Wednesday, 5 March 2014

09:02 – Barbara said the drive to work was messy yesterday morning, but by afternoon the streets were generally clear and dry. It never did get far enough above freezing to melt off the sleet and ice, but I guess the sunny, breezy day caused the frozen stuff to sublimate. Now the forecast is calling for more winter weather either tomorrow or Friday, depending on which forecast you believe. This has been the harshest winter since I moved to Winston-Salem in 1980. It seems we’ve had frozen stuff on the ground more days this winter than we normally have over the course of five years or more.

I’m currently making up chemicals for international kits, which got me thinking about international shipments. Until now, we’ve been shipping to any country that USPS will allow us to generate a postage label for. So far, there haven’t been any major problems, but shipping internationally exposes us to a great deal of risk. Frankly, I don’t trust the postal systems in many countries, and if they don’t deliver we’re on the hook for the cost of the kit and the postage, which is significant.

So I’ve decided to limit international shipments to the ABC countries: Australia, Britain, and Canada. The vast majority of our foreign shipments go to those countries, and the vast majority of that majority go to Canada. So, in fact, I may decide to limit shipments to the US and Canada only. Doing that would eliminate maybe 3% of our business, but there’s more risk associated with that 3% than the other 97% combined.


17 thoughts on “Wednesday, 5 March 2014”

  1. Confronted the boss about the transactions. He gave a reasonable explanation for why he did the transactions. I still question why he did it five times. What he wanted to test could have been done with only a couple of transaction. I did notice that he broke out in a sweat when I confronted him with the information.

    I did tell him that he should never be doing any transactions on his own account. Instead use the account for the organization. That account is in the system just to provide a holding place to store some address information. Anything done to that account is generally ignored.

    He concurred with what I said. At this point I have to give him the benefit of doubt. Ever since he was a student initiated into the organization he has wanted the job and during his interview indicated it was his dream job. I have no reason to believe he would do something really stupid and jeopardize the job.

    He in fact thanked me for finding the information and being diligent about coming to him with the information. He acknowledged that using his own record was not the wisest choice. He even offered to show me his tax return so that I would know that he did not claim the donations that he entered.

    So at this point I consider it closed and will not pursue the matter any further.

  2. Yup. Good, though, that you have the CYA backup files off-site. I got into that frame of mind a while back after the fugly matriarchy running the show during my sentence in state gummint screwed me repeatedly with lies and sandbagging. Now I routinely back up email, notes, IM conferences and chats, etc. off-site from jobs.

    And apparently we all should be doing that now in any interactions with police and security agents of the State, via cell-phone streaming to machines elsewhere.

    Mrs. OFD off to Montreal this morning to retrieve daughter from McGill for “reading week,” and she’ll be here several days writing papers in German and Russian.

    In geek nooz, this Windows (formerly 8.1) machine crapped the bed the other day; would not boot into Windoze, and I ran through all the usual capers trying to get it running. Ended up with last resort of formatting the drive and re-installing, and this time left it at 8.0 where it will stay.) Only possibly relevant error mss. I saw had to do with a broken Registry from the last Restore Point.

    So the bad thing is that we lost some stuff, nothing hugely important, and I hadda reinstall some apps; the good thing being a nice clean and uncluttered system again and a regular backup op running now, my bad.

    In further geek nooz; I did not get that job I went to a “second round” interview for; they clearly wanted a young whippersnapper who’s into all the touchie-feelie and trendy workplace hoss shit and who can do code-monkey stuff all day long with a big enthusiastic smile pasted on his hipster viz. Hardware boyz from server rooms need not apply, I guess. So now I’m hanging on possibly being called back for another merc gig at Big Blue.

    And interestingly; I could not get any of the RHEL or RHEL clones to see the Qualcomm/Atheros ethernet controller on an HP Pavilion box here, after weeks of trying out drivers, compiling stuff, opening tickets at RH and BugZilla, etc. So I installed Fedora 20, ran the native virtualization app, and Bingo, I have a Scientific Linux 6.5 vm on there now which forces the o.s. to see the host’s eth0. I’d done the same with RHEL and CentOS prior to going with SL.

  3. Hi Ray, excellent! I love one of Pournelle’s sayings, “Do not ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence”. He supposedly got it from Napoleon. Sounds perfectly acceptable in this case.

    Until now, we’ve been shipping to any country that USPS will allow us to generate a postage label for. So far, there haven’t been any major problems, but shipping internationally exposes us to a great deal of risk. Frankly, I don’t trust the postal systems in many countries, and if they don’t deliver we’re on the hook for the cost of the kit and the postage, which is significant.

    This is why we use UPS outside the USA. Bloody expensive (can easily go over $100, especially for boonies deliveries), but you know it got there or else they will contact you about return / destroy. We always destroy.

  4. In geek nooz, this Windows (formerly 8.1) machine crapped the bed the other day; would not boot into Windoze, and I ran through all the usual capers trying to get it running. Ended up with last resort of formatting the drive and re-installing, and this time left it at 8.0 where it will stay.) Only possibly relevant error mss. I saw had to do with a broken Registry from the last Restore Point.

    I never update Windows anymore after the Windows XP over Windows 98 debacle. I always do a clean install. I know that they test, test, test and then test some more but the dadgum Windows registry is so fragile that I am very scared of it.

    Plus I always buy the retail version of Windows for a PC. I know that I am paying more but having those disks in my possession is very important to me for verification that we have bought all the software that we use. Until yesterday. I bought a retail copy of office 2013 business / home from Amazon with just the key card. Apparently MS no longer ships CDs anymore for Office.
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SPWJ98/

  5. “Apparently MS no longer ships CDs anymore for Office.”

    They haven’t for a while now; ditto other M$ apps, and they’d prefer it if you download their o.s. from the net but anything you have to download from them takes forever and is prone to hiccups and general badness.

  6. A Microsoft O/S is a 2 to 3 GB download. That is crazy. Office should be 300 to 500 MB? I guess that I will find out.

    I wonder how long the download URLs are going to be good for? MS rewrites their website every six months so their URLs go bad in a hurry.

    Actually, I have been wondering how many laptops and desktops still come with a CD reader. Most of my customers just download our install.exe from our website, it is only 80 MB. We do have quite a few customers who still want a CD randomly. I am also wondering if we need to transition to small USB drives for those people.

    Sigh, the only constant in the computer world is change.

  7. @OFD: Sorry to hear about the job. We’re of an age that getting jobs is no longer easy – hope the merc-gig works out.

    Windows-XP: I just realized that we still have a machine (used as a cash-register) running XP. I’ll probably just leave it for now. The software running on it is my own creation, and the newest version from January also runs on Linux. So over the summer it will get linuxified.

    Linux is one of those things – I really do prefer it over Windows nowadays, but the lack of consistency is frustrating. At the moment I have Mint on my laptop, and for months I could reliably close the lid, and it would suspend. Open the lid and continue where I left off – really lovely. As of last month, resuming no longer required me to enter my password – a bit unsettling, but I ignored it. As of last week, I cannot get the darned thing to suspend no matter what I do. Irritating… I suppose I’ll update to the most recent Mint at some point, and see if that fixes things (or if it makes them worse).

  8. So I’ve decided to limit international shipments to the ABC countries: Australia, Britain, and Canada.

    You’re probably pretty safe with Ireland and New Zealand too. I would also be willing to bet that a few select Western European countries (Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, etc.) plus Japan are probably a safe bet as well.

  9. Probably, but it’s a pain in the butt to deal with each new country. I have actually shipped to all of the countries you mention, but there are details to keep up with. For example, homeschooling is illegal in Germany. Ordinarily in the customs document I describe what I’m shipping as “homeschool science kit”. Doing that on a kit going to Germany would very likely result in the kit being confiscated and hard questions being asked of the addressee.

  10. So I’ve decided to limit international shipments to the ABC countries: Australia, Britain, and Canada. The vast majority of our foreign shipments go to those countries, and the vast majority of that majority go to Canada. So, in fact, I may decide to limit shipments to the US and Canada only. Doing that would eliminate maybe 3% of our business, but there’s more risk associated with that 3% than the other 97% combined.

    If you’re concerned about the risks of international shipments, charge your international customers more. That way you give them a choice. They can refuse to do business with you because you charge them an extra $20 per kit beyond shipping or they can pay the premium. What you’re doing now is declining to give them the option.

  11. Given the low volume, it’s just not worth the hassle. At a guess, maybe 8% of our kits ship to customers outside the US (counting APO/FPO as US customers). Something like 90% of our international shipments are to Canada, and most of the rest are to Australia and the UK.

  12. “We’re of an age that getting jobs is no longer easy – hope the merc-gig works out.”

    Thanks, brad. It’s generally been harder as the years go by, despite the reputed value of wisdom and experience accruing with age. Not to mention maturity and reliability and easy-going attitude now that certain biochemical substances have decreased substantially. Not as ready to charge up the hill and attack the machine-gun bunker with a Mattel Toy artifact, though that version of ‘merc’ sometimes seems more attractive to me again than the thankless IT drone gigs. Where they’re mostly contract and temp now and the high-rolling manglers drop us like it’s a funny game for them to play at any spur of the moment or inclination.

    Kind of too old to learn a whole new trade now, too. IT has paid the bills on and off here since the late 80s, but the periods of unemployment are becoming longer and more frequent. The choice here for high skool grads is entry-level, minimum-wage scut work at restaurants and night-shift convenience stores; joining the military; or firing up a meth lab.

    Then I see ongoing discussions on the IT groups in Linked-In concerning whether certs, experience or degrees are more valuable to employers, and it’s all over the map and to varying extremes. So it’s the luck of the draw when one gets the increasingly rare interviews. Where the tech part consists in asking you various tech questions, some of which you get, and some you don’t, most likely because you either never worked with that particular thing before or it was a real long time ago and you’re at a higher level now. And the drones questioning you may be afraid that you’re too dumb or too smart, as well. Plus I could also reverse the situation and ask *them* questions that they’re not gonna get. And how are you gonna fit in with their work-style and groups, etc., etc., ? Probably not too well at that last place I was at last week.

    If I don’t get my Big Blue merc gig back, I am gonna be on the job search drill again, 30-40 hours a week. What a drag at sixty.

  13. Sixty was basically when I returned to the US. I was making the standard German wage of between €45k and 65k teaching part-time (classes every day, but not every hour). I thought it would be a snap to get a US job in education on return and pass on my experience in the broadcasting industry. Nope. Instead of being taught by people who actually worked in the city, — as it was in my school daze, — schools now want only people who have never actually worked in the industry, but have spent their whole life in education and only heard, read, and been taught by others who have never worked a single day in that field.

    My later-in-life attempts at changing jobs have been fraught with perplexities. On one TV management job, I was turned down because I insisted that producers be responsible for their own budgets, and know how much their programs were costing the company. The CEO felt that was ‘limiting’ when producers had to live within a budget — or even know anything about how much their shows cost. That was a university situation. More recently, one college I applied to (who actually ASKED me to apply) made it clear that I would need to work on advanced degrees and write books. “Not me,” I said. “Not you we’re going to hire, then,” was their response.

    So basically, it was back to what I was doing before Germany — corporate video as a freelancer. Only this time, exclusively for lawyers. I still make the same hourly wage I made in TV management, just not nearly the same number of weekly hours as fulltime. I suppose I could do more on the marketing front, but this is suitable for a transition to the day I become fully retired.

  14. “…a transition to the day I become fully retired.”

    Looks more and more like that day for me will only come when I am too decrepit physically and mentally to do any kind of remunerative work anymore. Or dead.

    I hear ya on the experience vs. education crap; seems like most IT sites want kids fresh out of a BS in CS degree who will work eighty hours a week for peanuts and then move on in three years, tops. And if I’d continued working on the PhD in English/Medieval Studies, with ten years of education and multiple languages, I’d be working now, at best, mind you, as a wandering gypsy prof, teaching at this junior college and that university and this community college, a course here, a course there, and commuting hundreds of miles to get to any of them. For peanuts and no bennies whatsoever.

    There are some days I wish I’d stayed in the military but then I recall two things: one, that I would have been KIA in a specific incident/event in SEA that occurred right after I got out, and two, my thirty years would have been theoretically up on 9/12/01. So naturally they would not have let me go and I’d still be in there right now. Maybe.

    Or stuck with the cops and retired four years ago. Goof off from now on or work a second job and retire from that one, too.

    But no use crying over spilt whatever. It is what it is, and I can see a series of part-time this and that for the next few years, broken up by short periods of full-time gigs and more periods of unemployment. At best.

  15. My best friend in college and my dad both wanted me in law school. You actually have to think in that profession, and like the Monty Python boys, thinking makes my brain hurt. But the older you get as a lawyer, the more work and money rolls your way. One of the few professions I know like that. In broadcasting, they have automated the hell out of everything, pay McDonald’s wages for everybody but the top, and do not want anybody over 35, unless you are on-air and a proven ratings performer. Only in the really big markets, like Chicago, NYC, and LA, does older air-talent have longevity.

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