Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Spider enclosure

with 16 comments

On November 1st I came across this small spider enclosure on a
purpose-bent stalk of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium).
Three weeks later the enclosure looked about the same.

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Why don’t problems that are easily fixed get fixed?

So I was checking out at Whole Foods a couple of months ago. Because of the pandemic, many credit/debit card terminals have been upgraded so that now you can tap a card on the device instead of having to swipe the card or insert it. The problem is that a customer doesn’t know exactly where on the terminal to tap the electronic chip in the card. My first taps didn’t work, so I asked the checker-outer specifically where I needed to hold my card. She indicated a place a bit further back from where I’d tried. That worked.

I pointed out to her that the store could head off this problem by putting a little sticker with the words TAP HERE in the exact place under which the hidden sensor sits inside the terminal. She and the bagger seemed not to understand what I was saying, or else didn’t think it was important. I went on to explain that different stores use different kinds of terminals, and some of them are finicky about exactly where a card needs to be tapped. Employees who work the registers learn where that spot is, but customers can’t be expected to know, so a little sticker or some other symbol would show us the right place to tap. Eventually, one right after the other, the two clerks suddenly changed demeanor and said my suggestion was a good one and they’d pass it along to the management, but I got the distinct impression they were just saying that to get rid of me. If I go back to that Whole Foods a few months from now, I seriously doubt I’ll see a little sticker on each terminal showing where to tap a card.

Store bathrooms often present the same kind of problem in automated sinks, hand dryers, and paper towel dispensers: where exactly to put your hand(s) to make the device come on. I often have to move my hands around to various positions until the device finally activates—and sometimes no hand position ever manages to make the device come on. The easy fix would be to use a sensor that responds to a broader range of hand positions. If the concern is that a more-sensitive sensor might cause unintentional activation by people relatively far way, then a device could have two or three less-sensitive sensors spaced out to cover different hand positions. That would raise the machine’s cost a little, but I think reducing customers’ frustration and wasted time would be worth it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 30, 2021 at 4:28 AM

16 Responses

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  1. The power of your hi-res camera is very noticeable in this picture, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    November 30, 2021 at 8:44 AM

  2. What a wonderful presentation of an uncommonly beautiful enclosure. The contrast between the vertical red stem and the bent green one, and the position of the ‘thicker’ white silk are so nice. It struck me first as an abstraction, even though a very concrete spider created it.


    November 30, 2021 at 8:51 AM

    • This stood out to me for all the reasons you’ve stated, and I knew I was onto something good. I hoped someone at bugguide.net might identify, even in general terms, the sort of spider that made this enclosure; so far no one there has.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 30, 2021 at 10:46 AM

  3. The spider’s enclosure reminded me of the Sydney Australia opera house for some reason.
    You might have had a career in human factors and ergonomics, had you chosen to, for your evaluation of the no-touch terminals was spot-on.
    A couple of years ago, at a Zoe’s Kitchen franchise, I had a hard time getting the frayed order number poster card into the holder. I told the wait person that they could eliminate the problem by laminating the cards, which would increase the lifetime of the cards. Said she should submit it through their company’s suggestion program if they had one. Time passed. At a different Zoe’s Kitchen, noticed that the cards were laminated. Asked about it, and the waiter said they all had to use them. More time passes. At the first restaurant, asked how the change had come about. The waitperson mentioned that their location had had to get corporate permission to purchase a laminating machine, and that now the order number cards came to them pre-laminated.
    Moral of the story? Sometimes when you share your knowledge with others it makes a difference. Like when you share info on your techniques or equipment, or exposure settings.


    November 30, 2021 at 10:37 AM

    • I like that leap of fancy to the Sydney opera house (which we saw from the outside in 2005).

      That’s a good story about the cards at Zoe’s finally getting laminated. Do you think your comment was responsible for the change? Why the people in charge of the company didn’t think of it in the first place is beyond me.

      Over the years I’ve often thought that I missed out on a career as two things. The first is what you mentioned, which used to be (and may still be) called an efficiency expert. The other is as a historian.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 30, 2021 at 10:55 AM

      • I do believe that the first wait person took my information to heart and submitted a suggestion, hence the remark that they had to get corporate approval for a laminating machine. I hope she got some kind of recognition or reward for submitting it.


        December 1, 2021 at 10:02 AM

  4. Wow – that’s an amazing photo!

    M.B. Henry

    November 30, 2021 at 3:20 PM

  5. Lovely photo! I like the geometry of it, lines bordering the webbing. That bit of red nicely offsets the white, too.


    November 30, 2021 at 4:31 PM

  6. That’s an interesting formation for a spider enclosure. I can’t say I’ve noticed anything like it before. Spiders and their habits and web designs are fascinating. I wish I could find one who could answer my many questions about their lives!

    My whole life I have been able to look at something and find all of the flaws in design or function. I’ve learned that not many people really give a flip about my view or ideas about improvement. Even a favorite Sis-in-law says I’m a real downer when we go shopping because she might find something she loves, and I take one look at it and find flaws or improvements to be made, or even point out the ridiculousness of an item. But, as Robert said above, sometimes it does make a difference to mention a way to improve something. I’ll just keep voicing and then let it go. You never know when a comment will prompt change.


    December 1, 2021 at 10:48 AM

    • I’m pretty sure I’d seen spider enclosures like this before, though not often. I still haven’t learned what kind of spider makes it.

      You’re right that most people don’t think about improvements. I can’t not think about such things. I often notice simple ways to improve a device or process. Give me a time machine and I might go back and become an efficiency expert. On the positive side, some people do listen to suggestions and implement them. If only that were more common.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 1, 2021 at 10:57 AM

  7. I have to share my soap story from a few months back. The soap dispensers were adhered to the wall so I thought put my hand under and dispense and nothing. There was some writing on the dispenser in less than 7 point font and forgot about me being able to read that. Luckily I had wipes and sanitizer with me – solved my own problem. I asked the mister if he had troubles and he stated you have to squeeze it. Okay – this makes no sense to me at all! Dirty hands and everyone is squeezing the dispenser of soap with said dirty hands, Of course there was no paper toweling either and air dryers were offered. Do people really think this is the best idea to dispense soap in a public restroom. I do not.

    Okay – on to my other comment. I do not care for the 8-legged but this is a masterpiece of webbing – WOW!!!


    December 7, 2021 at 2:28 PM

    • I’ve noticed that quite a few commenters over the years have expressed an aversion to spiders. In fact that seems to be a common human attitude. In a picture like this one you can appreciate the intricate architecture of the webbing without having to look at the spider that we know must have created it.

      Your dispenser story is just the kind of thing I had in mind. These kinds of problems are pretty common, and I still don’t understand why the people in charge don’t fix them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2021 at 7:55 PM

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