You Cain't Fix Stoopid

June 1, 2008
Examples abound in both the corporate and consumer world of folks who should be kept away from new technology (and possibly sharp objects). Computer tech

Examples abound in both the corporate and consumer world of folks who should be kept away from new technology (and possibly sharp objects).

Computer tech support people call it PBCAK (Problem is Between Chair and Keyboard). Like the lady who called and complained, “I keep pushing the foot pedal (mouse), but the computer won’t run.” Or, the man who wanted a replacement for his “coffee cup holder” (CD tray) when it broke.

In barcode implementation, there were (and probably still are) similar problems. Like the company supplying maps to the Department of Defense back when barcodes were new. Since the maps were supplied in tubes that were often stacked tight, the company thought it would be helpful to put the barcode label over the end to make it easier to read. The problem was that the tube was smaller than the barcode symbol.

Or, the company that had been printing UPC symbols for years, but, obviously, customers weren’t trying to read them. Otherwise, they would have discovered they were entirely unreadable. There were two problems. First, print quality was so bad that narrow spaces often filled in completely. Second, someone had told the label software designer that “the check digit for UPC is always two.” (And, the verifier sitting next to the printer didn’t work because someone had plugged in the wrong power adaptor–several years before.)

These are examples of ignorance. In other words, the people didn’t know any better. However, when informed of problems, they fixed them.

Then, there’s stupid. Stupid is when a company hires a consultant or asks suppliers for demos and then completely ignores the advice and plows ahead with an idea that just won’t work or drops the project and blames the technology.

Like a company (10 or so years ago) that wanted to use RFID to track 55-gallon drums. Back then, that was difficult at best. Plus, they wanted to be able to find a single drum in an uncovered dirt lot half the size of a football field. And, the drums were packed tightly together, five high. When told by a consultant that a barcode system with a graphical program on a lift truck-mounted mobile

Bert Moore bmoore@

computer could be developed to pinpoint a specific drum for less than the RFID system would cost, upper management was not pleased. They wanted RFID. So, they dropped the whole drum tracking project.

Or, the company that wanted to use RFID shelf tags to record the putaway location of pallets. They wanted to scan a wide area, assuming the ‘right’ tag would simply be read more often than the ‘wrong’ tags in adjacent locations. When vendors suggested triggering the reader when the pallet was being placed to be sure of reading the right tag, the company insisted it didn’t want sensors or anything else that might fail on the reader. And, they liked getting lots of data (although no one’s sure what they’d learn from reading the same shelf tags hundreds of times). Then, because they were getting so many reads and couldn’t sort out the ‘right’ tag ID from the flood of data coming in, they complained the vendors’ lift truck-mounted mobile computers just weren’t fast enough.

It’s when you hear things like this you realize that Dilbert isn’t really funny. In other words, these folks are just downright ‘stoopid.’

Ignorance is a lack of knowledge–you can fix that. Stupidity is blind adherence to a concept, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. And, as comedian Ron White so aptly points out, “You cain’t fix stoopid.” And, ‘stoopid’ usually comes from the top. All you can do is be out of the way when things come crashing down.

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