Archive for August, 2007

Going Postal: The US Postal Service doesn’t redeliver for you!

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

I’ve recently had a pair of experience with package delivery services that seem worthy of comment.

First, I was expecting a package from UPS. I arranged my schedule to stay home, and the package didn’t come. Finally, at 8 pm, the UPS truck pulled up. The driver told me that the truck my package was on had broken down, and they had needed to quickly redistribute the packages for delivery. UPS drivers are represented by the Teamsters, so I would expect that the drivers who picked up the broken down truck’s load were paid overtime.

UPS delivery at 8 pm!

Wow. The UPS truck breaks down, and I still get my package when scheduled!

Second, I am attempting to get a package that was sent via the US Postal Service. It was for an on-line order shipped on August 16. On Saturday, August 18, the USPS attempted to deliver the package, but I was out of the house visiting friends. They left behind a tracking note that claimed to “redeliver for you,” but it curiously did not have a tracking number. (UPS notices are superior in this respect. The notice has a number which can be scanned by the driver’s computer and linked into the tracking record with no data entry.)

In the past, I’ve found that I can’t actually schedule redelivery for at least three days out. The package has to go back from the carrier to the post office, where it can meet up with your request and be given back to the carrier for redelivery. On Monday, August 20, I went to usps.com and requested redelivery on Thursday the 23rd. The web site helpfully spit out a “confirmation” number. I arranged my schedule to be home on the 23rd to receive my package.

On Thursday, the package didn’t show, and I didn’t hear anything from the USPS.

I rearranged my Friday schedule to be home, in case I was off by a day. The package didn’t show on Friday, either.

On the morning of Saturday the 25th, I went to the post office to pick up my package, on the theory that my confirmation number didn’t mean anything. But, because I am a redelivery-requesting fool, the package was at the “carrier station.” (I should observe here that I like the way that UPS and FedEx packages return to an office at the end of the day, and you can go get them.) The people at the counter told me that the package was out for redelivery, so they didn’t have it.

At this point, I’m wondering what I’ve done to annoy the Package Delivery Gods. Had I never requested an attempted redelivery, my package would have been waiting and I would have had it. But no, I believed that the USPS would try to deliver my package on the date that they confirmed.

The people at the counter gave me the number for the carrier station. I called and spoke with my carrier, who said that my package is coming today. He twisted his ankle and has been out, which is why redelivery is taking so long. All I have to do is drop my plans to leave the house for the third day in a row.

So, if you’re sending me a package, please send it UPS. They can attempt to redeliver the next day, let me pick it up at their office, track on line, and when they confirm a service, it actually happens. On the other hand, if you want me to be annoyed with you before I ever open the box, send it USPS.

Recommendation: Sanyo eneloop rechargeable batteries

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Like most people I know, I own way too many battery-powered electronic devices. My photography habit is only making the matter worse, since I have a ton of equipment that is powered by AA batteries. Many pros will use nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries because their high capacity and low internal resistance are good characteristics for many photography applications, most notably, powering flash units.

The trouble with NiMH batteries is that they self-discharge rapidly, about 1-2% per day. If you charge up a set and leave them alone for a month, they’ll be almost flat. Photo pros don’t have a problem with this, since many of them shoot in high enough volumes that it’s not a big inconvenience to keep charging them since their usage runs way ahead of the self-discharge.

For the rest of us photographers, it is a major annoyance. It also prevents batteries from being used in some attractive applications, like remote controls. Remotes don’t draw a lot of power, but the self-discharge will make rechargeables run flat far too quickly to be used.

Fortunately, Sanyo may have come to the rescue with their new eneloop batteries. They’re lower capacity than most NiMH batteries, but Sanyo claims they don’t self-discharge. I haven’t done any quantitative testing, but my personal experience so far is that the claim is not completely farfetched. I bought a set of AAs and popped them into my flash on July 19. I’m still shooting with them, so even a month after installation they still have something.

(Sanyo claims that they retain 90% of their charge after 6 months, 85% after a year, and 70% at two years, but I have not attempted to verify those figures. Sanyo ships them charged and says they can be used immediately on receipt, which certainly is true.)

The next qualitative test is with the set of AAAs that arrived on Friday. On Sunday the 19th, I installed them into my Logitech Harmony remote. I’ll report back when I need to recharge them.

802.11 and disaster recovery

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

On August 1, the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed in Minneapolis. I learned about it on the train home when somebody IMed me to ask about it. My parents live in the area now, and my brother was going to be visiting that day, so I made a few quick phone calls to see if everybody was OK. Calling landlines in the area resulted in an “all circuits busy” tone, but I was able to get through to my family’s mobile phones. They don’t live in the same cell as the bridge, which is a good thing according to this recent article in Wi-Fi Planet:

In fact, as many as 1 in 5 cellular calls to and from the disaster area failed to go through when demand peaked after the collapse. According to the Chicago Tribune, emergency workers resorted to personal cell phones as back-up for a new universal radio system, prompting authorities to ask residents to hold their calls to keep the lines open for rescuers.

The article expands on the topic of network access in disasters, noting how network access can be a lifeline. Rapid capacity expansion is a well-known advantage of wireless networks. It won’t be long before disaster-management teams routinely bring wireless equipment, either in the form of 802.11 or some other technology, on to disaster sites to assist the rescue teams.

Municipal networks have an advantage in being the network equivalent of the “first responder.” Many of these networks are now moving in the direction of more secure access technologies, such as 802.1X (WPA Enterprise) and away from browser-based logins. As this shift occurs, networks will need to provide access to emergency services, usually by regulatory mandate. Within 802.11, the protocol features to enable unauthenticated access for limited purpose is being developed in 802.11u.