Tuesday, 30 April 2013

DHL is also incompetent

Back in February, I posted a long whinge on the incompetence of the US Postal Service (update: the item was finally delivered after nearly 5 months, mostly lost either somewhere in New York or Illinois; the tracking record has a huge gap).

DHL’s litany of shame. Click for an enlarged view.
Now it seems DHL has joined the campaign to make the South African Post Office seem competent.

I ordered 20 copies of my new book, The Day It Rained Forever, from the printer, CreateSpace. For once, I paid for priority delivery, which turned out to be DHL, because I wanted some soon to give to friends who proof read, and in the hope that it would turn up during my university’s environmental week (now past). Since I didn’t know it was being sent by courier, I used a PO Box. As soon as I had tracking information from the supplier, I contacted DHL to change delivery to my street address. Acknowledgement of that arrived yesterday (29 April). Just as well the original estimated delivery date 26 April has slipped a tad. Here’s how.

First, DHL attempted to email be an invoice for customs charges, but misspelt my email address. I had a call on my cell phone in which I corrected the error, and also gave them my ID number, needed for personal customs clearance (since I was not doing this as a company). After I didn’t receive an invoice, I phoned, then the invoice appeared in my mail, and the person I was talking to explained that I couldn’t pay the customs charges by credit card but by electronic transfer to one of three banks. Since I dealt with none of their banks, I would incur a delay of 48 hours unless I found a way to pay directly to one of their accounts. Their suggestion: go to a branch and pay over the counter. This is idiotic for two reasons: banks aren’t open all that long, and they made this suggestion a couple of minutes to 3:30pm, when the branches close. And the bank charges they would incur from a cash deposit are far higher than the charges they would incur from a credit card transaction. So I just did a transfer from my bank and sent them the proof of transaction. They acknowledged payment as follows:
25 April 2013
Dear Philip Machanick,
AWB: ###########
Thank you for your payment on the above-referenced shipment.
Please be advised that the clearance will be submitted to Customs for further review and we expect their response within 8-12 working hours from date and time of receipt of this message.
You may track the clearance and delivery progress of this clearance on our website at
Should you have any further questions or enquiries, please feel free to contact our Customer Service desk at 0860 345 000.
Thanking you,
DHL International Express
So I thought: great, they have the money and things will proceed. Well, no. That was Thursday. On Monday 29 April, I receive a call on my office phone from DHL telling me Customs are rejecting my ID number (South African IDs have a check digit so if you get one wrong, the chances are it will be rejected). As I was talking to this person, who denied they had my cell phone number on record, my cell phone rang and it was someone else from DHL, with the same issue. They duly sorted out my ID number, and I am hopeful that the package will eventually arrive.

Now what I wonder is: why did I pay $60 extra for priority delivery? I’m not convinced the South African Post Office would have taken as long, and they certainly could not have been more frustrating to deal with.

And my local Post Office is actually able to process a credit card transaction.


It has finally cleared Customs.
I await further developments. Meanwhile I love the irony of the text at the top of the tracking page:
Note that “speeds” so far has meant it has sat in the same place for almost a week.


On 1 May, I contacted DHL once more to point out that this thing was taking a ridiculously long time. After again being fed incorrect information (the fact that I had redirected from my PO Box hadn’t made it to the summary visible to the DHL rep), I think I conveyed a sense of urgency, because it actually left Johannesburg the same day (a public holiday).

Finally, it arrived: I had a phone call from a subcontracted local courier at 12:50 on Thursday 2 May. I told them I could be home within 15 minutes, and I spotted them a few blocks off from home, heading to another delivery (with the intent of getting back to me) and managed by hand signals to attract their attention, and they went back so I didn’t have to wait. Someone, at least, was efficient – not DHL, a small local courier.
I contacted CreateSpace, my supplier and pointed out that they are DHL’s customer and if DHL wouldn’t pay attention to me, they might pay attention to their paying customer, with this response:
I researched your order #40187287 and notice you pay a considerable amount of shipping for an order that did not arrive as soon as expected. Because of this, I processed a refund in the amount of $139.99 for the shipping cost. You should see the refund credited to your card ending in #### within approximately one to two weeks.
We always want to guarantee success on our deliveries and I'm sorry to hear DHL failed to accomplish this. We will escalate this further with them and assure you we will do our best to make sure this doesn't happen again.
DHL didn’t make me happy but CreateSpace did. Thanks. 

Yet Another Update

October 2013. I needed 20 books by 24 October, so I again ordered using priority shipping. CreateSpace has fixed the problem of DHL tracking showing something is stuck in the system. They now use a DHL service that consolidates packages into a bigger shipment, with no tracking information. Unbelievably, they have dispatched the shipment to me 3 times now, and not one instance of it has arrived, and no one has a clue where they have ended up. I appreciate that this mode of shipping costs a lot less than sending packages individually, but even the much-maligned South African Post Office can track ordinary parcels with no special features, not express or registered.

CreateSpace has again refunded the shipping. I am contemplating options of sending it again to a different address, or asking for a refund for the books as well.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Rumour: Business Magazines to Fire Clueless Reporters

All kinds of rumours are floating around about Apple ahead of their latest quarterly report, due today, after a precipitate drop in their share price. The picture here (from Google Finance) exaggerates the effect because the graph scale isn’t zero-based, but the drop from the peak of $702 on 19 September 2012 nonetheless is spectacular.

One claim is that Tim Cook is about to be dumped as CEO.

Another story doing the rounds is that Apple has run out of innovations in the absence of Jobs, since nothing new has appeared for the past 6 months. A possible concern – except that Apple had a huge launch season late 2012, and seldom refreshes a line in less than a year. This creates stability in the market, and avoids customers feeling they wasted their money buying a product that’s instantly obsolete. The iPad mini was launched in November 2012, and the latest iteration on the iMac a little later. True, these models are not major new blockbuster sector definers: the iPad mini extends the reach of an existing line, and the new iMacs are a refresh if with significant detail changes. And the iPhone 5, announced latish 2012 (September) is also an incremental change, rather than a major new sector definer.

So is the big worry instead that Apple is not “innovating” in the sense of defining whole new industries any more? But how often does a company need to introduce really big new changes? If we consider this sort of repackaging to be insignificant, what are Apple’s major new products and how often are they launched (starting from Jobs’s return to Apple in 1996)?

  • iMac 1998
  • iPod 2001
  • Power Mac G5 (and successor Mac Pro) 2003
  • iPhone 2007
  • iPad 2010

That’s an average of one major new product line every 3 years or so. Which is pretty impressive. You could argue that Apple is due for another major breakthrough. Of the above, the Pro line is the only one that wasn’t much of a game changer, so you could adjust your expectations down to Apple “only” averages a game-changer design about once every 4 years. Either way, the absence of some major new design is not a reason to dump the stock.

To inject some reality: here are the latest mobile device operating system stats from Netmarketshare. Not only does iOS dominate but, after a period of slight decline, iOS share is on the up again (March 2013: 61.41% vs. 24.85% for Android, the next biggest competitor). That may be a short-term effect but is hardly indicative of a massive drop in popularity or loss of market share. These figures rely on Netmarketshare’s methodology and I have no measure of how accurate that is in absolute terms, though the trend their number indicates is unlikely to be biased relative to the broader market.

So is Apple in trouble and should Tim Cook go?

Not on any evidence I can find.

The source of much of this speculation appears to be a rumour mill in some cases fuelled by players in the market who are shorting the stock – or possibly planning on buying it when it sinks low enough. Those who actually work the numbers claim that far from an unstainable bubble, Apple’s rapid rise in value is justified based on traditional calculations like PE ratio and variants, and the stock is now extremely inexpensive.

So unless Apple has some truly horrible surprise in their quarterly report due out later today, I will be very, very surprised if Tim Cook is going anywhere soon, or Apple’s stock is going anywhere but up, once the current hysteria has subsided.

What baffles me about all this is that stock manipulation in the US is illegal. Shouldn’t the SEC be investigating the more obvious instances? For that matter, couldn’t a large group of stockholders identify the more significant rumour mongers and hit them with a class action suit? Possibly not, since the actual numbers will reset the stock price.

Back to the title of the article: I wish it were true. It’s not only in this field. Climate scientists have renamed the Wall Street Journal the Wall Street Urinal because their science reporting is so absurd.

Monday, 1 April 2013

iPhone shuffle

This rather interesting press release found its way to me. Could this be the long-rumoured iWatch? Enjoy.
CUPERTINO, California―April 1, 2013―Apple® today announced the launch of a unique new product, iPhone® shuffle®.
“Many have said that Apple has lost its creative spark,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “This product proves them wrong: it defines a whole new category of user experience. Just as the iPod shuffle meets the needs of busy people on the move who lack the time to fiddle with even our intuitive iPod interface to select a song or play list, many people today lack the time to choose the person to whom they wish to speak, or even whether to make a phone call or listen to a voice message. iPhone shuffle meets that need.”
iPhone shuffle is a new product that randomly makes phone calls and performs other phone functions such as listening to voice mail or deleting voice messages. It can even generate and send random text messages. In the form factor of a wrist watch, it uses a Bluetooth wireless headset, ensuring complete freedom of movement. In keeping with its iPod shuffle heritage, it has no user interface. Merely strapping it to your wrist turns it on.
iPhone shuffle is available with immediate effect through the Apple Store and Apple dealers worldwide.
Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.
Update: I’ve been trying to get in touch with the authors of the MIT random paper generator to find out if the underlying Apple patents on this technology impinge on their prior art.