Monday, January 4, 2010

A Better Mousetrap

Fiddling with a new gadget inspired me to write this post. Less “techy” than the usual stuff, but a testament to what interests me and how I view value. Function, form, and simplicity.

We all know the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”, right? There’s a company in the village of Lititz, Pennsylvania that’s been doing this for over a hundred years. You may not be familiar with the Woodstream Corporation but I’m sure you’ve come across their iconic products.

We know them as Victor® Metal Pedal mouse traps. Available at virtually every grocery, hardware store, and big box retailer, they are more prevalent, perhaps, than the mice they’re intended to catch.  Simple and effective for over a century. I'm inspired when otherwise mundane products stand the test of time...and often wonder whether our society is too focused on immediacy.  Have we become so fixated on "late and great", so focused on short-term results, that we've forgotten about lasting value and durability?

Each winter here in New England as the days get shorter, temperatures plummet and natural food sources become scarce. The relative warmth of our basement attracts a few unwanted guests, not many...and we do our best to keep it that way. To understand my relationship with these critters you first need to know a bit about my wife.

I adore her, she's truly a gem. She’s everything a person could desire in a spouse, a wonderful mom to our kids, a bright spot for me every day...and still tolerant of my antics after many years. Impressively fearless, I’ve discovered that she has one acute, dare I say irrational, fear.


About five years ago we first saw evidence of mice in our basement. She discovered the signs...but clearly it was my problem. Do you know this feeling?

Midsummer, while enjoying a family vacation and visit with relatives on their farm in western Illinois, we marveled at vast golden wheat fields, an uncommon sight in our native Connecticut.  The family time together was memorable. As a souvenir we “harvested” some of the beautiful grain to bring home.  Artfully arranged, the wheat was proudly displayed on the mantle for several months.

As autumn turned to winter we decked our home for the holidays. Anticipating its return during the summer months we carefully stored the arrangement downstairs.

The mice were grateful...but far from gracious.

My wife suggested that I “take care of the problem.” I snapped-to, taking what I now recognize as a laissez-faire approach to ridding our home of these pests. I removed potential sources of food, blocked any access I could find, set a few traps, and experimented with various baits. How tough could this be?

On day two I checked my traps, learning that mice overlooked cheese in favor of peanut butter...Skippy® -no cholesterol and zero trans-fats. With care, I placed the quarry in an opaque grocery bag for the trip to the trash, emerging from the basement victorious like a Peacock displaying its plumage. Skilled hunter. Great protector. Problem solved.

On my way to the outside trash bin I boastfully announced “Hey, bagged eight of ‘em!”, carefully closing the door behind me before returning minutes later.

After peeling my wife from the ceiling it occurred to me that her initial challenge was orders of magnitude greater than I realized,. An “aha” moment. Now I truly understood her. Late night sentry duty; dark, damp, cold basement; motionless in my lawn chair; full camouflage; night vision goggles; air pistol charged and ready. Fully aligned with her notion of “take care of the problem”!

A wife possessed - husband obsessed

I bought more traps, plugged more gaps, and scoured the area, eliminating all traces of edible material. After the initial catch my success rate dropped to near zero. Dutifully, I baited and set traps, often snapping my own fingers in the process, and always with the eerie sensation of being watched. I noticed that most of the traps remained set but bait was disappearing. Certain that peanut-butter didn’t evaporate, I recognized that these crafty little beasts had outsmarted the great hunter. So I did what every self-respecting husband does...and blamed the traps. Now desperate but determined, I experimented with the Victors to understand how they actually worked...looking for design issues along the way. How flawed could these things be? Heck, they’ve been flying off the shelf for more than a century.

Fast Forward to this Winter

Now my annual ritual as the cold sets in, I shopped for new traps, hoping to get a jump on this years batch of mice before they had the upper hand. There on the shelves was my favorite brand. Similar in appearance to the tried-and-true but, lo and behold, a difference. What was this new yellow platen “thingy” in place of the old stamped and formed copper bait pedal? Giddy, I had to have some...exciting stuff in my world.

Enter the Victor Easy Set® Mouse Trap. A new era. Could it be...a better mouse trap?

I bought a few and rushed home to investigate. On close inspection the improvements were obvious. Shifting from the stamped and formed copper pedal to an engineered, molded platen, designers had added important new features:

  • Larger platen, more surface area, improved likelihood of triggering
  • Longer platen, greater leverage, less force required for triggering
  • Dual settings, elective sensitivity for triggering, what every mouse hunter wants
  • Pre-scented to attract prey, how cool is this?

Seemingly minor changes to a single component dramatically improved the benefits for me, the end user. Easier to set, more likely to trigger...a better mouse trap. Oh, and made in USA including a sustainable shift to managed forestry products.

Being a  veteran of product development, I guess I’m sensitive to these little changes and have developed an appreciation for the effort that goes into them. Countless cross-functional team meetings, concept proposals, design reviews, budget debates, tooling discussions, intellectual property filings, materials assessments, prototyping, testing, focus groups, pre-production evaluations, etc.

Tremendous effort and planning result in products that simply work better and the process of design holds real beauty for me.

A Better Mousetrap

This story reminds me of a query from colleagues at RemodelCrazy. RemodelCrazy is a web forum where remodelers, builders and related industry talent gather to discuss issues relevant to home construction markets. I encourage readers to review, participate, and witness the passion these artisans have for their work and the pride with which they exchange information and operate.

The RemodelCrazy question: “Tell us why you developed the eXapath™ system. Was it out of necessity or did you see a way to fill a void in the market?”

Why - do we do it that way?

While not chasing mice in my basement I scurry around running a start-up company called Homepath Products LLC. We produce the eXapath system. This new product was developed from the standpoint of the homeowner in need of energy conserving structural design and also the flexibility to adapt to emerging consumer electronics technologies. eXapath is an innovative in-wall low voltage cable pathway that integrates seamlessly during construction and renovation, providing the flexibility to move , add or upgrade low voltage cables without major disruption.  It’s revolutionary and provides a great example of the product development process...the art of building something better. eXapath addresses a latent need that most homeowners realize after they’ve occupied a space for some which point it’s a painful oversight...too late and very expensive to work around.

For eXapath we asked “why do we do it that way?” about traditional home wiring and rejected the pat answer “because we’ve always done it that way”. Specifically, we address a key difference between electrical wiring (line voltage) and the low voltage wires used for things like cable TV, whole-house audio, data networks, home theater, media room, security, automation, etc.

Think about it. Compared to the life expectancy of the home, the wiring for electric power changes little, therefore, permanent installation makes good sense.

Conversely, low voltage wiring, the technology we get most of our information and entertainment through, changes often and is expensive and difficult to move, add or upgrade when installed permanently. Add to this the tightness of better insulated homes and changing permanently installed wires becomes even more difficult and costly.

Why not build homes that are energy conserving AND ready for technological change?

eXapath enables you to do this.

There’s a lot more to the story, including features of the eXapath design that benefit home designers; builders; installers; and foremost, the homeowners themselves. Click here for a new paper explaining the system and see what’s in it for you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you're curious about energy conservation and the eXapath system be sure to read this.

Function, form, simplicity, and benefits that last as long as the home.

(for the record these are my own opinions and observations, I am not associated with any company or product named in this article other than those related to Homepath Products LLC)


  1. Love the analogy, this is a great post!!

  2. Tim.

    The irony is that the entire story, while embellished for entertainment,is true.



  3. Mike,

    Fantastic post. Love the intro! Keep up the great work!


  4. Mike -- love this post. you really are developing a style. time tested tale of mike and mouse. It is so refreshing to see some of the stuff behind the man (ie the misses) and further it cool that you draw parallels with how, what and why your company became inspired. jb @BMoxieBMore

  5. jb,

    Thanks for commenting and for the continued support...learning about blogging as I go and owe you a big thanks for demonstrating how it's done at (A great blog to follow for anyone interested in home related stuff and the moxie needed to tackle it)



  6. Come on, be did think about sitting down in the basement with night vision just once, didn't you? Great post! I was rolling. And, yes, mice are my husbands problem in our house too...and, yes, they are getting smarter and smarter.

  7. Amy, thanks for the comment...and yes, I did think about going subterranean, full camouflage with the air pistol (but I don't own one, or camo for that matter)

    This winter, so far, so good.



  8. Great post, Mike, and I'm sure your wife appreciates your investigative nature. Looking forward to reading more. BTW, I'll be introducing my students to eXapath in my Residential Detailing class this semester.

    Building Industry Resources

  9. Great read, Mike!

    Thanks for the grins! BTW, I've found that french fries work great - an accidental discovery when working a model home many years ago.

    Design MATTERS - mousetraps, homes, software. How true!

  10. Thanks Karen...glad you enjoyed it and thanks very much for sharing eXapath with your students. I really appreciate the help.

    Also, your December blog( suggesting topics helped greatly in forming my post...more to come throughout 2010.

    Building Intelligence. Building Support. Building Relationships.



  11. Jessica,

    Thanks for the comments...and for the great tip about french fries...of course, if I bait them with fries I may get caught in the traps myself...I like fries probably as much as the mice.



  12. Good Stuff and fun to read. I figured I should read your blog, since you mentioned you have read mine. Well........I am glad I did. :)

  13. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for taking the time to check it out and glad you enjoyed it. Please visit often as we'll be adding more in the weeks and months to come.


  14. Great post, Mike!

    Some initial thoughts:

    1) Had a vision of you falling asleep in the basement with those mice climbing all over your night-vision goggles and laser scope, all having a good laugh at your expense;

    2) What the Victor people should do in the interest of sustainable forest products is offer a "rebate" program where you can mail them the "quarry" in a sealed, pre-paid envelope, and then send you a fresh trap (if you need one) or refund you a deposit. They, in turn, recycle the traps. (I know..pretty gross, huh?!)

    But seriously, I really enjoyed the way you blended your home and family experiences with your philosophy of incremental design refinement. Provides insight into the evolution of the eXapath / Homepath design strategy of identifying need and addressing it with an optimal function and form solution. Very well done!


  15. LOL...thanks John. I thoroughly enjoyed your piece "Hey Rocky, Watch me Pull a Squirrel out of my Attic...Again!" Interested readers can find it here:

    Now, on a separate note, the idea of recycling mouse traps has a certain brilliance...have you considered the prey as an abundant and self propagating food source? :-)

    Thanks again!


    The Hunter