Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2006-06-22
  Vending machines
the running man

In Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Running Man there are all kinds of pop culture jokes. (The whole premise of the movie is put Arnold on a game show where convicts are chased by WWF thugs with weapons to see who can outlast who. Richard Dawson does a great job as the game MC.) But its not the usual thrills and spills that came to mind today.

There's a scene in an office building where the girl, after surviving her first encounter with the hero, is back at work and is helping her friend get a soda from a soda machine. Its just that they're having a problem coming up with $5 in change. Everybody laughed back then (this was 1987), everyone that is, except for the vending machine people.

Vending machine people were already planning for the age of the $5 soda and had just a bit before suffered a major defeat in their plans. Their first solution was the classic blunder of vendor control—the most obvious case of this was when the movie companies came out with a DVD player that charged you more money every time you watched a movie from your shelf—but the vending machine people did something almost as bad, they tried to get people to use coins that were convenient for machines, not for people.

You may or may not remember the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. Most likely not. It was designed to be inexpensive, round (like existing coins), and small enough to fit through the existing slots on vending machines (IE almost exactly the same size as a quarter). The problem is that you can't tell it apart from a quarter without really looking at it. But nobody has ever had to look at their coins to tell them apart before. A nickel is completely different from a dime, and both are much smaller than a quarter (pennies are somewhere between a dime and a nickel in size, a completely different color, and not worth anything anyways, so nobody really cares about them).

Having completely blown it with the Treasury department (and set them back 20 years in getting a dollar coin out into the market), the vending industry had to come up with something else. The next step was the paper dollar handler which has become a fairly regular occurrence on soda machines, especially in places where the price is outrageous. However the dollar counter is error prone, has a hard time with paper money that wears out, and still requires the handling of a lot of cash by poorly paid employees. So they needed something more.

The soda machine in the hotel tonight has a credit card slot on it. This is almost necessary, since its trying to charge $2 for a can of soda. In all fairness, there's probably a $0.25 charge for the machine and dataline, and a $0.25 charge for transaction from Mastercard, but that still leaves $1.50 going to the hotel for one can of soda. Instead I went next door to McD and got a large fountain drink (4X the can) for $0.65.

NOTES: Currency flops through the ages @ CNN.

 
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