Thursday, 26 December 2013

08:39 – Barbara continues with her annual Deep Clean. I’m doing year-end stuff.


14:32 – Well, data are still coming in, but it appears that the Christmas season turned into a debacle for UPS. The remaining Big Three package delivery companies, FedEx and USPS, appear to have had some minor glitches, but in general acquitted themselves pretty well. UPS basically collapsed. USPS was still making last-minute deliveries on Christmas morning. FedEx apparently wasn’t delivering, but at least they kept their centers open to allow customers to pick up packages on Christmas Day. UPS was apparently closed completely. I would expect UPS to have declared an all-hands-on-deck emergency and run full delivery services from the wee small hours of Christmas morning all the way through Christmas evening, or until they got everything delivered. Instead, they apparently all took the day off and just left a bunch of packages sitting in their distribution centers for delivery today and the rest of the week. Geez.

I just got another fundraising email from Wikipedia, so I went ahead and donated. I’d encourage any of my readers who use Wikipedia to do the same. Even $20 helps a lot.

16 thoughts on “Thursday, 26 December 2013”

  1. Back from a 6 day excursion/hiatus. I swear, no matter what I do to try and escape the frenzied insanity of Xmas, it does not work. If Majorca were still a basically uninhabited island, I would spend December there, but those damned Germans have turned it into a condo-laden, super-busy, fully-occupied tourist trap for Europe. It was so deserted when I was there in the ’70’s, that I seriously worried about what we would do if the rickety rental car broke down (nothing was new on that island back then), because it was miles to the nearest house when we were travelling to a restaurant run by a woman Detroit escapee (some of the best food I have ever eaten, BTW), and we never passed another car going either way on the trip there. Restaurant was packed, nonetheless. Nothing is remote on that island nowadays.

    Meanwhile, it looks like Abenomics is in trouble in Japan—despite the protests of PM Abe, himself—even today declaring that all is going according to plan.

    http://soberlook.com/2013/12/the-unintended-consequences-of-abenomics.html

    It certainly appears that we are entering circumstances where trying to inflate the economy is becoming impossible. I know that sounds weird and incongruous, but printing money does not guarantee it will enter the circulation stream. It requires large scale borrowing by business, and the actual spending of that borrowing. That is not happening; in fact, it looks to me like increased borrowing is not going to happen, with most huge corporations experiencing very slow growth, which precludes the need for borrowing to expand. Furthermore, a great many of them bit off more borrowing than they could chew just before the Great Recession, and still are not earning enough to even pay the interest on their debt, let alone return any principal. In broadcasting, Clear Channel is just one of those.

    And the second thing is that the movement of wealth from the middle-class to the super-rich is hurting the cause of inflation. The super-rich have a much higher savings rate than the middle-class, who—in the US—spend almost all of what they make.

    Moreover, borrowing huge lots of money for acquisitions does not create jobs (nor does saving by the super-rich). Yet another reason to adopt policies that discourage the monopolization of America and the growth of increasingly unethical money-grabbing practices by big business. In fact, in the case of Clear Channel, they cut jobs dramatically so they could pay the exorbitant borrowing overhead, and they still cannot even make the interest payments alone. Think there are going to be any new jobs at Clear Channel? Think again.

    Borrowing money to build new plant and equipment does create jobs. But the former above is what has been going on in the US for the last decade, not the latter. Paying back banks and bonds is deflationary activity, which also does not create jobs, it merely retires money from circulation.

    But at least in the US, the dollar has been increasing in worth, even if we are not seeing price decreases yet. In Japan, as the above article notes, the Yen has been falling in value, increasing costs to the growing ranks of elderly in Japan. Shoplifting by those over 65 has been increasing dramatically, and over half of those offenses involve stealing food.

    Lastly, AOL has announced it will keep the Winamp site open, as it says it is close to a sale of Winamp and Shoutcast. Rumors are that the buyer is Micro$oft. So the Winamp site is open and has not closed. Winamp, BTW is nothing in the US, with cloud purveyors being the champs; but in the rest of the world, Winamp is by far the #1 choice for music playing, all the cloud-oriented stuff having not made a dent in computing over there.

  2. @ech Yes, I would love to get that long cut of Al Stewart “Class of ’58”. For a few more days, you can reach me at chuck(dot)waggoner(at)alumni(dot)indiana(dot)edu. That is my lifetime email forwarding address, whose lifetime ends on the last day of this year. Write me there, and I will give you another email address where you can reach me more permanently.

    Thanks for the offer!

  3. Most of the packages I received this month were delivered on time. I get a lot of packages delivered by UPS, Fedex, USPS and a regional carrier called OnTrac. The service, except for OnTrac, is generally good.

    Amazon has offered a refund on shipping charges or an extension of Amazon Prime accounts for customers whose packages were delivered late by UPS. I’m not sure what they’re doing for customers who has standard “free” shipping.

    I received a package today from Costco which was sent by UPS “3 day select” and should have been delivered on Tuesday. I sent Costco an email requesting a refund of the shipping charge. UPS will only let the shipper claim a refund for a late delivery, not the recipient, even though the recipient is usually the one who paid the shipping charges. UPS screwed up this year. They did not have enough people to handle the combination of high package volume and major weather delays. Neither should have been a surprise. I suspect they didn’t operate yesterday because they didn’t want to pay the overtime.

    I don’t feel sorry for UPS, but I also don’t feel sorry for the people who claim their Xmas was “ruined” by the late delivery of a package. If your holiday is ruined by something like this, your priorities are wrong. Last summer my son had to leave for China on less than a week’s notice. He relied on Fedex to handle the shipping to obtain his Visa. If Fedex had screwed up it would have caused him major problems. Fedex didn’t screw up. Fedex has consistently for more than thirty years been very good at fixing their screw-ups. Back in the ’70’s Fedex accidentally sent a passport I needed to Seattle instead of Portland. Rather than apologizing and delivering it the next day, they put it on a flight from Seattle to Portland and I had it about two hours after the mistake was discovered. A few years ago, I had a shipment that needed to go from Portland to Austin overnight. The Fedex web site showed their office near the Portland Airport could receive packages until 8 P.M. I arrived at the office at about 7 and it was closed. I called them, explained the problem and they arranged to ship it the following morning for same day delivery and charge the overnight rate. In both cases they screwed up and in both cases they fixed the problem. I am certain that the fine print in their “terms and conditions” absolved them of any responsibility to fix the problems. Their people had the discretion to recognize a problem and fix it.

    Any business can screw up. Taking responsibility for your customers’ problems and fixing them, even if they’re the fault of a third party, is the mark of great customer service. As Bob has described, he fixes his customers’ problems, no matter whose fault they are. If I ever need something Bob sells, I won’t hesitate to buy it from him. Nordstrom’s, Amazon and Costco are very good at this. Thirty years ago, so was Sears. I try to offer my customers the same level of service. It occasionally costs me money, but I think it’s worth it.

    Rick in Portland

  4. I donated $10 to Wikipedia last week. I sent emails to my colleagues suggesting that, if they use Wikipedia, they should donate. While Wikipedia isn’t perfect, it is an incredible resource.

    A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine and I were doing a telephone technical screening of a job applicant. I always start out the screening by explaining that “I don’t know” or “I don’t know, but I know how to find the answer” are acceptable answers. My colleague asked a question that I did not know the answer to. I looked it up in Wikipedia and saw that the applicant was reading the Wikipedia article verbatim in answer to the question. I sent an IM to my colleague explaining what the applicant had done. The screening ended shortly after that and the applicant did not get the job. If the applicant had said “I don’t know, but let me check Wikipedia”, he might have got the job. That was the last time we did a telephone screening.

    Rick (who does not have his own Wikipedia article) in Portland

  5. Any business can screw up. Taking responsibility for your customers’ problems and fixing them, even if they’re the fault of a third party, is the mark of great customer service. As Bob has described, he fixes his customers’ problems, no matter whose fault they are. If I ever need something Bob sells, I won’t hesitate to buy it from him. Nordstrom’s, Amazon and Costco are very good at this. Thirty years ago, so was Sears. I try to offer my customers the same level of service. It occasionally costs me money, but I think it’s worth it.

    Oh, yeah, it’s worth it. We make the majority of our purchases from Amazon or Costco for just that reason. Treating customers right is just good business. It used to be that pretty much every business knew that. Nowadays, I wonder.

  6. There is no downside these days for businesses that treat their customers badly. Even CEO’s of failing companies get a golden parachute when their butt is kicked out the door. Banks and creditors may not get their money, but the very top staff get theirs before the money is all gone and the doors closed for good.

    I always have preferred Fed Ex over UPS, although Fed Ex fees have become comparatively outrageous in recent years. Their overnight used to be an almost unbelievable bargain. Before the days of fax machines, we used to Fed Ex scripts back and forth for projects that involved people who did not live near the station. In those days, it cost about the same to get 100 pages photocopied as it did to send them overnight to somewhere in the US.

  7. …but the very top staff get theirs before the money is all gone and the doors closed for good.

    Actually, the shareholders get theirs first and thanks to 401Ks and IRAs that’s most of us.

  8. Actually, UPS has done better for me this year than FedEx. I’ve had 2 packages from FedEx delivered late, once because they didn’t even try to deliver on time; one NewEgg order partially shipped through UPS that arrived the day after I ordered it (ordered Mon. Dec. 23, it arrived Tues. Dec. 24) while the part that went FedEx is in the local distribution center:
    “At local FedEx facility
    Package not due for delivery”
    And that’s been typical of my FedEx and UPS experiences. FedEx has consistently sucked. And when any of the shippers use USPS for the “last mile”, even though they’ve improved, it still takes significantly longer than going the whole way by one carrier.

  9. “Rick (who does not have his own Wikipedia article) in Portland”

    A lecturer in a subject I did in 2007 fabricated a Wikipedia article on a non existent person and told us to find some facts about him. He then told us it was all a con, the moral being not to rely on it. Most wouldn’t allow quotes from Wikipedia, I use it all the time but am skeptical of anything there.

  10. “I just got another fundraising email from Wikipedia, so I went ahead and donated. I’d encourage any of my readers who use Wikipedia to do the same. Even $20 helps a lot.”

    Funny, but I’ve never had an e-mail from them asking for dough. A few weeks ago there were pop ups asking for donations, and I gave them $20. Unfortunately the begging continued for a week or so after that. I wish there was a way to turn off the begging once a donation has been sent. I gave them some money 12-18 months ago and they never bothered me by e-mail, just sent receipts.

  11. I had no problems with any of the package carriers this season, but then again I got only a few shipments. I have noticed that when the USPS handles the actual delivery it seems to add two days as often as it does only one. And my younger sister’s family had a screw up thanks to Amazon. They ordered something for daughter #3, but Amazon picked, packaged, and shipped the wrong item. It took my sister three calls for help before the light bulb went off and they finally realized what happened. Amazon is supposed to be rushing delivery of the correct item, on their nickel, and has already e-mailed the pick up ticket on the wrong item, which is more expensive than the right one.

  12. Chuck’s level of cynicism is high, but he’s not wrong. At least on the level of big business, there really is no downside for management. Why invest in your products or your customers, when you can just buy out the competition? Do well, leave with a golden handshake; do poorly, leave with a golden parachute.

    We were having an evening’s discussion with a friend of ours, wondering why larger businesses seem to be unable to think past next quarter. This specifically has to do with a small business we are acquainted with, and how it has changed since being purchased by a much larger one.

    Haven’t met your numbers? Have a marketing action, push product out the door before the end of the quarter! The fact that you are cannibalizing your sales for the following quarter – and that you are therefore doomed to have the same panic again in three months – does not seem to register.

    Where the small business once would have invested money in improving it’s products, that is now the very last priority. Instead, they invest in new packaging, in social media campaigns, etc.. This is just wrong on so many levels, but it’s how the big boys do business.

    If I were cynical, I would suppose that this is because so many people major in business or marketing, and are incapable of doing actual, productive work on the products. Since the people who can work on the products are generally not interested in, or capable of being managers, the business/marketing types take over and run the companies their way.

  13. Teamsters do not work on weekends or holidays, no matter what!

    Or days that end in “Y”.

    Fixed it for you.

  14. My Brother-in-law is a UPS Teamster and my Katy first cousin’s husband is also. Yes, that is why they shut down for Christmas Day. The union contract is absolute in this matter. They could have only loaded trucks (that is half the battle) and delivered with managers.

    I have extreme regard for these people. Their knees and ankles are ruined by jumping on and off the trucks 200+ times per day. The same with their lower backs. Both my BIL and cousin’s husband are walking cripples. Both have had knee replacements and my BIL has 4 screws in his other ankle.

    If I am thinking correctly, this summer is the renewal of the UPS contract. I hope that my BIL does not have to walk the line again. If they go on strike for four ? weeks again, the nation will take a hit.

  15. “Their knees and ankles are ruined by jumping on and off the trucks 200+ times per day.”

    If that’s true, why not fix it? Trucks with a low floor exist. Given the size of the UPS fleet, they shouldn’t be any more expensive than any other type of delivery van.

    The Teamsters are like any other big, old union: They once served a good purpose; by accident, they still do from time to time. However, they have come to wield too much power over the companies. Take the Christmas Day rule: Why should the union have such a hard-and-fast rule? If someone wants to earn a bit of overtime by working Christmas, why not? I expect there are plenty of employees for whom Christmas isn’t a big deal.

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