Saturday, October 30, 2010

The New Math

So, I'm at BigBox Office Supply with $22.53 in notebook, paperclips, repositionable index tabs and drafting erasers to buy; I hand Fresh-Faced Young Man at the checkout $30 American, he rings it up and I suddenly remember I have a surplus of pennies. I rapidly dig out three cents, figuring the way my 47 cents change is now a half-dollar is a no-brainer.

Alas, it's not. He vaporlocks. Takes the three cents and stands there, lips moving, as he attempts to take the derivative of the curve I've just thrown him, dy and dx circling sharklike in his brain, slashing at his thoughts while on the periphery, venerable, furious Asian men wave abacuses and yell at him, cheered on by crewcut geeks with slide rules and long-haired ones with fat, button-studded calculators. His manager's at the other register and it's just registered with her that Post-Teenaged Sidekick has ground to a halt. She turns and asks, "What'd she give you?" She gives me a suspicious look, thinking I have handed him a 5-Zloty* note, 14 dinars, six $2 bills and a subway token and am demanding my change in kopecks and loonies, right now.†

"Unh, thirty dollars. An' three cents."

"How much was it? Twenty-two fifty-three?" She disfavors him with a witheringly disgusted look, but his back is to her and I'm pretty sure he's immune anyway. "Where do you start?"


"Put the three cents in the drawer. Now, take--"

He drops the pennies in their bin, fumbles out a one, drops it, grabs it and gives me a sheepish look.

"No! Take two quarters. Now, what's left?"

"Er, five?"

"And...? Two ones?"

Comprehension seems to dawn; he ends up holding $7.50, which he hands to me in one lump without the traditional chant of 'Fifty makes twenny-three, two ones is twenny-five and five is thirty; with your three cents, we're even.'

Y'know, there's a reason for doing that, two reasons in fact, and there's a reason why he can't; one is to force a kind of rolling recalc and the other is to hand over the minimum number of bills by filling to the nearest five, then the nearest ten and twenty and so on. At one time, nearly every transaction ended in that comforting ritual, unless some inconsiderate high-roller was writing a check. Any more, that nifty little card-slideola right out there for the customer's convenience allows all but the greenest of stockboys hoping to move up to get a chance helping out at the long as no one with a pocketbook fulla cash comes along and has the nerve to round up the transaction after he's already rung the total.

...Which was a rotten trick; I can't claim I wasn't a bit of a jerk there but I really did think it was trivial.
* The Poles have always had some good-lookin' paper money; they've mostly been able to avoid the candy-bar wrapper look in favor of serious, quality engraving.

† This list, thunk up at random, adds up to $33.48 in USD, or pretty close ($33.53 as of 0722EST 31OCT2010, the Jordanian dinar having gone up a tick or two) assuming the monetary value of the subway token is zero. My change would be, oh, ten loonies, 23 Russian rubles and 98 kopecks. Wrong! Inverted the loonie/greenback ratio. It would be eleven loonies, six Russian rubles, 14 kopecks. Or the loonies and simply 614 kopecks: 12 50s, a ten and four ones. Aw, math is hard.


Loki1776 said...

Math is supposed to be hard. If it wasn't, even sociologists could do it.

jed said...

I've given up on that. There's a couple places here where I know that being helpful in this area will be worth it, but the vast majority of retailers now ... nope. So I just hand over bills, and accumulate coins. Then when I'm using the self-checkout, if there aren't a bunch of folks waiting, I just feed all my coins into the machine.

I used to try to feed coins until my change-back would be some number of quarters (laundry, ya know), but now the machines at Soopers are just as likely to dispense nickels and dimes. Aaargh!

Roberta X said...

Count your blessings, the ones at the Skunk Works feed out nickels nearly every time. At one point, they spat out nice brass dollar coins when you fed them fives, but the whiners put a stop to it. Hmpf.

Newbius said...

Easiest way to determine if the cashier has a brain? The 'tell' is: they start from the pennies when making change...

Even though I have worked those machines where the system gives you the return amount, I still ALWAYS count UP to the proffered amount. But then, I am an old fart who was taught cash-handling skills at a young age. (And, I forced all of my children to work bake sales with only a cash box, no calculators.)

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

Delicious torture, v. 1.0.

You see, The Answer wasn't in the Revealed Truth of an LED display, so the poor kid was disoriented.

The sophmore course involves telling time on an analogue watch.

Grad school requires a paper map and a compass. Instructors accompanying the class are urged to bring their own survival gear.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jed. I hadn't thought of that.

As I accumulate change I wonder what to do with it; taking it to the bank doesn't work because they don't want to process coins. Depositing it to an account fails because mine charges a percentage (2 or 3%, I think) for running it through the coin counter, and others are worse.

The timing will be important, but I think my next bag of lawn fertilizer will be paid in dimes through the robot.

Borepatch said...

South Africa has (had?) rhinos and the like on their currency. Pretty cool. Kept one as a souvenir.

Montie said...

I grew up working in my dad's 5 convenience stores. As a kid of 9 or so, I was running the register by standing on pop crates to reach it. There was no change computation on our manual registers, heck you even had to calculate tax (well, kind of, we did have a cheat sheet for tax). I am always amazed at how handing over some change after clerks have rung up your order locks them up nowadays. I usually just quietly whisper the amount they owe me back to them so that they can unfreeze and complete the transaction.

Wayne Conrad said...

The beautiful thing about counting out change in the (sad to say) old-fashioned way is that there's no math involved. Just counting. Any fool can do it, and any other fool can tell whether it's being done right.