Me and logistics: A love story looking for a plot
January 4, 2012 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Please help me create a hobby or semi-constructive pastime out of my fascination with supply chains, logistics, and shipping. Let me explain.

I love to watch TV and read about what goes on behind the scenes in airports, supermarkets, fast-food chains, and cruise ships. I love tracking packages online. I sometimes go to web sites that track container ships and just poke around. I make special trips to giant grocery emporiums (like Wegmans) and walk around thinking about how everything got there (and where it's going to go). I actually once said (kind of not kidding) "Ports make me hot!"

If I lived near train tracks I would be a trainspotter. Possibly relevant: I'm in a big eastern US city, not really near water.

It's rare for me to be interested in things, so realizing I enjoy all these related topics has been exciting. What can I do about it?
posted by kinsey to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
You should buy some moderately-priced good in bulk and then break it into lots to sell on eBay (or through your own web store) for a profit.
posted by anildash at 5:42 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Start a blog about the topic?

Also, (maybe related to the blog thing, but doesn't have to be): If you are good at photography, large warehouses, shipping yards, huge grocery stores, etc could make some great locations for rather arty photos.
posted by lollusc at 5:48 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I lived near train tracks I would be a trainspotter.

If you live near an airport, air traffic is (in my opinion) even more fascinating to watch. Listen to, get the basic airport data from, see if you can follow how it all works.

DC? Watching the Potomac approach to Washingtion National is great.
posted by kiltedtaco at 5:49 PM on January 4, 2012

(Ms. Vegetable):
- "operations research", maybe? It's a math field, but it has supply-chain tilting in it. Way cool.
- factory tours?
- working in a warehouse part time?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:55 PM on January 4, 2012

You may like this live worldwide shipping tool.
posted by cromagnon at 5:56 PM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I assume you are not looking for a job. If you were I'd tell you to go work for UPS somewhere. I had a part time job there one summer and I got to learn all the zip codes, more or less, and group packages into 13 different groups and take the boxes coming off of trucks and sort them onto conveyor belts. I'm into geeky categorization and I enjoyed that. You might like to combine something like Aircraft spotting (check out other observational hobbies) with a phone app that tells you what's overhead and a bit of understanding of the hub-and-spoke nature of how these big shipping hubs work.

Relatedly, I swap books via and one of the things it does is gives me maps of where I've been sending stuff to and receiving things from. One of the things my mom used to do when I was little was to grab me and a few neighborhood kids and call up places [like Wegman's] and ask if they did tours for small groups. So you might be able to find some people to get tours of some of these places and get to see how the back end works.

Also you should read this, it's a great story.
posted by jessamyn at 6:04 PM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Anil's idea is good if you have no hoarding instincts. I once spent a horrible day helping a friend who got in too deep on machine parts/vintage tool eBay arbitrage, and we moved maybe 1.5 tons of metal out of the secret room in the basement where he'd been forced to hide it from his girlfriend.

When I get interested in subjects along these lines I like to learn about the software that is involved and maybe get some open-source tools that allow me to see what abstractions are involved and play with them. Just figuring out the acronyms (ERP! etc.) is fun.

Subscribing to trade magazines and browsing their websites is great and often will indicate obvious activities in the ads (plus the employment listings), along with places to visit, and tours to take. For instance, BeverageWorld. And I like this book about Infrastructure.

People in construction trades or who make things very, very often like to talk about how stuff is made. They may not be interested in the logistics as much as the process or craft, but it's a topic of conversation many can share. And the historical aspect is also exciting to anyone into antique anything. "So where was this made?" is a question that people enjoy thinking through. My wife works in construction and I'm a computer nerd, but very often we spend dinner talking about all the places and people involved in creating the salt shaker, deducing how it was made and how it got to us.

FactoryToursUSA, too. And old issues of scientific publications on Google Books or used to be that covering infrastructure and processess was a major component of the technical press and so there is plenty of stuff to be read about various kinds of machinery, shipping, etc., if the historical aspects of logistics and infrastructure interest you.
posted by ftrain at 6:13 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe you could do volunteer logistics work in a nonprofit organization, such as for disaster relief.
posted by maurreen at 6:31 PM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Perhaps you have the next great board game sitting in your head and you don't even realize it yet. I'd check out a "German-style" board game with a goods, shipping, and logistics theme.
posted by Mikey-San at 6:52 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Search Search Search for white papers.

What a great question. I guess I'm a lot like that myself. People make a living at it, that's for sure, and not just at the box-humping level.

A living may not be what you're looking for, but I made one writing about logistics at different levels for a few years. Plain old Google is a great resource for that, if you can distinguish noise from information. Containers ... blue water shipping ... railheads ... multimodal terminals ... big box buying power ... protecting your supply chain -- ah, to be back in that world. Good luck!
posted by LonnieK at 7:49 PM on January 4, 2012

Build and run a model train according to life-like timetables, including freight, or join a model railway club that does.
posted by Namlit at 7:57 PM on January 4, 2012

If you enjoy tracking the movement of things, you might find Where's George? to be pretty fun. You enter all your bills in, stamp them with the website, and see where they turn up. I was pretty into it a few years back, and I'll still receive emails every so often saying one of my bills has been found. At my peak, I'd get several hits a day.

Researchers even used the site's data to help track how diseases might spread.
posted by deansfurniture5 at 8:13 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

As suggested above, how about working for a group like Medecins sans Frontieres. They need people to get medical supplies, food, equipment and people into areas with bad roads, crazy weather, and unpredictable and unstable political situations.
posted by lulu68 at 9:50 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might like to look into drop-shipping as a sideline, you could track lots of packages online as they wing their way to your customers. No storage issues.
posted by Iteki at 2:14 AM on January 5, 2012

Do you like your current job? Because it sounds like you would enjoy working in logistics (just a guess!) Seriously, people get paid big bucks to do this kind of thing. I can understand if you're perfectly happy and just want a hobby, but if you're not, you're one of the lucky one's who's personal interests just happens to line up with real business needs.
posted by strekker at 4:36 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

An interesting book to read was Moby Duck which tracked the journey of rubber duckies lost from a container ship. You may like the rumination, investigation and cast of people involved in the journey of rubber duckies.
posted by jadepearl at 4:38 AM on January 5, 2012

If you're interested in how some of the disaster assistance logistics stuff works, as maurreen mentioned above, check out rollbiz's reports from what they were doing during Hurricane Irene [scroll through his MeTa history and read the reports from the Irene thread, may be easier than linking to that mega-thread]. I think he works for the Red Cross in some capacity, possibly near where you are, and you might want to get ahold of him to talk more about it.
posted by jessamyn at 6:31 AM on January 5, 2012

Read 'The Box':

Read BBC's special report on 'The Box':

Take your next vacation on an ocean-going freighter (they take passengers!):
posted by scolbath at 8:15 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

What awesome suggestions - thanks everyone. I'm figuring out how to track the airplanes I'm currently watching land at DCA and ordering some of these books on Amazon (rest assured I'll track them!) Feel free to continue with suggestions. AskMeFi rules.
posted by kinsey at 4:13 PM on January 5, 2012

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