing only the ones I like (if any), is MUCH CHEAPER than dropping off rolls of film (and then buying more film).

My manager, and my district manager, clearly feel like they have to put pressure on me to sell more. I wonder whether they realize I am not actually compelled by this pressure at all, and that I just ACT like I'm worried about my clearly not trying hard enough. I do my best all the time, and each week’s results are pretty much a product of chance, of who walks in the store and what they need.

Hablas Español?

Here's another "grrr, stupid customers" one: Customers who only speak Spanish. Now, I'm an immigrant myself, I had to learn English in a classroom, it took years of hard work. Why did I do it? Because if I'm going to live in a place and be a part of its society, I gotta learn the language! (Actually, to be perfectly honest, I started to learn English even before the thought had crossed my mind of living in the US. I started learning it because it is the international language, because I can meet someone from almost any country in the world and speak English with them). This may sidetrack a bit into my political views, but yeah, it makes me a little angry to see someone who lives in the US walk into a store and ask if anyone speaks a foreign language. A tourist, of course, would be a totally different thing.

Fortunately, though, my Spanish is good enough to help them out. I do it as cheerfully as I can manage, of course, cuz that's my job. I'm in a position to help them out, and to impress people at the store, and to make money, so of course I do it. Spanish is not my first language, either, but I speak it well. This was one reason I was hired. I do grudgingly admit that it makes good business sense to have a sales associate who speaks Spanish in a store, but of course that just means businesses will make it easier for immigrants to NOT learn English, if it means the businesses make more money. Sell-outs. So much for social causes and whatnot.

(Although I guess I'm selling out too, in not making my views on this topic known to my employer and to my customers. Oh well, who cares).

What's "compression"?

Many of the posts on this blog will describe painful situations with annoying customers. Others, however, will be rather philosophical musings on the nature of a retail job. Well, I guess not quite “philosophical”, but at least “thoughtful”, which can seem like “philosophical” when compared to how little thinking usually goes on regarding most things about this job. I.e., when all you do all day is tell people about cameras’ features, help them with simple digital tasks, and use the cash register, then occasionally asking “Why?” makes you seem like friggin’ Descartes.

So if the previous entry was all nice and thoughtful, I’ll have this one be one of the many upcoming “Customers Say The Stupidest Things” one.

You have no idea how many customers don’t know JPEG compression when they see it. Once a week or so you get someone who looks through their recently-printed pictures with a frown on their face, saying “digital pictures are just not as sharp as film, are they”. Of course, they’re flipping through digital pictures that looked like they were compressed down to 30k or so, with compression artifacts so big you can’t tell who’s who in the pictures. Every edge looks fuzzy and jagged, every high-contrast area loses all detail, every low-contrast area is a series of bands of colors. They honestly wonder why the pictures look like that. Apparently they don’t surf the net enough to know what a compressed, low-res picture looks like. I ask them about their compression settings, and they say something like “You mean that menu where, if you change it, you can fit more pictures in the card? Yeah, I may have changed that, but how was I supposed to know this would happen? Can you show me how to change it back? Is there any way to make the pictures sharper again?”. You mean, somehow invent information and detail that was not captured into your pictures? How’d you expect us to do THAT? Sure, I’ll reset your compression to “Fine”… “But they looked so nice on the little screen”… Yeah, that one-tenth-of-a-megapixel screen the size of a Cheez-it? You know, you can zoom into the picture on the screen to see how much detail you got, how sharp it is. Just press here to review it and press the “T” zoom button to zoom in… “Wow! I didn’t know THAT! That’s GREAT! Can you show me again, I gotta write this down…” Grrr…

Digital Pictures Are Pictures Too

The CEO of our store chain, a descendent of the founder (so his last name is the name of the store), is on a bunch of posters around the store, with short “quotes” that make customers feel that the chain is owned by a regular person who sees things the way you and I do, who wants you to have a pleasant experience while doing business with him. Like the stuff you see around a Jack In The Box, but supposedly not as fictitious. The more likely truth, of course, is that our CEO probably spends most of his time on his yacht or playing golf, and that the company wants money first and customer satisfaction second (or fifth).

Here’s an example: One sign says you get 15 free prints when you buy a digital camera (which is true), with Mr regular-joe pastel-polo-shirt-tucked-into-khakis CEO holding an SLR and saying “It’s not a picture until you hold it in your hand”.

That is such bullshit! Only 60-year-olds who ask me for help getting the memory card out of their cameras could believe in something like that. A picture is an image, it’s visual information, not necessarily an object. Sure, you could argue it’s not a “picture” when it’s a negative or a memory card, because at that point you cannot take in or appreciate the visual information of the image, but if it’s on a screen, it’s a picture! Say I show you a digital image, and later on it gets published in a book or magazine and I show you THAT. Wouldn’t you say it’s the same picture? Of course you would! Is an essay not an essay until the printer spits it out?

I’ll even go further and say it’s LESS of a picture once it’s printed, because information is lost in the printing process, and the print also decays with time. So the print starts its life as an imperfect representation of the “ideal” image (the information on the negatives or digital file), and goes downhill from there.

I know I’m being overly nitpicky about, well, how one defines “picture”, and of course you can have your own personal definition of “picture” and it’s none of my business (if you want to define “picture” as “a print”, knock yourself out). But I’m sick and tired of people saying “I need something physical”, “I like hard copies”, “I want something I can hold in my hand”. And to see our company encourage this irrational need for prints… makes good business sense, ok, but I still don’t see how having a handful of 4x6s which are too dark and have fingerprints all over them and have to be stored in huge albums or boxes and will look all purple in 10 years is better than admiring your pictures on a 14” monitor and storing thousands of them on your HD or some optical disk. It just doesn’t make sense.

Unless you’re a professional photographer. I’ll give you that. If your pictures are so sharp and so filled with small, subtle details that a computer screen can’t do it justice, then you need an 8x10 to really see what you’ve got. But then again, a 4x6 isn’t going to do that kind of picture justice either. So an 8x10 is better than a computer screen for looking at, but a computer screen is better than 4x6. In any case, it’s a picture, and the digital picture always holds more information and lasts longer, and you have more control over it. The print is a short-lived, fragile, imperfect, dirty, clumsy, and impractical representation of the digital ideal image. So if you think a picture is a print, and a file is not a picture, then you're missing out.

The Sales Rep Who Doesn't Know Her Camera

So the other day, a sales rep for a camera manufacturer comes to our store. I suppose I ought not to tell you the name of the camera manufacturer, so let’s call it “Fiji”.

So this Fiji lady comes in, tells us a bit about their new cameras (just lists features and prices, pretty much), tells us about how we can go to Fiji’s site and enter contests to be eligible for prices (and if we say she sent us, she gets stuff too), and so on. Then she tells us about a photo contest that Fiji has for their sales people, and she shows us a couple of pictures she has taken with this hot new 5-megapixel camera they just released. It’s an awesome camera, with a sharp lens, sharp CCD, super wide angle, and manual controls (and a big screen, and AA power, and other features that make it fun to use as well as a powerful camera). She took a picture of this colorful fan-type-thing she has on her garden, the type that spins around when the wind blows

She goes on for a couple minutes about how well-balanced her composition is (quite true), and how sharp the detail is (quite true – although the backdrop is a dirty, dark, and kinda ugly wooden fence, and tall messy-looking grass all over the place, all captured vividly in high resolution). I ask her why she didn’t take a picture of it spinning, since you could see it in sharp detail on the picture, but motion blur would make it a cooler picture. She says “Oh, the digital froze it. It WAS spinning. You know, how digital cameras always freeze the action”. Um, but you have a manual-exposure mode, and a shutter-speed priority mode. “Yes, you do, it’s great, this is a great camera!”. Then why didn’t you use the manual-exposure mode? “Oh, I thought I should take it in auto. But look at how still it looks… Some motion blur would have been nice, but the digital always freezes the action…”

It was pretty evident to me that this lady had NO idea about how aperture and shutter speed work, and would not know how to use the manual mode to take a well-exposed picture, much less a steady shot with motion blur. And I’m supposed to trust YOU with camera information?

To sell cameras, you have to know more than regurgitating what camera has what features. You have to know how to USE cameras, how to exploit what they offer, so you can tell people what to DO with those modes, and how to do it. That's MY opinion anyways.


PS: I think the Fuji E510 is the best camera you can buy for under $300. This is the one I’m talking about here. It’s VERY powerful. If you know how to use manual settings, you can take any picture that a pro would, with the narrow depth-of-field, macro, motion blur, panning, long-exposure, time lapse, literally anything you can imagine (well, anything that doesn’t require a lens longer than 90mm or so – and the thing does have a lens mount where you can attach telephoto lenses, so you CAN go longer too!). I’m a huge fan of this camera (which is why the Fuji rep’s use of auto mode frustrated me – she did not use the things that make this camera special and powerful). Until we ran out of them, it was the first one I recommended to most people, along with the Nikon 4100 (except for dead-beginners, whom I usually show Casios and older easier-to-use Fujis, and people with a lot of money to spend, whom I usually show Sonys, and people who want a lot of zoom, whom I show Minoltas and the bigger Fujis and maybe Canons and Panasonics. Wow, I just revealed all the secrets to being a digital-camera salesman).

The Thing I Hate The Most

Now, here’s something that REALLY gets to me. At no time do I come close to acting rude to a customer, unless THIS happens. It annoys me so much, it’s getting in the way of my enjoyment of other activities when I see it happen.

Some customers refuse to TRY anything. They ask for help before they even start. They walk into the store, wanting to get prints from their digital camera, and when I say they have to take the memory card out, they hand me the camera and say “How do you do that?” or “I don’t know how to do that”.

Why don't you look around your camera for a little door that says "Memory" or "Card" or "SD" or "XD", or that has a little memory-card-looking symbol on it, or failing THAT just open every little door until you see a card? It's what I'm gonna have to do. I don't know where your camera's card slot is any more than you do. Why are you asking me to figure it out for you? You have hands, you have eyes, you might as well try it yourself!


The card then goes into one of three kiosks that are hooked up through a network to our lab (we use the same machines top print from digital as we do to print from film). The kiosks have an EXTREMELY CLEAR “Steps to follow” procedure: “1: Place card in slot. 2:…” and then, when they’re looking at their images on the screen, there’s a “1: Touch each image to select it. 2: Press these buttons (image of button) to select how many you want. 3: Press “Edit” if you would like to zoom, crop, or alter the color, brightness, or contrast, or for special effects”. And so on. Not only is the interface very intuitive, with all your options laid out in front of you with the names you’d expect and in an order that makes sense, but there are step-by-step procedures everywhere, down to which buttons to press.

Still, customers say “I’m gonna need some help with this” as soon as they get started, or even before they first touch the screen! What’s wrong with these people? TRY IT! And THEN if you have a problem (like not being able to find a certain function, or doing something inadvertently), THEN you come talk to me. Don’t you realize a bunch of programmers were paid a lot of money to make this as intuitive, user-friendly, and fool-proof as possible? The problem with making things more fool-proof is that they just keep coming out with better fools.

Whenever someone says “Now I’m gonna need you to show me how to delete the pictures in my camera”, I make a point of showing them that, as I do it, I’m figuring it out right on the spot (which I usually am, as I’ve only had 4 digital cameras and, chances are, have never used their model). This is so they see that they could have done it themselves if they were not so… I dunno. In any case, I say “Every digital camera has this little green triangle-in-the-rectangle “Play” symbol to go into the card. Now, since I don’t see an obvious “Trashcan” button, I’ll go into the menu. Hmm, “Card Setup” looks promising. Ah-hah! “Format”! There we go! “Are you sure?”. Yes, I’m sure. And that’s it”. (I say this as if I were talking to a 4-year-old, because it's so simple to figure it out yourself, and because I think the customer deserves to feel a LITTLE bit embarassed, or at least a little mad). In other words, I pressed the buttons that were most LIKELY to work, all the time realizing I could be wrong, and then at the end the camera asks if you’re sure when you ask to do something destructive. It’s not like I had some procedure memorized. Why won’t these people just EXPERIMENT?

And the reason why I say this gets in the way of my enjoying everything else is that my other job is doing tech support at a library. (Here I go again, revealing more about myself than I would like, and thus alienating some readers. Oh well, I bet everyone reading this knows me personally anyways). Our network is very buggy, printing often does not work, and sharing/hosting/file-transfering/saving is tricky and non-intuitive at best. On top of that, we have multimedia services like movie-editing computers hooked up to VCRs and to TVs and to DVD burners and to DV tape players. Not only is it hard to keep those working properly, it’s hard to show someone how to use these complicated systems. Lots of times, people ask me “I need you to show me how to use the movie-editing software and equipment”. That’s my job. And I’m liking it less and less because it’s reminding me less and less of teaching and tutoring (which I tremendously enjoy) and more and more of stupid customers who refuse to experiment. However, it would take days or weeks of experimenting with the video equipment to learn what I could show you in 10 or 20 minutes, so it kinda pays to be taught as opposed to learning yourself (which is why I'm paid to be a Multimedia Consultant). But with a little digital camera, I think you can go through the menus and read the relevant parts of the manuals in less than “weeks”… The point is, if it will take MUCH LESS time for me to show you something than it would take for you to figure it out, then I'd be ahppy to do it, but if it's gonna take as long for me to show you as it would take for you to figure it out (because I'm figuring it out myself as I go), then it might be more considerate of you to try it yourself...

Big Scary Computers (kind of a continuation of the previous post)

And while we’re on the subject of computers and of people too dumb to use a touchscreen…

Our store currently offers print-from-home. No, not just selling printers. We have an online service where you go to a website, upload pictures, fill out an online form, enter your credit card info, and then stop by the store a couple hours later to pick up your already-paid-for pictures.

For some people, though, that is apparently too hard.

A company that makes digital-photo-organization software is working on integrating print-from-home into their software. In the same screen that would show you some folder of your pictures (you know, “My Grandson’s College Graduation” or whatever), there would be a button like “click here to have this picture printed at the photo shop”. Every now and then, one or two programmers stop by the shop to see how the latest trial-run worked. It’s always the same guys, so I’ve been asking them about this project. I ask them why the current method is not good enough, and they say “Oh, you know, this is for people who are not necessarily that computer savvy”.

Since when is knowing how to use WINDOWS being computer-savvy? Who needs a PROGRAM just to ORGANIZE their friggin’ digital pictures when Windows (or Mac OS-whatever) allows you to make folders, name them, name the files in them, structure the folders and files however you want, and view all folders and files in big friendly thumbnails?

It’s like PictBrige, EasyShare, one-button-downloading… All these technologies just to move your files around. Good lord, since when is knowing how to use Windows so friggin’ hard? Oh, look, I can create a folder, name it, rename the files in it, and put some of them on a disk to take to the photo shop! (By dragging them to the CD Drive icon and clicking on “Record files to CD”). I can even delete the pictures on my camera’s memory! I’m so computer savvy! Why is so much thought put into allowing people to remain unfamiliar with drag-and-drop interfaces? (Oh, wait, it must be because people are stupid. I should read my own blog).

But seriously, it’s because people are willing to pay a little more to have to learn/do a little less. The higher price of photo prints that comes from having my store pay for this foolproof software is gladly accepted by all these old people whose worst nightmare is learning how to burn a data CD. Maybe there should be a tech-savvy price and a tech-fearing price, so that if you did things the HARD way (sending your pictures to us over the internet using – gasp – Windows and your email program, or burning your own CD instead of having us do it for you), you get a discount so that the tech-fearing old people have to pay extra for us to keep developing foolproof software that is always “too complicated” anyways. Politically, I strongly believe that everyone should pay for a country’s education and health care, so I’m a fan of high taxes and European-style near-socialism. But when it comes to people’s stupidity, I strongly believe you and I should not have to pay extra for it. In the ideal world, hospitals would be free, unless you gave yourself lung cancer from smoking and diabetes from eating McDonald’s. If that is fair, then why should we all pay for some people’s refusal to learn how to use a mouse?

And in a slight change of subject: Back to the touchscreen system in our store. When you first touch the screen, it changes to show you three big "buttons", each about 1/3 of the screen: One shows an arrow pointing from a CD and a bunch of memory cards to a bunch of prints, and under it is written "Print pictures from digital". On the next button there's just a huge CD, and it says "Save digital pictures to CD" under it. And on the last, it shows greeting cards and calendars, and under it "Make greeting cards and calendars" or something.

You would not believe how many of the people who bring their pictured in on CD touch the "Save digital pictures to CD" button. Some of them ask me for help, and touch it as I approach. Other come ask me for help asking why there are no options related to printing. They just see the big CD and press the button. You may say that's just bad interface design. I say it's bad reading skills, because it SAYS RIGHT THERE... Ah, never mind. I keep expecting people to THINK, to READ instructions... Silly me.

400mm, f 2.8, I.S. ... What does that mean again?

In the time I've worked at the store (two months now), we've had two customers who spent a ridiculous amount of money on SLRs and lenses and so on who clearly did not know how to evaluate or use what they were buying. Personally, I think you should learn a little bit about photography before you spend $1500 on equipment, so that you know what you're getting. But hey, I wasn't gonna tell THEM that.

First, about a month ago, this guy comes in, wants to get a nice camera to take pictures of his kids' soccer games. All right. You probably want a lot of zoom, right? Let's look at the Fuji S5100, the Panasonics... "What's this one?". Ah, I see you're interested in the Nikon 8700, the most expensive fixed-lens (non-SLR) camera in the store. "Well, it seems to have the most megapixels, and a pretty big lens". Yes, that's right, did you figure that out by yourself? (You can tell I love sounding bitter when I write about my job). Anyways, I show it to him for a while, and then he asks why the D70 and D100 are more expensive (those are Nikon's entry-level SLRs, by the way). "Why are they better? What do you get with them that you don't get with the 8700?". All very important questions.

So I pretty much define for him what an SLR is: You can change the lenses in the front, so you can get a fish-eye lens or a huge telescope-like zoom lens or anything in between, and they're all sharper than any fixed-lens-camera lens. You can use filters to bring out detail or for special effects. You get an optical through-the-lens viewfinder. Response time is very fast. The focusing system is very smart. And, among other neat features, the camera will tell you how you exposed incorrectly, if you did, and show it to you when you review the picture in the little screen. SLRs have fast burst modes (lots of pix one right after the other). Flash shoe above the camera. Remote control. Focus and Exposure bracketing.

"All right, that sounds great! Let me take a look at that!"

This is the D70. Comes with an 18-70 lens...

"What does that mean?"

So I explain to him what the focal lengths and aperture ranges mean on a lens.

He walks to the door, takes pictures of cars on the street. Reviews the pictures, and some glare on some cars make for big white blobs on the image. "What happened? How do I fix it?" You overexposed... See, the camera is flashing those areas, showing you they're just white. You fix it by pointing the center of the viewfinder at the brightest areas when on auto mode, or by making the shutter faster. "How do I do that?". So I give him a quick lesson on shutter speed. He takes more pictures of the car, better exposed. "OK, this is great! I'll take it!". So, someone who didn't know about shutter speed, aperture, focus lengths, SLRs, etc etc, just half an hour ago, is now making the decision to spend $1500 on a camera. Um, ok. I'll go back there and get you one.

The other time that happened, about a week ago, a guy came in wanting to buy a nice camera with tons of zoom so he could take pictures of his friends surfing. My manager handled this one, so I didn't get all the details. All I really know is that I caught him saying to her "So if it's darker, you shoot slower... Ah...", and not much later he was walking out with an SLR, tripod, bags, some accessories, and a 500mm lens. Doesn't it just seem wrong that someone who says "So if it's darker, you shoot slower..." spends $1500 on equipment he probably doesn't appreciate or know how to use well? I mean, he got some great stuff, and he'll be taking great shots with it (probably), and we did make a lot of money off him, but still...

Suckers With Money

A woman comes in who knows next-to-nothing about cameras, wants to get a digital, makes some comments leading me to conclude she has a generous budget. I show her five cameras that are easy to use and take good pictures, and are attractive to someone who doesn’t know much about cameras and has money to spend: compact cameras, big screen, impressive-sounding number of megapixels, etc. In other words, cameras that are kinda-expensive-to-very-expensive.

She does not seem to mind, as this is all in clear view of many cheaper cameras with their prices brightly advertised (i.e. she never says “Why exactly are these $400 cameras better than those $200 cameras?”). We settle on the Casio EX-Z55. She leaves the store apparently satisfied.

I feel great about my selling skills for a couple hours - a feeling that can be summarized by the thought: “Hah! Sucker! I can’t believe I convinced you that you need a pocket-sized 5MP camera!”

(Nah, that's not true. No convincing was required, as much as I would like to think I am that persuasive. I just showed her a couple cameras, told her why they were nice, and she chose one. The only thing I did that was at all "skillful" was starting with the top-of-the-line cameras, and she apparently did not have a problem with paying that much for a camera so we never even talked about cheaper ones. Besides, I take too much pride in being an "expert" to willingly deceive customers into buying something they don't need. Most of the time, anyways. Also, my primary duty as a salesman is first to my employer, and second to the customer. In other words, I "sold out", I sound like an expert so that people end up being persuaded to buy something nicer than they thought they were about to. It's not often that this suceeds so well, though, Most people come in looking for a camera at a certain price range, I show them cameras on the upper end (and just above the upper end) of the price range, emphasizing how super nice the more expensive ones are. With THIS customer, though, I showed her the nicest ones I had, and that was ALL. Too easy).

In any case...

...not much time later, the woman comes back. She says she consulted with her husband, and she probably only needs a 3MP camera. Whoa, looks like we have a real independent- and critical-thinking individual on our hands all of a sudden, I think to myself sarcastically. So the obvious thing to do is to go down to the 3MP equivalent of that camera, the EX-Z30, and she’s about to get it...

...when her husband calls her cell phone. She's like “Yes, we looked at a bunch of different ones... No, I’m not sure why I want to get it... Here, talk to him”, and she gives me the phone. Um, hello? He asks: “Is this the best camera in that price range? If you were to get one, which one would you get?”. I’d be between that and the Nikon 3200, depending on whether my priorities were size + cool factor + big screen, or just performance and reliability and price. The Nikon does take better pictures. “But the Nikon’s so BIG”, she complains. “Well, let me see it… I suppose I could take it… lemme talk to him…" She takes the phone. "Honey.. Ok… Uh-huh… Ok, we’re taking the Nikon”.

I remind her that getting a photo printer now would be $50 cheaper than later, and she IS getting more than half her money back… so she takes a printer, pretty much impulse-buys it. See ya later!

Selling to people like this is like shooting fish in a barrel, if only it weren’t for their husbands or children (or, you know, their more-tech-savvy friends or relatives who point out to them that, if you look around, it's easy to find good deals on gadgets that do ALMOST everything the super-nice gadget does, but for half the price).

This makes me worry about what the salesmen at electronics stores must convince my mother that she “needs”… When I go shopping with her, she is so lost, yet so willing to spend a ton of money…

From "What's Megapixels?" to "You got a P150? I'll take it"

The last couple of posts got me thinking about something that I think about every time I help someone pick a camera. And that is; How much research should a customer do before stepping into a store and buying a camera?

Once I was showing someone a bunch of digital cameras. She was going "The one looks nice, let me see it... Nah, I don't like it that much, it's kinda awkward to hold... How 'bout that one?" Oh, very nice. This is a Canon S1-IS, it's got 10x optical zoom, image-stabilized, three MegaPixels... and she says - and I swear I'm not making this up - "What's MegaPixels?".

That shows one end of the spectrum, where a customer approaches me not knowing ANYTHING about digital cameras. Of course, that means I get to "set the stage" for them, make some generalizations about manufacturers, explain all sorts of things that they will remember when they read up on cameras (like what "MegaPixels" means, why "digital zoom" is BS, different features, the market in general). Which is kinda neat, but if there is a long line of impatient customers waiting for me to be done with my little lecture (I am often the only salesman behind the counter), then I can't really have a nice leisurely chat about digital cameras, especially when I know it will not end in a sale today. (It does often end in a sale a week later, though, which is kinda rewarding, as is hearing "I thought I'd ask you all these things because you guys come highly recommended").

One of our mottos is "Our Expertise is Free". But please, do share... especially if there's a long line behind you...

The other extreme of the "How much research should a customer do?" spectrum is the guy who walks in and says "You guys got any Sony P150s in? I'll take one". Someone who has read up enough online about why this or that camera has the best features for the price and for the customer's taste should know that it's cheaper to order online... But sure, I'd love to sell you one. Makes my job easier, if less interesting. A more efficient use of everyone's time.

But the question is: Should a customer go to Consumer Report or Steve's Digicams or DP Review, do product comparison tables, read up on features, and choose a camera, all at home? Or should a customer just go to the store and ask the salesman? You might say that going to the store is a good idea to get a basic notion of what's out there and of what different features are (like MegaPixels). However, very straightforward glossaries exist online that explain these things.

I say, ideally you'd do all the research online and narrow it down to a few cameras, and then go to the camera store to pick them up and see how they feel so you can choose one after having played briefly with all of your finalists. I do realize that this makes the salesman relatively obsolete, reduced to the role of fetching cameras out of the glass case and operating the cash register at the end of the purchase. In other words, our "free expertise" is no longer required. I think that's the way a customer should do it. You're gonna trust a SALESMAN to tell you which camera to buy from him? Our expertise is free because we recommend the things that we profit from the most... Nah, not all the time, but sometimes.

It's like education. In a way, a teacher should not be necessary, and a student should be able to do all their learning from books and from observation, given they are already motivated to learn. Is that possible? Well, is it possible all shopping will be done online by comparing features of tables, that humans will be removed from selling altogether? Sounds good to me, but extremely unlikely.

Sometimes - heck, most of the time - at work I feel like a robot, working the cash register, taking in orders for developing film, cleaning the glass counters, organizing the shelves, going to the back to get that guy's P150. I'm just a machine. The only time I feel like more than that is when I'm telling someone about cameras, something that only I could say (out of all the people in the store) because I've done a ton of research about cameras, read SO MANY reviews and comparisons, used so many of them myself. I do feel kinda like an expert. But I should not be your ONLY source of information. Cuz then, who knows, you might go home to find out your husband doesn't think you need a 5-MegaPixel camera, and THEN where does that put us?

"I want a Nikon 5200". "No, you want a Sony P100". Huh?

So a couple days ago I did something I am told all the time I am not to do. Something that makes a sale much less likely. I don't know why I did it, and I know it was by very low odds that it worked out in the end.

A customer comes in and says she wants to get a compact-ish (i.e. small but not super-tiny) digital camera in the 4-5 MegaPixel range. She has narrowed it down to between the Nikon 5200 and the Canon SD410, both of which are about 400 bucks.

I tell her that there is no reason why anyone should buy an SD-series Canon Digital Elph, which I think is true. For the money, you could get a Nikon that takes sharper pictures (one megapixel higher, and for the same price, as a Digital Elph), or for the same image quality you could get a Nikon that is $100 dollars cheaper and has other advantages (powered by AA batteries rather than proprietary Li-Ion, more ergonomic, etc - Canon Elphs are shaped like little bricks). For example, take the two cameras she was comparing: The Canon had 1 megapixel less and was the same price as the Nikon. Easy choice.

Then she said that it was very important to her that the camera be compact, and that image quality also ranked high - the main reason she was leaning towards the Nikon.

Then, here's where I do something crazy, a wild gamble: I say that she can get a Sony P100 for $350 (that's $50 cheaper than the other ones), it's smaller, has a better movie mode, better interface, faster performance, FIVE megapixels, etc. The customer had it narrowed down to one item, she was gonna buy it, but I had to throw another one in there and "muddy the waters" as she herself put it. Why?

I'll even go farther and say that the Nikon would be the more profitable sale for the store AND FOR ME, as I get more comission on Nikon products because Nikon rewards stores and salespeople who sell their cameras with, well, a few extra dollars. So why did I have to show the woman a Sony? Because it was closer to what she wanted, because I knew she would see no advantage in the Nikon, given what she wanted. Maybe I was feeling guilty about selling that rich woman that Casio. Maybe I wanted this customer to tell her friends "This guy at this store stopped me from buying a camera so that I could make a better decision". Maybe I wanted to take pride in working for people rather than for the store. Maybe it was just because my manager wasn't there and I decided to try something crazy. I dunno. It went against the training which we receive at the store, which says 1) don't show them more than one camera, so that they trust you that this one is best, and 2) once they're close to picking one camera, leaning towards it, praise it to no end and make the other ones sound inferior. This maximizes sales, but does not quite maximize the customer's satisfaction with their camera.

I take way too much pride in my work.

When The Cat Is Away...

In the previous post, I hinted at something that is SO true... When the manager is not at the store, everyone works a lot less. We don't quite pounce on customers so readily, we let the paperwork fall behind... All these little chores like flattening and recycling boxes, taking out the trash, dusting, windexing the glass displays and the door, straightening and reorganizing the shelves, vacuuming... it all gets left till "later". Every employee rejoices in seeing the vacant hole on her schedule, too. I even bring a book!

We're supposed to read through tons of thick manuals over the first three months of working at the store, as part of our training. Of course, a couple WEEKS into the job, you're familiar enough with everything to not need to do the reading, but you kinda have to do it anyways, as there is a long checklist (PAGES long) where you have to check for each CHAPTER you read. So, as you can imagine, my manager does not like it when I bring a novel to work and read it during dull periods of time. She'll remind me that if I want to read, there is plenty of other stuff I ought to be reading. And she'll be right, too. But if she's not there...

I should say, though, that my manager is one of the nicest and most reasonable people I have ever met. She's awesome, and one could not really ask for a better boss. But still, she IS the boss.

Why I'd Hate To Be Manager

A bit more on the role of the manager, as I see it. (Of course, there is more to it than what I see, but what I see is interesting enough for now).

As I see it, the manager is in a really awkward position, if they want to be a good, effective manager. To be effective, they have to get us to WANT to do the right things, not just to do the right things because the company (aka "corporate", the faceless office on the other side of the continent) wants us to. So she has to get us motivated. To really do that, she has to be one of us, she has to seem to empathise with us, to know how we think and what we want, so that we in turn share her concerns about our performance.

What makes this awkward is that it's hard to correlate what we are required/desired to do better, with the results corporate expects. For example, corporate wants us to sell more damage-protection warranties and more add-ons with the cameras we sell. Corporate says our photo-finishing numbers are down. Corporate says one of the reasons we are doing just a tad less business than we were on the same month last year is that we are not following dress code that strictly. However, any reasonable person should see that the number of people who come in the door during the month to drop off film is subject to statistical distributions, NOT to whether I have my shirt tucked in or not. So, at the same time that the manager has to be "cool" and sometimes say "Yeah, it's kinda silly that we have to do [blah], but we kinda have to", they also have to sometimes say "No, it's actually really important that we work harder so that our business does better", even if there's not much we can do.

(For example, the layout of our store is PRECISELY determined by little maps, charts, and pictures. This is to create some consistency in the chain. It's not really important in any way except for the fact "corporate" cares about it. THAT, out manager admits. She is on our side in pointing out some of the sillier things they expect us to do. But sometimes she BECOMES "they", and tells us that "You know, it's really important that you try to sell more warranties with the cameras", in a way that somehow makes "I try my best every time, and say all there is to say to every customer" sound like it would not satisfy her. The worst part is that I sold a warranty with almost EVERY camera in my first 2 or 3 weeks at the store, and now I'm down to one in 2, or one in 3. She says "Whatever you were saying before, that was working! Do THAT! What were you saying that was different?", and I answer, honestly but with less confidence than I actually feel on this, "I dunno... I really think I'm saying the same things...")

But really... Our manager can’t say “yeah, you gotta do this, even though it’s stupid”, she has to actually convince us we should do it, put it in a way in which the stupid-ness of it is not obvious, in such a way that the request sounds reasonable. So she ends up explaining the importance of this or that with a kind of logic that sounds very thin, like someone stupid trying to explain what someone much smarter explained to THEM but they forget exactly how the reasoning goes. So all it accomplishes is us thinking “You don’t REALLY believe in that, do you?”. But she HAS to do it, independently of whether or not it sounds reasonable. Maybe it’s the kind of thing that does motivate people with lower IQs, or who take less pride in what it means to be a salesman and an expert (rather than the fingers of a corporation).

Clearly, the less you think about the dynamics of retail, the happier an employee you’ll be… except when you feel bad for not selling enough extras, at which point you could realize that you did what was best for each customer.

Which way is better: Selling for the customers (which requires figuring out what is for them, and being motivated by helping people and giving them a good experience, and not worrying about what corporate says you “should” be selling – high-profit stuff like warranties), or selling for the company (which requires selling as much as possible, especially the stuff highlighted by corporate, and being motivated by making money and hitting those parameters, some of which are half luck anyways)? Are they mutually exclusive? Can you be motivated by the desire to please corporate AND the customer? Aren’t those two different attitudes?

Well, what about our manager, who is loved by customers AND by corporate? Maybe she is nice enough, informative enough, funny enough, etc, so that customers don’t notice when she sells them stuff they don’t need, so THEY’re happy, and corporate is happy. Now THAT’s being a salesman, not the Platonic ideal of a salesman who helps each customer find what they need, but the best, optimal, most effective salesman given the different and often opposing pressures of modern retail. I’d still rather not “sell out”, and help each customer find what he needs. (Says the guy who sold a poor (rich) woman a much nicer camera than she needed). I would probably not be an effective manager, because I would feel I am insulting my sales associates when I say “Our photo-finishing numbers are down when compared to the same month last year, and that’s BAD, but we’ll bring our numbers up! And sell more warranties, you know you can do it!"

"You can do it!"

Building off my last thought on the previous post...

Every week's newsletter, and so much of the training stuff I'm supposed to read, talks about making goals for yourself, selling more, being a better sales associate, selling more add-ons with cameras, selling more damage-protection warranties with cameras... And it's all said in "Self-improvement" language: setting goals, focusing on your weak areas, all that BS. Dude, we're just selling cameras! Most importantly, what we really do is provide information (filtered, selected information, all right) to the customer, and then cross our fingers hoping they will choose to buy. We can't be PERSUASIVE - we can just point out our low-price guarantee, and our easy refund policy, and all the free stuff and discounts that you get with this or with that, in what common situations this or that pays for itself, what this or that can do for you. That's not that hard to do, especially as it's the same list of stuff every time. The newsletters say things like "make goals for yourself about improving on your weakest areas, be that selling damage-protection warranties, selling membership club cards with photo-finishing, or demonstrating/presenting products to customers". "Keep those goals attainable but challenging". Or articles by sales associates who say "I worked hard until every customer who gets a camera also walks out with a damage-protection warranty". How the heck do you do THAT? Sneak it into the transaction and hope they don't look at the receipt?

All we can do is give information. To hope, or rather, to EXPECT, that the customer decides to buy, does not make a lot of sense. I sure as heck will not feel bad, or less secure about my selling abilities, if I am unsuccessful at selling for a while, because, statistically, there will be streaks of people who will end up deciding not to buy. With all the "You can do it!" BS must come a "Oh no, I failed, I must suck" disappointment from having invested emotional energy into "improving" something you have no control over, and then failing, which you sometimes will. No, whether or not I sell is NOT in my power. But of course, corporate would hate it if any of us ever figured that out...

Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You Might Remember Me From...

Watched a sales-training video at work today. (Did some real work too, like cleaning, dealing with a furious customer, selling a Sony T1... Had to work for the sale too, show off all the features - DANG that's a nice camera. I could talk about it for an hour. Oh, wait, I just did).

The video was as bad as you'd imagine. Narrated by a news-team-like couple with segments in between, of actors pretending to work at a camera store. Or maybe they were real employees, given how I've seen better acting - and better camerawork - in the video projects my high-school class groups put together. The writing is brilliant, too: The salesman does a few small wrong things and the customers walk away furious, or don't buy anything. The salesman does a few small things right, and suddenly the customer is cheerful, talking about their lives, buying everything in sight, and thrilled at everything the salesman says. Oh brother...

The tape did include some nice points about how to sell. Most of these are things that most confident and respectful people should have no trouble with, like how to greet customers, how to present a product, how important it is to be informed, how you ought to treat your customers like people, with respect (i.e. not hover over them, but not ignore them). Duh.

A few of the points I disagreed with strongly enough to post them here.

One is that a salesman ought to start a conversation with a customer, using the customer's pictures, shopping bags, clothes, personal items, or other such things as clues to what to talk about. "Customers feel more willing to make buying decisions when they are in a relaxed environment, so make them feel at ease, be friendly, use their name if you know it, ask for it to begin with". Now, I don't know about you, but I HATE salespeople who ask personal questions, who try to pretend to be my best friend...

"Wow, so I see by your pictures/shirt/cap that you just spent a weekend at Eagle River. I used to go there a lot". "Um, yeah, it's nice, isn't it?".

Who, other than 60-year-old ladies who are oh-so-glad for any human interaction, would ever say anything like "Oh yes, it was WONDERFUL! The waterfalls, the pretty trails, the yellow-tailed spotted northwestern wild woodpeckers... did you manage to spot any while you were there?". I mean, other than for his trying to sell you stuff, the fact is that the salesman DOESN'T CARE, and trying to PRETEND that he cares only makes things more awkward. I try not to ramble too much when I talk (I get it out of my system by writing, as you can tell), even to friends and relatives, so if someone I barely know asks "So how was [event advertised on my shirt]?", all I CAN do is awkwardly say "Um, it was cool". What possible purpose could be served by me giving him details about something he doesn't care about?

(Unless he DOES actually care about it. I do have a couple very strong interests, which consume all of my free time outside of work - one of them is a very specific, small niche/field of photography, and others are more normal hobbies. If I see a customer shares these interests, I'll bring it up. The older customers do love it, and the younger ones are pleasantly surprised that they can talk to me like a real human being for a minute or two. But most people do NOT share these interests, and I'm sure as hell not going to pretend I like baseball just for the sake of trying to get a customer to feel more comfortable. I don't think I could pull it off, either).

The other point I strongly disagree with is: "It's bad to compare products". "Don't fall into the fatal Comparison Trap!!!". Show the customer one thing at a time, and just praise THAT. This makes it more likely they will buy something, and prevents the customer from thinking the store carries inferior products. That is BS. Different cameras have different features and cost different prices, and so offer different cost-benefit ratios. The super-nice ones are kinda overpriced, and the super-cheap ones take crappy pictures, with a full spectrum in between, and then you have your pocket cameras vs your big-lens ones... Just because I talk about two cameras at a time doesn't mean one is better, it just means I understand the customer can have priorities that I don't fully understand, or that THEY don't fully understand until they see a camera and fall in love with it. I do want them to get the camera that is right for THEM, because, you know, that's what I know how to do, because I know a lot about a lot of cameras, but I still don't think I can make a choice for someone else.

(I'll give you a perfect example: A customer came in one day and said they wanted a not-too-large digital camera, one that did not look too fancy (as it would be used in less-than-affluent neighbourhoods for some very necessary social work). She wanted the best camera she could get fitting that description for about $200-300. I thought about it for a second, and pulled out the Nikon 3200 ($200), the Fuji E510 ($300), and the Casio EX-Z30 ($250). The Casio is a very small 3-MegaPixel camera with a big screen, but not too sharp a lens. So it's tiny, pretty cheap, and very stylish. The Fuji is a 5MP camera, powered by AAs, and with ALL KINDS of amazing features, like manual control of everything, so that someone who likes photography can use it to take amazing pictures. But it doesn't look all fancy. The Nikon is also 3MP, no manual controls or other exciting features (well, lots of scene modes, and the always-desireable AA batteries for power), definitely the least fancy of the three. So the choice is between something cheap that takes good pictures, something tiny and cool that takes "all-right" pictures, and something a little more expensive and a little bigger that takes awesome pictures. All those are pretty similar cameras - similar price, at least, and roughly similar size. Each is the best deal for cameras with those respective attributes. How am I supposed to know how the customer will prioritize size, cost, and picture quality + manual control? What it comes down to is this: To whom is my duty greater? To the store or to the customers? "To the store" would means "make sure people BUY stuff, whatever it is, especially if it's expensive cameras with damage-protection warranties and lots of add-ons", and "To the customer" would mean "make sure people make decisions that are as informed and thoughtfully-made as possible". I know "To the store" is the right answer, but I still feel compelled to be as nice and honest to the customers as I can. And yes, I felt that way BEFORE selling that overly-expensive Casio to that rich lady).

And then, a couple things on the video were just really funny. Like when the news-host-wannabe narrator says "An ordinary salesman might make that mistake, but not you. You're a professional!". You mean other salespeople work for free, just for the fun of it? Whew, I'm so glad my boss does not realize that! (My official job title, by the way, is "Professional Sales Associate", which is where that comes from).

The other funny thing is when they in the video were saying that if you offer a customer a product (by which I mean: "So, would you like to buy one?") and they say no, then "don't worry, the sale is not over!". That makes it sound like the sale is a battle between salesman and customer, a duel, where we win if we sell something and they win if they don't buy anything. Although this model of retail is accurate, it's funny to think that corporate would make a video with a line that even admits the remote possibility of this model being useful, especially since every OTHER message they send us is about how important customers are and how we are to love them so much and treat them so nice and get them to like our store.

We got a new guy in the store today, a new "Professional Sales Associate". So our manager thought it might be a good idea for us to watch the video (she had been putting it off for me, because despite it being a required part of that training checklist I mentioned in the other post, I seem to be selling very well, and have been out-doing HER on more and more days). Right after we watched the video, wouldn't you know it, I had to talk to a customer over a long time about a camera (the T1 I mentioned at the beginning of the post), demonstrate it, talk about its features... In short, I pretty much reproduced a successful sale from the video, all the way to selling tons of extras, a damage-protection warranty, AND a membership card. A textbook sale if there ever was one. I later said to the new Associate: So, just like the video, huh? And he was like, "No, much more realistic. You didn't spend half an hour talking with him about his kids' dance classes and soccer games and about the baseball game last night". Good, at least it's not just me who thinks that salespeople ought not to try to live up to this chatty, over-friendly standard...

Acting Cheerful - Why? How?

People in retail are expected to be cheerful. What’s there to be cheerful about? Oh, I love doing menial things anyone could do, standing on my feet all day, hearing you bitch about how your aunt’s left ear was cropped out of the picture, picking things from the shelf which you could have found yourself, and ringing them up in a machine-like manner. Robots could do this. Whoop-dee-flippin-doo, let me have the honor and pleasure of ringing that up for you!

Sure, if I were in such a precarious position in my life, financially and educationally, that I felt VERY grateful to have any job at ALL, then I guess I could be cheerful. But even then, the realities of how boring and meaningless my current job is, are such that I do not feel like I have to be cheerful.

But, of course, I still act cheerful, because, you know, I’m a nice person. I do aspire to some Buddhist ideals, the key one being ignoring suffering by abandoning desire (This job’s not so bad! I don’t NEED a better job, so why worry about it?), which leads one to potentially be cheerful despite circumstances (The Dalai Lama, upon being asked why he smiled all the time despite all the horrors of the world, famously answered “Do you have a better alternative?”). However, I fall short of this ideal, so at work all I can do is ACT cheerful, as I cannot BE cheerful while watching my expensive education going to waste.

Stress Is Inherent, UNAVOIDABLE

In retail, where any smart store hires fewer employees than would be needed for customers to not have to wait to be helped (i.e. In retail, where people HAVE to be made to wait as there are often more people than sales associates), the salesman must be (or at least look) stressed out in order for it to look like he's doing his job properly.

If I'm taking in someone's film order and there are people waiting, I HAVE to do it as fast as possible, even sacrificing being very friendly. If I'm showing someone cameras, I have to do it in an abbreviated way, and tell the other customers (during pauses that are hard to find or engineer) "I'll be with you in just a second" (which, to the person I'm talking to, will hopefully translate into "I'll be with you as soon as this customer here stops wasting my time"). If the phone rings and I'm with a customer, then I say so, but if it's an important call that I HAVE to take, then speaking calmly will offend the waiting customer.

In short, acting calmly while someone is waiting for you to help them is, well, practically rude. So, if there are more people than sales associates in the store at any one time (which is often), we all have to at the very least act stressed out, and talk and move fast, for the sake of those waiting.

We do have to. Trust me. I've had a couple customers wait until their patience ran out, and I suspect that on those cases, their patience ran out extra fast because they felt we were not hurrying and were doing things at too leisurely a rate.

Sometimes I wish I COULD be calm all the time, making sure I do things well and making sure I talk to people slowly and curteously so that they know they are important, rather than just someone taking up everyone's time. That's the way I act in real life. But in the store, it's just impossible, unless I want to really piss off the people who are waiting. How sad.

Commander Data would be very disliked if he worked retail. I can see someone getting all impatient, and him going, with all the calm in the world, "Forgive me, Ma'am, but I am currently occupied in helping this customer, and I am afraid you must await your turn if you seek my assistance".

I wish we had one of those take-a-number things, or (on really busy days) those restaurant pager thingies that buzz when it's your turn. Or at least a QUEUE, you know, a zig-zaggy line defined by ropes or something! Some camera stores DO have those. But not ours, sadly.

(For American readers: That's pronounced KYOO, by the way, not KWEE-wee or KYOO-wee).

Aww, Aren't Little Kids Cute? NO!!!

Well, I do think little kids are cute. During walks with my girlfriend, or walking around my town's downtown area or in the nearby parks and trails, it's so cool to see little kids interacting with their families and friends, saying cute and often insightful things, just playing. It makes the world seem like a happier place. And I already think the world is pretty happy, despite what this blog may suggest. (Remember, this is where I dump all the bad stuff, so I can have pleasant dreams, and smile as I walk down the street or drive around listening to music, so these thoughts of this job don't stay rattling around in my head).

Little kids in the store, though, are such a pain. We do get the occasional well-behaved kid, but for most of them, the time mom takes to drop off a roll of film or (especially) to ask me about digital cameras FAR excedes their attention span. Babies crawl all over the place (like behind the counter), and pick up stacks of film and batteries from the lower racks and throw them all over the place in glee. Young sisters play tag around the display stands, knocking over stuff, breaking glass frames, all while screeching merrily. While waiting for some passport pictures to come out of the printer, a 6-year-old played with the printer tray so much he broke it into 3 pieces, so passport pictures were being dumped onto the floor for two weeks until we got a new tray. One little boy, while his mom talked to us about her developed pictures for the ridiculously long duration of 5-7 minutes or so, took a bunch of big boxes off the wall and made a wall (no, a CASTLE) with them, putting our telescopes around it like cannons. When the family left, my manager came to me with a smile and said "I have a gift for you..." Ooh, what? (I thought she was at least semi-serious). "You get to clean that up!" That what? Oh...

One friend of mine (or, rather, one guy who sadly hangs out with a lot of my friends) tries very hard to be cool, acts like a clown, is an asshole a lot of the time, makes fun of people (and all kinds of comments) in inappropriate ways at inappropriate times... One of my friends nicknamed him "Mr Unfit For Social Interaction". That's the best phrase to describe these wild, animalistic little kids.

Until my kids have grown up enough to know how they ought to behave in public, I think I'll keep them locked in the cupboard under the stairs.

What worries me is that I know how much of a lie that is, and that I have it coming big-time as I was far from a little angel when I was a kid, throwing tantrums in public on a regular basis.

I guess being a parent is even harder than being a camera salesman, huh?

"I'm Gonna Miss My Train!"

A lot of times, we get customers come in just as we're about to close. It's kind of annoying, but it's all right. God knows how many times I managed to make it to a store or restaurant just before they closed, and how glad I was to not be turned away. I mean, what are they gonna say, "We close in 5 minutes, so please leave"? We stop letting people IN the store at closing time. Of course, we'd prefer to be able to start cleaning up and closing up at closing time, rather than spending 15 minutes telling someone about a camera, but if that's the way it goes, oh well.

Tonight, we actually had THREE people in the store as we closed, and it was just me and the new guy out on the sales floor, so two people had to wait for me to help them... One just wanted to know what's out there as far as compact cameras go, so he was inconsiderate enough to require my attention (for no good, constructive, purchasing-related reason) AFTER closing time AND while other people waited. The second guy actually wanted to buy a camcorder, so I treated him super nice and actually felt bad that he was made to wait by the first guy.

And then the third person was a woman, who was like "Could we hurry this up please, I have to catch my train in like 5 minutes". Now THAT's not cool. That's REALLY not cool. Why do you assume you can come in at closing time and be helped right away? Sometimes, you gotta wait, especially at that time when everyone is trying to fit in a few last batch of useful errands (or just shopping, or researching cameras) for the day (we do usually get a lot of people in in the last half hour).

In fact, why does anyone EXPECT prompt service at all? Sometimes you have to wait a while. You're free to leave at any time if it looks like your time constraints are not compatible with how quickly (or not quickly) we are able to help you. That's a decision YOU have to make. No point trying to get everyone else to feel bad. We'll all just feel mad at how unreasonable and spoiled you are, because only you seem to feel that we're not doing things as efficiently as we can, especially at closing time. Heck, we wanna go home too.

"400mm, f 2.8, I.S. ..." Part 2

The guy who spent $1500 on fancy SLR stuff came back today to get some of those surfing shots developed. He got some great pictures... despite having forgotten how to change the shutter speed. "Go to those free classes we offer, we want you to really know how to get the most out of your equipment!" was the most cheerful way we found of saying "If WE had equipment like that, WE'd make sure we knew what the heck we were doing with it"...

A Statistical Anomaly

How much money does my store make per day? How much do I sell per day? How much money is spent on each transaction?

Of course, the answer to each of these questions is some kind of distribution. The first two questions may have distributions that are vaguely Gaussian-like, but the last one is far from it. Most of the people who walk in the door either want film developed or digi-prints, or they buy expensive equipment, so most transactions are either in the $10-$30 range or in the $300-$600 range.

In any case, any distribution has its tails, and boy did I get a "several standard deviations away from mean" one today. Where do I start...

Just as I get in, late in the morning (I closed the store today, so I was not there at opening), a lady calls asking whether we have the Canon Pro1 or some Samsung camera I'd never heard of. I say no, we don't, but we have some LIKE them, that are much better deals too. The Canon is an awesome camera, but way overpriced, I'd be happy to show her some better deals that do abou the same thing. "Like what?". Well, we have a couple of Fujis that are similar... "Oh, oh, wait, what's the model of the Fuji?". I was thinking the S7000... "Yeah, yeah, I read about that one too!" Good, so she knows I'm not trying to trick her or anything, and what I tell her about the Fuji matches what she has read. She needs the camera for studio work, portraits and so on, and she also needs something that is easy to use, another two reasons why the S7000 is perfect for her. It's what WE use to take passport pictures - most of us are far from expert photographers but the pictures always come out very nice. AND, it costs half as much as a Pro1 (I can't say this enough, Canons are rip-offs). "All right, I'll stop by today to get one". Great, I'll set one aside. Our last one too.

She calls again later. "What about the Digital Rebel? Is it a better camera?" Well, of COURSE it's a better camera, but it's an SLR. "What's an SLR?". I tell her, concluding with "If you want something that is easy to use, an SLR is not what you want". Meanwhile, I'm thinking: I get more comission selling Fuji than selling Canon, but all my performance-tracking parameters will look great if I sell a digital SLR... "But the Rebel will take better pictures, right? And it would be the better camera to have in the studio, right?" Right. "Because my friend says that, if I'm gonna spend $900 on a Pro1, I might as well buy a Rebel". You have a very smart friend. "But the thing is, I don't have quite enough money for the Rebel, I'd have to wait till the end of the week, until this person pays me on Thursday... Could you hold one till then?". Um, I suppose. But you know, we offer zero-percent-interest financing for up to a year. "REALLY? So I could take it now and not pay right away?" Correct, if you are approved, a process that takes a form being filled out and my making a 5-minute phone-call. "All right! Put aside a Rebel for me, I'll be in today!"

She comes in a few hours later. I show her the Rebel. I remind her that for studio work, she would need a remote control, and she says I'm right. As I go to get it, she says she is also thinking about getting a smaller camera, to take to parties and so on. Something that fits in the pocket but takes sharp pictures. I tell her about the Sony P100 for three or four sentences, she holds it for a few seconds, and says "All right, I'll take one". At this point I'm getting REAL excited. You know, you could get a P120 that's the same, but has an extra battery and a leather case for only $50 more. "OK, sounds like a deal to me. Oooh, look, what's that behind you! An underwater camera!" That's right. But you know, Sony makes a little plastic box that goes around the P100, making it an underwater camera. "Oooh, really! Do you have those in the store?" Afraid not, I'd have to order one for you, it'd be here by the end of the week. "Sounds great!" And you need a bigger memory stick than the one that comes in the box. "You're right".

Back to the Rebel, I tell her she needs an extra battery ("You're right"), a one-gig card (She got two 512s instead, despite that being more expensive, because it would be easier for her to keep her pictures organized), a damage-protection warranty ("Oh yeah, you shoud see how clumsy I get with expensive equipment")... "And I wish there were a book or something on how to use this camera, something friendlier than the manual"... I pull out just such a book, written for beginner users who want to learn how to use a Digital Rebel.

"Now, while I'm here, let me see if I can knock some other people off my list...", and she buys a reflecting telescope. She then decides a digital picture frame would be a good way to look at her pictures while away from a computer. And from now till Christmas, we offer a full $150 rebate on the HP140 photo-printer, making it practially free. "What do you mean, practically free?". You pay $150 now, but you get a $75 rebate from us, a $25 rebate from us, and an $50 rebate from HP, so you get all your money back as checks in the mail. "Well, you can't beat 'free'...". She also gets a couple of lens-cleaning kits, and a membership card, and a bag for the Rebel.

I scan all the stuff, we fill out the financing form, I call the financing place, she is approved, and so she walks away from the store with three huge bags (well, me carrying two huge bags, and her carrying one, to her car, where a pair of very friendly Rottweilers await patiently. Very sweet dogs. I mean it). She got a Rebel, two 512mb CF cards, a bag, a book, two lens-cleaning kits, a remote, a Sony P120 (with extra battery and case included), a 256mb Memory Stick Pro, a digital frame, a reflecting telescope, a photo printer, and the warranty and the membership card... about $2500 worth of stuff.

Afterwards, I had my manager take a picture of me holding up the super-long receipt like a master fisherman standing next to a Marlin.

So from now on we'll be making a point of telling people we have one-year interest-free financing, if there is any chance at all that it will trigger someone else to go on a twenty-five-hundred-dollar shopping spree...

What Kind Of Sony Do You Have? "A Cybershot". Grrr...

Here's another one of my pet peeves: I ask someone whay kind of camera they have - or even what kind of [some camera manufacturer] they have - and they reply "A Cybershot" or "A Coolpix" or "a Finepix". Do they not realize that EVERY Sony is called "Cybershot [something]", EVERY Nikon is a "Coolpix [something]", EVERY Fuji is a "Finepix [something]", EVERY Casio is an "Exilim [something]"? Clearly not. At least some other manufacturers have a FEW families of digital cameras, but still the family name is way too broad to be useful. For example, Fuji Finepixes go from small $150 fit-in-your-pocket point-n-shoots with minimal features and minimal price all the way up to $2500 digital SLRs. If I ask you "What kind of car do you drive" and you said "A Ford", you could drive a Focus or a pick-up truck, and so you didn't really answer my question.

This comes up when someone needs a battery, or a charger, or a memory card, or a bag, or some kind of accessory. The kind of bag that would fit a tiny Finepix 303 is VERY different from the backpack you would need to haul a Finepix S3 around.

Why does that bother me? It comes down to that issue of how much research one ought to do before buying a camera. If you did not look at enough Sonys to figure out that they're ALL called "Cybershot", then you clearly did not do enough research to figure out that your camera is the best you could get. Say you got a Cybershot P120. Can you really buy one with confidence without having looked at the similar P100 (cheaper, as it does not come with a leather case or with an extra battery) and P150 (a tad more expensive, but much higher image quality), and without having considered the P93 (same features, but cheaper as it is bigger and a little older) or the W1 (same price, same features, but different form factor)? They're ALL called Cybershot, and you really should look at all of them before you get any of them, because of how similar-yet-different they are. When I ask what kind of camera a customer has, and he looks down at it and very decisively tells me "A 'Cybershot'", that just says "I did not bother to do any research at all, and just bought the first camera I saw in front of me".

How can you be truly happy (or, for that matter, truly unhappy) with the camera you have, if you don't know what's out there? I am VERY hapy with my big-lens Fujis and Panasonics because I KNOW there is no camera out there quite like them, with all the features I want. It was those two afternoons of research that allow me to think "Wow, my camera is AWESOME!" every time I use my Panasonic. It's a good feeling. I know for a fact that the only comparable cameras the the Canon Pro1, the Minolta A1 and A2, and a couple Olympus and Sony cameras, all of which cost half again as much. I also know that the comparable Fujis don't have image stabilization OR that much zoom, that the Canon S1-IS only has 3MP and only 10x zoom, and that the Minolta Z3 has a much slower lens, so mine is the only one with all the features I want. It feels great to think about that, to know I own an exceptional machine in the ways that are important to me.

In any case... even more infuriating is when I ask a customer what camera they have, and they say "A Canon, the 5-MegaPixel one" or "A Nikon, the one with the swiveling screen". Did you seriously not do enough research to realize there is more than one 5MP Canon, and that most high-end Nikons (I can think of 4) have the swivel-screen? Getting back to the "What kind of car do you drive?" analogy, I hope you realize that "That Ford one with four doors" or "The Subaru with all-wheel-drive" is only slightly more informative than "You know, the kind with four wheels, the one with the engine in the front and the trunk in the back. The steering wheel is on the left... it's got all these lights at the very front and the very back... you know the one...".

Given what price range you're willing to restrict yourself to, there IS a camera out there with the features YOU want and NOT with the features you don't care about. Yes, there IS that much variety out there, as the combinations of different features are endless (big or small screen, big or small lens, how many megapixels, manual or auto exposure, compact or not, AA power or Li-ion, 3x or 12x zoom...). Do so many people not care that they get a camera that they are as happy with as is possible given their budget? All it takes is a couple hours on Froogle and/or Steve's Digicams and/or DP Review and/or Consumer Report. Would you buy a car that is not EXACTLY what you want, or JUST as close to that as possible given your budget? A camera is an extension of your senses, practially a part of you, so if something about it is clumsy or uncomfortable or not as powerful as you'd like, then, well, that sucks. It's an annoyance no one has to put up with, but people seem to be happy to buy whatever is in front of them, and then complain later.

You can get the camera that is right for you! And it will feel great when you do! Why skip the research, and then get a crappy camera you will hate and never use, and then make your camera salesman all mad when he sees you have no idea of how varied digicams are?


PS: For the sake of completeness, I should say Sony also makes a series of digicams called Mavicas. They write pictures straight to disks, which are physically huge, and used to hold a lot more data than memory cards way back when. So Mavicas are huge, bigger than many camcorders, and kinda obsolete in the days when MicroDrive memory cards can hold more data than a whole DVD. They do take great pictures, though.

I'm Back!

Facing yet another week of minimal work (much like the first week, and kinda the only week, during which I posted regularly), I think I'll be posting some more stuff.

Let's start with some random pictures.

Does anyone else think the box Fuji made for its 330 and 340 cameras is... kinda scary?

Is this supposed to be "AAAAARGH! I HATE YOU, YOU STUPID FRUSTRATING GRAINY-LCD PLASTICKY-FEELING NO-SOUND-RECORDING PIECE OF CRAP!!!", or it is a "Mo-om, I SAID I WANTED a REBEL for Christmas!". In any case, we will all be having nightmares tonight:

Yeah, that's how I feel, working at the store, a lot of the time. Maybe Fuji put that on there to comfort salespeople. "Yeah, thanks for selling our stuff, we know that THIS is how it feels sometimes".

And here is a sign we have at the store for our clearance items. I swear I did not Photoshop this:

I think the person who WROTE this sign might be in need of a head examination, or of a change in careers...

That's all for now.

To Quit Or Not To Quit

So, as you may have gathered by now, I don't much like my job.

Most middle-schoolers should have been able to pick up on this. I can see an SAT reading comprehension test with one of my entries followed by

(22) The author ___ his job.
a) loves
b) is thrilled by
c) looks forward every day to
d) does not much like

But getting back to the point... Despite the fact this job is not that pleasant, I recognise that my enduring it is necessary for the payment of bills and the purchasing of food, both of which are essential to my well-being.

However, the real problem is: This job, plus my studies (all right, I am not quite out of college yet, I'll be graduating in a couple weeks), is not leaving me any time to look for a REAL job. I have a few leads about companies that might hire me to do interesting and rewarding work, and I would love to read up on them so I could send them informed-sounding cover letters, along with my resume and maybe some of my best work I have produced for my classes... But reading about the company and preparing these things for them, let alone interviewing and so on, take a lot of time. Time I do not have.

Here's how little time I have: You know those days when you wake up at your own pace, read for fun and surf the web and watch TV/DVDs and play Halo all day, and then go to sleep not having changed out of yoru pajamas, barely having left your room at all except to pee and to eat... If I don't have a day like that every couple of weeks, I go insane. I have not had a day like that in about 3 months. I actually CRY when I think long enough about how long it's been since I've been able to truly relax, since I've had a whole day when I did not feel I had a list of urgent productive tasks to accomplish. Yes, I'm spoiled, and yes, I know I will eventually only be able to have a few days like that per year when I become an adult, but right now, it's essential to my happiness. I feel like I have to put on a serious face and bury my anger/frustration deep down, so that I don't cry/scream/whine continuously due to the impossibility of my ever truly resting/relaxing. The only reason why I had the time to write this blog was that I did not have homework for one week. That was the week I had time to take all the tons of little pieces of paper I had written "notes" on and develop them into blog entries. Also, the fact that I am at work at different times each day, and different days each week, have meant that managing my time is next to impossible. I am eating unhealthily (often taking whatever is the fastest, not the most nutritious, meal available) and not exercising. And I have not been able to spend more than an evening at a time with my girlfriend, which is SO not cool.

But I digress. The point is, I am not doing as well in my studies as I could, and my search for a real job has ground to a halt (as have less important things like playing video games and reading novels). This is actually a very bad thing for my future and my life in general.

So I wanted to quit this job, and get a job with regular hours, and one that left me enough time (like say THE WEEKENDS!) to look for a real job, relax, and hang out with my girlfriend for more than a couple hours at a time. I looked into tutoring, and into being a dance instructor (yes, I enjoy ballroom dancing).

Eventually, however, I realized that searching for a real job IS a full-time job, and that I would have to have NO JOB (especially at the same time as my studies) in order to really be able to dedicate time and energy to finding a real job, and to have enough SPARE time and energy for me not to have a breakdown when I think about how little free time I have.

My parents have expressed throughout my life that they feel they should help me out however and whenever they can to get my life on the proper track, to help me get my education as best as possible. So I asked them if they would support me until I graduated and found a real job. They said yes.

So I decided to quit.

Throughout that day, the birds were singing, the sun was shining, and every tree and rock and bicycle and object I saw in front of me revealed layer upon layer of miraculously intricate beauty. It was like I was high for a day. As someone who likes to draw and to take pictures, I kinda like to admire things like the texture and details of wood and concrete, the way the light of the setting sun plays on the leaves of a tree, the way shadows overlap and hide or enhance details, the way clouds look at sunset, the way things look so different at night. I could recite the "Sometimes there's just so much beauty in the world" speech from American Beauty, but I'll spare you. The point is, there is just TONS to look at and admire in any ordinary place. And I am only able to see that when I am fundamentally content, not worried, not stressed out, able to relax, and at peace with my life and myself. I was very glad to notice all these things again starting the day when I decided to quit this job and get my life back to the way I wanted it.

I also scheduled a few trips that my job would not allow me to take: Home for Thanksgiving, Home for Christmas and New Year's (my manager said I could have about a week off around New Year's, and that was it), and three days off a week and a half ago for that aforementioned Very Big Event in the niche field of photography that I am interested in.

OK, so here's where it gets interesting.

I knew that all I really wanted was more free time, and the ability to take those three trips. I COULD have told my boss (my manager) that "Hey, I'll keep working for you if you want to, but here are some new conditions". I thought that was an asshole-ish thing to do, holding my job hostage like that.

I also knew that, as long as I was employed there, I would feel certain duties of an employee. If my boss said "Could you come in at such-and-such a time, even though I had not scheduled you for that time? Sorry about the short notice", I would feel obliged to say "Yes" if I did not have unbreakable plans for that period of time. If my boss asked me to stay late one day, to work extra hours, etc, and I did not have plans with other people for that time, I would feel I would have to say "Yes". That's just what a good employee does. So even if I DID do the asshole-ish thing and say "I'll remain an employee, but for fewer hours a week", I would not feel I could stop those fewer hours from growing.

So, for all these reasons, quitting altogether was preferable to just working fewer hours. Time to give two-weeks' notice.

So I wrote my boss a long apologetic note, explaining why I felt I had to quit. She read it, and asked me if I could not be persuaded to work fewer hours, and I told her that No, a complete break of my duties as an employee would be the only way to prevent them from growing greater than I wanted them, because I do feel a duty to take on whatever duty you assign me, within reason. (In other words, I tried to make it sound like "Being a proper employee is more than I can do right now, and I would not want to be less of a good worker than that", which was essentially true). So she said, all right, you'll have your last paycheck in two weeks.

She did, however, really want me to work there part-time, if possible. I felt tempted to give in and be a bad employee and say "Ok, but just a few hours a week, and I get to go on these trips I have planned". So I guess holding one's job hostage in exchange for some demands is not as bad as just quitting. I guess that makes sense.

It doesn't make much sense if you see your job as being "Doing whatever you can to ensure the success and well-being of your company, and the trust and goodwill of your employers", if you care about your job, if you think it is important, that it ought to be done well. But I DON'T care about my job, just about earning money. So the "holding one's job hostage" thing does make sense if you see your job as simply a deal where you exchange time and energy for money. "Hey, I just decided that I don't want to sell ALL this time anymore", or "Hey, I think the price of my time is gonna go up". I't just a business relationship.

However, I still felt bad about quitting, about screwing over my boss, and the store. They would be REALLY understaffed, and our manager and our district manager and sales people from other stores would have to be filling in for me. (Not that it's my fault that they don't hire aggressively enough, and too selectively). When they hired me, I said I'd work through the holidays. How do I suddenly say "I have decided that this deal is not in my interest anymore, so I'm gonna call it off"?

Well, my contract does say my employment is "at will", meaning "the company holds the right to terminate my employment without cause or notice", a right I also have. In other words, it's the same as being fired, except I'd be firing them. I would be doing what is best for my interests in a way that is allowed by the contract, and although I'd be screwing someone over, I would only have to feel bad about that if I wanted to.

My girlfriend asked me how I could look at it like that. They're the employers! They're the ones in a position of power! Ah-ah, actually, no. Whoever cares less about my employment, whoever needs it less, is in a position of power. In this case, it's me. I'm the one who says "either things go my way or our relationship is over" to my boss. That was very empowering, although it furthered the feeling that I had to do it just right to make them not be mad at me.

So I quit. I "fired" the company - they were being detrimental to my interests, and their demands were greater (and benefits less great) than I had been led to believe when we started our relationship, so I ended it.

But is the story over? No, not yet.

I then made the mistake of talking to one of the lab guys about this. He is really cool, and I allowed him to persuade me that working there is not so bad, that we get great discounts, that the store really needs me (we ARE understaffed like you wouldn't believe)... c'mon, at least work a few hours a week. You'll still get tons more time than you have now, can't you help us out just a little? Do you need ALL those hours? I thought about it a bit (clearly not enough), and agreed with him.

All right, I'll stay. Part time. Sixteen hours a week, MAYBE 20 (down from 42), and I get to go on my 3 trips. So I told my manager. I did the asshole-ish thing, and said she could "keep me, under the following conditions". She was pleased. It's not an asshole-ish thing to offer something instead of nothing, and I swear I was not being purposefully manipulative by saying I'd quit (at which point she realizes she needs me) and then say "All right, I'll stay if..". So I ended up not feeling bad about saying I could only work part time, and not through the holidays.

I'm such a wimp.

Not THAT Again...

So an old-ish customer comes in, saying he wants to get prints from the digital files on a CD. I tell him to go on over to our kiosk and follow the instructions (I was busy). He gets to the kiosk, looks at it for a second (clearly the "Press here to start" was not clear enough), turns to face me, palms turned outwards, and says with a small level of outrage: "But I've never done this before!".

If you've read my post about The Thing I Hate The Most... you know this is it. Dude, the computer will ask you for some information, one thing at a time, and give you some obvious choices. Give it a chance.

I came up with a nice analogy. Say you're applying for a credit card, or for financing, or for a membership card at a store, or for a job, or maybe you're doing something tax-related, or maybe filling out a survey or helping out with a Psychology study by answering some questions. In any of these situations, you have to fill out a form, probably one you've never seen before. All that this form does is ask you for one or two pieces of information at a time, followed by a space or check-box in which to enter this information. Not too hard. What if you said "But I've never filled out this form before!" when it's handed to you. The person handing it to you will look at you like you're retarded, quite rightfully. So why do I have to be all caring and empathetic to a customer who looks at an extremely simple sequence of button-presses (each of which asks for one or two pieces of information and makes your choices clear) and tells me that I should help him cuz he's never done it before?