Wednesday, August 15, 2007

They Can't Take That Away From Me...

Our world has become so technical and complex that we often forget to give proper focus on simple everyday things that touch us, and we are sometimes unaware of how so-called advances are robbing us of our most basic freedoms.

Take, for example, the common bowel movement. Don't say "yuck"…or "disgusting"…or anything like that. This post is both factual and educational, so just keep quiet and read, and…to borrow a phrase from comedian Dom DeLouise…"hold it till the end." I shall do my best to keep the tone of this posting dignified, informative, and most of all…business-like, and to share with you the lesson that there is money in the mundane...sometimes at the expense of our most basic freedoms.

Now, back to the bowel movement, a common excretory event that most people experience on a generally daily basis…except for those poor souls who are, let me use a politically correct expression here, constipatedly challenged (okay, okay, so I made that up.) Those of us not afflicted with said malady enjoy endure experience this event in the privacy of our homes, in the workplace, in public restrooms, and even while traveling at 30,000 feet. For those who engage in said event in the workplace or in public forewarned...your bowel movement experience is about to be changed...forever.

You see, big brotherKimberly-Clark has invented an automatic toilet paper dispenser that will limit the issue of tissues. Put in non-technical jargon, this new device will dispense exactly five...count 'em...that's five...squares of toilet paper...exactly twenty inches of paper. You wave your hand and out they come.

The company conducted years of research and concluded that five standard squares of toilet tissue is optimal. I wonder what it was like to work in their test department...betcha they got their hands on all the data they could. Now, whenever I see the word optimal, I get suspicious. How did they define optimal? I'll bet they'll never tell...but, they can't fool ole Badabing with their corporate mumbo I'm giving you the straight poop spilling the beans here and now.

It all boils down to money, averages, and pay attention.

Let's start with the money aspect. The bean counters at Kimberly-Clark hope that this new device will help them capture more of the $1 billion away-from-home toilet paper market. That's a lot of beans. How will it help them increase sales? That's a no brainer. They sell them to businesses, and the businesses can cut down on their toilet paper costs. As an example, let's assume a company spends $150 on toilet paper for its employee rest rooms each year. Actually, that figure is a drop in the bucket but it will illustrate the point. The new machines will dispense 20% less paper than the average arm pull, so the company's paper cost will be reduced by $30 per year. Since a basic machine costs $30 (the souped-up chrome-plated model sells for $55 and would probably be used in executive washrooms only), the company breaks even the first year and the future savings are even greater since replacing the batteries is the only maintenance required. Couple that with the ability to adjust the machine to dispense a mere four squares of tissue...a mere 16 inches...and you can see how the savings add up. Of course, the possible downside to this from the employees standpoint are grumblings about the "Toilet Police," but who the hell cares about employees anyway.

Oh yeah, and I'll be the people who sell the new gizmo throw in some motivational gimmicks as well. You know, like little placards that could be attached above the dispenser with motivating phrases like:

"Strive for Five," "Dump Poop...Not Paper," "Save More With Four," "Help Wipe Out High Costs," "Dump Once...Wave Once."

Ooh, and here's a neat little branding idea...right above the little window where you wave your hand they can put a label that says "Gimme Five." Hell, might introduce a whole new slang expression into corporate America just like Xerox did with the copier. You know, "I'm going to make a xerox of this." So maybe people will start to say, "Excuse me while I get five," instead of "Excuse me while I take a dump." could happen.

Okay, let's move on to the averages. Their research has shown that the average American uses an arm's length pull of toilet paper for his or her average excretory experience. Now, my own calculations estimate that, at least for the average adult American male, an arm's length pull results in several feet of said tissue...on average. That's a lot of toilet paper...twice as much, in fact, as the average European uses (just thought I'd throw in that little factoid...and no, this doesn't mean that American arms are twice the length of European arms.) The marketing folks will try to sell these new devices based upon averages...and that normally works well from a marketing standpoint. But, you see, there's a problem designing to averages.

There's a little design secret I learned in engineering school...designs shouldn't be based soley around averages but around the variations that exist around averages...otherwise, things won't work when you have an unexpected (un-average) deviation from the average. For example, you don't design spacecraft using averages. Sound a bit theoretical? Okay, let me give you a "hands-on" toilet paper example. I don't know about you, but sometimes one pull just ain't enough for really depends on...well, you get the point. In my own case, I'm probably a two-pull guy every time, and sometimes even go for a third and (heaven forbid I had some spicy chili) occasionally a fourth yank. This makes their device problematic for me, because my average pull would be four feet (not factoring in the variances), which is a huge deviation from a mere 20 inches...and my arms aren't even that long. Okay, okay, I'll stop with the math already...before I get into Beta distributions, bell-shaped curves, confidence intervals, and standard deviations around the norm. Suffice it to say that I have a "length" issue with their device. (Hmmm...ya' think there might be a pill for that?)

So much for averages, now let's talk about psychology, because this is the key to making the contraption feasible. You may be thinking "what's the big deal...someone could just wave their hand as many times as they want...and get as much paper as they want." See, I knew you were thinking that...and if you weren't you were either still reeling from the mathematics discussion or you haven't had your coffee yet this morning. Well guess what? Kimberly-Clark did research on that too. Rather than telling you, in my own words, what they found, let me share with you a quote from the guy who was in charge of the project.

Richard Thorne, who directs the company's washroom business explained "Most people will take the amount given." Then he went on to add "People generally in life will take what you give them."

How does that make you feel?

Well, I for one won't stand for it...I'm gonna' wave my friggin' hand until I get five feet of paper each time...that includes my normal average plus the average variation around the average. Ha! Take that you mercenary-minded corporate maggots. No sir, I want my toilet paper...they can't take that away from me.

I wonder what kind of bonus that executive guy is going to get?

Never satisfied to rest on his laurels, he admits the company won't truly achieve a "touchless" bathroom until it develops a toilet that does the dirty work for you.

"And that," he says, "is going to be interesting."

Yeah, I bet it'll make great dinner table conversation.

See...I told you this post was going to be informative. In case you'd like to read more about how there is money in the mundane, you might want to check out these ideas...which have been patented:

  • US Patent #6401264: A toilet seat comfort device for preventing the heat transfer from a person sitting on a toilet seat to the toilet seat
  • US Patent #5884345: A sanitary device for washing private parts of a person sitting on a toilet bowl

Just remember...the job's not over until the paperwork is done!!

Badaboom Badabing...

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kenju said...

Five sheets only would never work for me!! I'd wave 2-3 times, at least!

Duke_of_Earle said...

When my workplace was built, all the toilet stalls had paper dispensers that would hold a standard roll, but the spindle gripped the inner cardboard tube tightly and resisted turning. If you pulled on the end of the paper (as most probably do, but I've never really done a scientific study on this) the tissue would break off at about the third square.

The obvious workaround for this was to grip the outside of the roll and turn it repeatedly until sufficient paper was dispensed (piling up on the floor, if necessary) to properly get the needed job done. Thus the devices never saved ANY paper, they just made everybody angry.

I surprised Scott Adams hasn't made mention of something like that in his "Dilbert" comic strip. It's the kind of think Catbert, the evil HR director would have installed, purring all the while.

Anonymous said...

Effin A man! When are they gonna learn, Do Not Stand Between A Man On A Mission: on the toilet.

Hey, hows the new Evanovitch?

Sudiegirl said...

Dude - I'll write the jingle for your new products!

I can me!

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Badaboom Badabing, indeed. This is terrific. But I wonder: Will my buddies know what's up when I tell them "Excuse me while I get five."

Come to think of it, I guess I don't care.