Just-In-Time is for suckers…

My grandparents were products of living through a Depression and a couple of world wars in the heart of what was then Appalachian coal country. They picked of some quirky habits that I always attributed to being young during those times.

The minor eccentricity I remember clearly was my grandmother’s insistence on using a tea bag well past the point where it would just barely turn a cup of hot water vaguely tea-colored. Another was the jar of soap slivers that would eventually be re-pressed into a “new” multi-hued bar of soap. Waste not, want not, I suppose.

In the basement, though, through the door that separate the finished part from the rest, in the far corner was a room that wasn’t quite cold enough to be a fruit cellar and not quite finished enough to be a walk-in closet. That room was where the canned goods were stockpiled. If it was a food product they put in a can any time between 1965-1990, I have to believe you could find it in there. As late as the early 1990s, I’m absolutely sure I saw cans come out of that room with “best by” dates in the early 70s. No one ever died of food poisoning from a home cooked meal there, so I don’t suppose any of it was the worse for wear.

Having come of age myself in the halcyon days of Regan-era plenty, as a kid I never quite understood the virtue of having a room full of canned goods. After living through the dawn of the Great Plague, though, I feel like I’m starting to understand the undeniable beauty of having large stacks of things that could become unexpectedly scarce.

And now that it’s coming back in stock, it’s why over the last few weeks I’ve been making sure I’ll never again be caught with less than 100 rolls of two-ply Charmin.

As if I needed any more proof that my inner child is a slightly eccentric 75-year-old man.

Getting groceries or: Maintaining the fleet in being…

In this era of the Great Plague home delivery of everything is a trend that seems to have taken wing. For a lot of products, I’m a big fan of home delivery – I’ve had a steady stream of books, dog food, and other household goods showing up on my doorstep since long before the plague swept everyone else indoors. 

I was asked this morning, why my love of home delivery didn’t include using something like Instacart to bring on groceries. The answer is more complicated than it really should be, of course. 

I’ve tried pick up grocery options in the past, but was never quite satisfied in the produce they selected or the substitutions made. It’s hard not to like the theoretical convenience of driving up, calling a number, and a cart of groceries showing up. Ultimately, I’ve mostly forgone the convenience of pick up or delivery because, not surprisingly, I’m fussy and like things to be “just so.”

That’s really just subtext, though. About two weeks before the plague caught fire in the public imagination, I made a grand stocking up trip – laying on enough of my favorites to last two or three months if conditions absolutely precluded making trips out. Now I’m mostly shopping every 7-10 days because I have a tortoise who likes fresh leafy greens and to replenish those items I’d drawn down from the stockpile – because holding it at its peak has a value all its own. 

Proper naval historians will throw things at me for this, but in some ways I think of my personal supplies as maintaining the value of a “fleet in being.” It’s a theory, widely popular among naval powers in World War I, that suggests the mere presence of a powerful fleet extends a strong influence on events simply by existing – making it unnecessary for the fleet to engage in a decisive battle. Keeping the bulk of my supplies intact (with proper rotation), gives me options should further unforeseen supply disruptions (a la toilet paper) happen as the plague runs its course.

So there, in a few hundred words, is way more than you wanted to know about why I’m still getting groceries and why I’m doing it myself. 

Skipping just in time…

I was being trained up as a logistician just at the tail end of the transition from having mountains of spares, repairs, and stock items piled into warehouse to “just in time” delivery. In theory, JIT reduces operating costs and usually comes with a minimal risk of going “stock out” or not actually having what you need. It’s a system that works very well, right up until the moment where it stops working. Then there’s hell to pay while everyone scrambles. 

I’ve never been the guy who thought he needed a lifetime supply of rice and beans stashed away in the basement. Nothing in the pandemic has changed my mind on that. I think JIT is probably still a valid approach to just about everything we use on a regular basis. In all but truly exceptional circumstances, supply chains work exactly the way they’re designed. 

I’m not running out to buy a 50-gallon drum of rice or ordering the 1000-serving Costco bucket of mac and cheese. I am, however, making a list of those items I’ve needed to order that ended up being stock delayed in the face of extreme demand. History tells me that having received an extreme demand signal for these items, there are factories and plants around the country rushing to fill the gap. When all this is over, demand for most of these items will drop just as quickly as it surged – and there will be a lag as material continues to surge through the supply chain towards the consumer market. 

So, I’m making a list. Fortunately, most of what’s gone backordered or been delivery delayed are things that can sit for years without going bad. When these formerly hard to find items are swamping the marketplace and being sold off at a discount, that’ll be the time to step in and stack ‘em deep against future temporary supply disruptions… You know, assuming I survive the Great Plague.

Prior experience not required…

Ask me anything posts rarely disappoint. They often lead me down rabbit holes that I’d otherwise never end up finding. Today’s post is one of those.

If I’m absolutely honest, I wasn’t expecting to write a post about flour and yeast this week. Baking isn’t a skill I have. I wish it was, but my forays into anything involving baked goods have so often ended in disaster that I let other people make my bread and bring in the Amish experts when I need anything fancy. That there was a disruption in the flour and yeast universe just wasn’t something that was on my radar until someone asked my thoughts on the supply being bought up by “people… with no prior experience.”

Being generally a free market kind of guy, my initial response is mostly that I don’t care who is buying products at a micro level and that sooner or later the supply chain will shift to accommodate new demand realities. Digging a bit deeper though, I don’t think having a whole slew of new home bakers out there is necessarily the worst thing that could happen. Whether it’s baking, cooking, or running a nuclear power plant, there was always a time when the people doing those things had no prior experience. Excluding them from the market is bad business – and will decrease the number of potential people in the future bringing baked goods to work once the Great Plague is over. In other words, everyone has to start somewhere… and where better than a point in life when we all have wide open stretches of staying indoors and needing something to occupy the hours.

From a slightly different perspective, I think the broader lesson to be learned here – about yeast, cleaning supplies, or toilet paper – is that it’s probably a good idea to have a little more than we think we’ll need from week to week or month to month. Just in time delivery works well for a lot of products, but when it comes to the basics of everyday life, keeping what you already know you’re going to use in 30 to 60 days on hand suddenly doesn’t feel like a terrible idea, does it?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Meticulous devotion to the speed limit. OK, we get it. You’re an upright citizen, an honest taxpayer, and love your mother and apple pie. Those are all fine and good qualities to have, but it would be just terrific if you could move 20 feet to your right and have them somewhere other than puttering along in the passing lane. I know I’m a scofflaw and dangerous hoodlum, but Lord God Almighty just move your ass and let the rest of us get on with our day.

2. The definition of common knowledge. Any internet site that offers “12 things you didn’t know about X” is almost certain to involve more clicks than reading their article is worth. I usually avoid them to the maximum extent possible. Occasionally, though, some click bait is too tempting to resist. That usually involves the ones promising to teach me something new. Unfortunately, I read, I pay attention to details, and in general I’m aware of my surroundings. I also have a genuinely curious mind that thrives on the acquisition of new knowledge… So if you could go beyond general knowledge when creating your links to “things you don’t know about” that would be great

3. The incredible shrinking TP. I’m quite sure I didn’t suddenly start using more Charmin. I played along when they made the rolls narrower. Now it seems they’re putting less on each roll. The price, of course, is the same as it ever was. Maybe it would be ok to just plus up the price a few cents to keep up with inflation and stop fucking with it. Honest to god, I’m going to have to start researching where to get what use to be standard sized rolls of toilet paper. Then I’ll rent a warehouse and stockpile the damned stuff

God bless America…

It’s Saturday… and here in Ceciltucky, Saturday means the weekly grocery run to Walmart. Now Walmart being what it is, I rarely leave with only groceries. Today’s plan was to pick up a few backs of the D-cell batteries that there are never enough of at the store before a hurricane and check prices on a variety of ammunition over in the gun aisle. Let the record show, that I was at least successful at scavenging sufficient batteries for the next power outage.

Ammunition was a different story. Aside from a few boxes of assorted 12 and 20 gauge shells and even fewer boxes of .30-06, Walmart’s cupbord was looking pretty bare. I guess at least a few of the people around here have been paying attention. Usually I’d be annoyed that what I had wanted wasn’t in stock. Instead, I looked over at the guy running the gun counter, nodded hello, and simply said “God bless America.”