Charles Pillsbury III

Geek. Dad. Writer?

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Archive for September, 2011

My relationship with the Harry Potter franchise…

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So, more than a decade after everybody else, I’ve finally started reading Harry Potter. Many of you know the story as to why I’ve never read it. When the first three books came out I was chewing through Dune and Ender novels and pretty much everything else Frank Herbert or Orson Scott Card had written. I wasn’t opposed to Harry Potter per se, but it hadn’t bubbled up to the top of my “that sounds interesting and I should read it” list. This is the story of why, even with the hype of Goblet of Fire, I never got around to reading Harry Potter until now. I had a bit of a grudge against the whole series.

In the fall of 1999 I started working at the not-quite-opened-yet 800,000 square foot distribution center for in nearby McDonough, GA. When I started there I had more technological skills than most of the other local warehouse workers and quickly became the guy who handled inventory issues in the database, simply by virtue of having understood early on how the system was thinking about inventory and orders. One of our early challenges that first Christmas season was with toys. The original amazon system hadn’t been designed to handle things like toys, and there was the new phenomenon of Pokemon which of course none of us in the warehouse could identify, and had issues left and right trying to make sure the Jigglypuff and Squirtle were in the right places and being sent to the right people.

After surviving our first holiday season at ATL1, I ended up heading a small team that was looking through data to find “wins” that would help us get certain items through the warehouse faster (things slipping through the automated cracks at that time). One of the books I recall at the time that was problematic was ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ which inexplicably was sent out by the dozens and hundreds, but often came into the system in ones and twos. We had a few weeks where our little team of 5 or 6 did little except make sure those books could get out of the door. I was only a couple months away from moving into the IT department, or maybe I had already moved into IT, when HP 4 was coming out.

I’m sure it’s no surprise to anybody that the fourth book of Harry Potter was a big deal at amazon that year. Amazon was a big dot-com player at the time, but was still in its toddlerhood and there was huge pressure to make sure everything went smoothly. What we received was dozens (or was it hundreds?) of pallets of the new HP book all wrapped in black plastic so nobody could see, and leak, what the cover of the new book was. I believe it was about a week before the book’s official release date that our local management started to prepare to start packing up the books. And about twenty minutes after that when things went awry for me.

Not to get into the esoterica of how Amazon processed orders in those days, but essentially the number of orders and the number of books combined with a bit of poor planning on somebody’s part to break the system’s method for handling orders. Part of the pressure was that things all had to be processed and books all had to be shipped a day or two before release dates so they would all arrive on the drop date and everybody who ordered from Amazon wouldn’t be waiting any longer than people who went to their local Barnes & Noble. Long story short I spent several very long days mucking around making sure that the system could process each order as it needed to. The way things worked in that day we didn’t have individual computers of our own, but all shared x-term thin clients around the warehouse, though I had a specific one at the bottom of “pick module D” that I used most often and that was where I camped out with both my normal bifocals and a pair of reading glasses that I wore over the top of my bifocals when my eyes got too tired to keep reading the screen.

That was my first primary experience with Harry Potter and, though I recognized it was doing fantastic things for reading amongst the target audience, that was why I had a grudge against Harry Potter for a decade. Now admittedly I no longer held a real grudge after a couple years, and it was more just a “thing” at that point, and as I knew the books meant a lot to many of my friends and acquaintances I couldn’t hold it with the same distain I have for The Great Gatsby (which I’m sure is just a defect in myself as so many other people love that book).

Which brings us up to present day. Somewhere along the way my wife also had a grudge against it, but that’s because she thinks it’s evil. And because of her grudge, our son Jake (who is 14) had never read them either. When all of his friends have read them it was annoying for there to be references he didn’t get (that is *my* boy), so he petitioned his mom and she conceded that at 14 he should be able to make that judgement call himself. So now that he has started reading them (he’s working on book #3 now) I too have joined in and am enjoying them greatly. I’m only halfway through the first book admittedly, but thus far I’m seeing why they’re so well loved.


Written by cpillsbury

September 15th, 2011 at 8:20 am

Posted in Blog Entry