New Perils of Today (Part 2) & More On UPS/Fedex Problem

Photo:MALIZ ONG (publicdomainpictures.net)
Photo:MALIZ ONG (publicdomainpictures.net)

Christmas Day has come and gone but the season continues until 5 Jan (Epiphany) when traditionally the Three Wise Men arrive (Eastern Orthodox celebrates that day as Christmas Day). The fallout from Target debacle continues as consumers find out their credit card numbers were used for unauthorized transactions. Some banks are either canceling credit cards used at Target or limiting the daily withdrawal limits on debit cards. Security experts believe the credit card processor was hacked but Target has not been forthcoming exactly how the criminals pulled it off. What is certain is they stole debit and credit card numbers giving then unprecedented access to millions of peoples credit and checking accounts, not to mention they use of whatever personal information they also were able to retrieve.

One good lesson out of all of this is many are going to realize how using debit cards is not wise when shopping, whether in-store or on Internet. Debit cards are not credit cards even when you enter to be used as one (that just means you do not use a pin ). Cash immediately leaves your account (exceptions are store debit cards that submit electronic checks to your bank so it takes 2-3 days to show up on your account) to the merchant. If thieves get access, then can easily take as much money as they can before the card is cancelled or account closes. Most debit cards have daily cash limits set by the bank and the thieves will try to hit that right away. If you are someone who goes paycheck to paycheck, that can really hurt you when checks cannot clear resulting in bank charges.

The one caveat is when you use the debit card to as a credit card. This occurs either when you select to use as credit rather than enter a pin. This is a good way to avoid people seeing you key in the pin number at the grocery store or at the gas station. Since it is processed as a credit card, it goes through either MasterCard or Visa system. That does not mean you get credit card protection in case of misuse (see next paragraph), just an added layer of security during processing. Sometimes it delays the charge appearing on your statement (though you might see a nominal hold on your account) for a few days

The rules governing their use are different. Credit cards have stronger protections in case of theft or misuse, and your liability is capped at $50.00 (many banks offer zero liability). Debit cards have higher caps (up to $500) and often take longer to get money put back in that was unauthorized. Some banks do offer higher protection for debit cards but not all. Check with your bank about their policy is on atm/debit card liability. Many advise, if you need to use a debit card as part of your budget, to use prepaid debit cards. You load a certain amount of cash on the card and use it like a debit card but without having it tied to a checking account Some banks offer them for free with direct deposit, some do not. The advantage of these cards is that you can only spend what is on them but with some places charging a fee, it may not be a good deal.

Credit cards are best for Internet shopping and certain high value transactions (like buying televisions). Using debit cards for online transactions is like opening up a door into your bank account. Do not use your debit card for online purchases even if it is from a reputable site. It is not worth the risk.

What about ordinary shopping like at the supermarket, the pharmacy or other places? Consider cash, checks or credit cards. Most merchants accept checks drawn on a local bank and has the requisite information on it: your name, address, and telephone number. They also will want to see your identification, usually a drivers license or id card. Cash is also good but it means either a trip to your bank’s atm or going inside to cash a check. Credit cards are easy, just swipe and go. You need to be careful though because you can rack up a larger bill than you thought if you do not watch what you charge. Use your banks credit card website to monitor charges and alert when when charges occur. I have mine set up for any charge above $5.00 so I get notified swiftly when a charge goes through.

Think strategically where to use cash, checks, or credit card. Perhaps the supermarket you frequent often is best for cash or checks. They see you often there and probably know who you are by now. Shopping at larger stores or national chains perhaps are best for credit cards (especially if you need to return) and cash. For high end products like televisions, computers, iPods, or smart phones, use a credit card. Often most credit cards have their own warranty information on many things you purchase on the card. Check to see what your card offers. For gas stations, credit cards and cash are the best way. If you have to use a debit card, use it as a credit card. But be warned! Many scammers have used gas stations to install skimmers and other ways to get your car info. If you want total security, just go inside and pay there rather than at the pump.

UPS/FEDEX Christmas Debacle
Not everyone was displeased with what happened. Some took the time to point out how the Post Office(USPS) delivered its packages on time over the private services. And they are wagging their fingers at politicians who want to privatize the USPS. What happened here was likely two things. One over promising delivery by online merchants and number two shipping companies not realizing how much was coming down the line until too late. Amazon and many merchants often notify shippers electronically when packages are being generated for pickup (which is why on tracking information you see that the shipping company has received the info but not the package yet). So something fell into the cracks here. Not surprising considering how many order online these days.

What is likely to happen is something old fashioned but works well. You set up hard deadlines for shipping for ground packages and express packages. You limit express packages (overnight and 2nd day) to being shipped three or four days ahead of the actual holiday. Using this last holiday, all 2nd day and overnight must be tendered to them by 20 Dec at 7:pm. After that no service delivery guarantee by Christmas. Merchants would have to follow hard deadlines as well so that the shipping companies (and that includes USPS) do not swamped with too many packages all at once. Those chortling at how the Post Office did so well ought to be careful in their gloating. If someone dropped 100,00o parcels into their system for 2 day or overnight delivery without much notice, they would be strained as well.

Now that being said, I got some parcels I ordered through Amazon (no presents, just some general stuff and in one case replacement for a broken computer accessory). One was scheduled to arrive Christmas Eve but in fact arrived a day earlier. One was delivered by UPS and the other by ONTRAC. Merchants like Amazon do use USPS to cut costs. Many packages I get from Amazon are through either Fedex SmartPost or UPS SurePost because they are small packages. In both these cases, they shipping company delivers them to the USPS distribution center for the zip code and USPS does final delivery. It works pretty well though one package was held up because a USPS employee forgot they handle packages for a couple of cities in the area.

Update-1April2014:You can shop for shipping deals online. The Raw Feed, for instance, has coupons good for Fedex shipping and probably if you check around online, UPS and other package delivery companies have them as well.

Sources:
1. Credit and Debit Cards:What You Need To Know (6 Jan 2009, New York Times)
2. Best Prepaid Cards For Holiday Shopping (13 Dec 2013, Forbes)

Titanic II Updates

Photo courtesy George Behe
Photo courtesy George Behe

1.Clive Palmer’s Titanic Cash Splash Just A Drop In The Ocean (27 Dec 2013,news.com.au)
It’s one of his most publicised pet projects, but Clive Palmer has so far committed little more than $800,000 to his dream of building Titanic II.  But financial returns lodged this week for the 2012-13 financial year reveal that as at June 30, just $828,700 had been committed by his Blue Star Line to the project “to be paid in the future.”

2. First Class Steward Descendant On Titanic II Advisory Board(20 Dec 2013,News Mail)
A descendant of a first class steward and survivor of the RMS Titanic, Alexander James Littlejohn, has joined the advisory board of Blue Star Line’s Titanic II project. Clive Palmer said Philip Littlejohn is the grandson of Alexander Littlejohn, who survived the 1912 sinking of the Titanic after being ordered to row Lifeboat 13. “Lifeboat 13 is well known as the lifeboat that contained the youngest survivor, Millvina Dean,” he said.

Today is St. Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day U.K.)

The Demidoff Altarpiece: Saint Stephen
Photo: Public Domain (Wikipedia)


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Merry Christmas!

Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs, digital id cph 3a05129)
Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs, digital id cph 3a05129)

“....And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

It’s Christmas Eve

A Visit from St. Nicholas

by Clement Clark Moore

Image:public domain
Image:public domain

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house  Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;  The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,  In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;  The children were nestled all snug in their beds,While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

Sunday Musings (Before the Holiday)

[Update 26 Dec-Due to an unexpected high number of shipments from online merchants, both UPS and FEDEX were unable to deliver all packages by Christmas Eve. The result was many did not get presents in time for Christmas. Since those were tendered by the merchant, you need to contact them to get a refund the shipping charge. Amazon has announced that it will be refunding all shipping charges for packages scheduled to be delivered on 24 Dec. Amazon claims it tendered the shipments in time for delivery but UPS claims that volume exceeded capacity.]

wreath*Time to send presents by Post Office or by package delivery services like UPS for Christmas is about up. You will have to pay extra for overnight delivery if you send it on Monday. The Post Office will deliver Priority Mail Express on Christmas day, FedExpress has FedEx SameDay and FedEx SameDay City.

*UPS Stores are convenient but remember they are not UPS but a franchise. Each store is owner operated and part of the franchise UPS Store that used to be Mailboxes Etc. While it offers the same rates as going to the UPS shipping office, if you have a problem with the delivery or have to put a claim in for damage, your shipping contract is with that store and not UPS. The contract called Parcel Shipping Order explicitly states: “We assume no liability for the delivery of parcels accepted for shipment or loss or damage by any cause to the parcels or their contents while in transit.” Any claim you have has limited liability of $100 unless you declare a value and pay extra. But the limitations on liability is that the do not cover items that are sentimental, negotiable instruments, precious metals, and anything forbidden to be sent by UPS. UPS states in its terms and conditions that you have nine months from package delivery or nine months after “in case of failure to make delivery, within nine months after a reasonable time for delivery has elapsed.” You file the claim with the UPS Store you used so save all documentation and they will need to inspect the package and damage caused. They may deny your claim and if so, your only recourse is small claims court. If you try to sue UPS as well as the store owner, UPS will likely get dismissed from the case as the contract is between the store and you, not UPS.

There is a different rule for a getting a refund due to a service failure. UPS guarantees that it will deliver the package(s) to your recipient (the usual exclusions apply-weather, national emergencies etc)in the time frame contracted (regular or express). If they fail to do that, you have 15 calendar days to file a claim with the UPS Store.

If you shipped via UPS directly and you decide to take legal action against them, there is a major change starting 30 Dec 2014. Except for certain actions that would belong in a small claims court, all other legal actions now will be done by arbitration through American Arbitration Association. The terms and conditions in force them waive trial by jury. According to the new rules “Any arbitration under this Agreement will take place on an individual basis; class,mass, consolidated or combined actions or arbitrations or proceeding as a private attorney general are not permitted. Claimant and UPS are each waiving the right to trial by jury. Claimants and UPS are further giving up the ability to participate in a class, mass, consolidated or combined action or arbitration.”

*Reason#152 People Dislike Going To Post Office:It was Friday morning and just after 10:00 a.m. in the San Bruno Post Office. There was a line of about 20-30 people and only two clerks. A third person handled pickups. More people are coming in while I was in line. Then without fanfare one of the clerks closes up and walks away leaving one clerk to handle the entire growing line of people wanting to mail packages, get postage etc. A manager type walks by and he asks for more help. It never comes and by the time I leave (about 20-25 minutes later) no one came out to assist that lone clerk. And the line had grown even longer by then.

*Dogs and antlers do not mix. Bows are better. Your cat though may resent the bow since they already think themselves special.

*Poinsettias do not poison you but make you nauseous if eaten. Keep away from small kids and pets.

*Hot cocoa is wonderful but if you do not want to make it yourself, mixes are the only way to go. Some mixes are just sugar and mild chocolate (like Swiss Miss) that offer no depth. Ghiradelli makes some good cocoa mixes but they are not cheap but you get good flavor. The best ones require you use hot milk (not boiling!) and not water. Labels tell the truth. Usually the first ingredient is sugar followed by cocoa and often chocolate. If cocoa and chocolate appear way down the list of ingredients it means there is very little of it (common in those instant varieties). Those instant versions usually put lots of sugar and “natural flavors” to make you think there is cocoa in it. The worst offenders use artificial ingredients. Ghiradelli’s double chocolate only has five ingredients in it: sugar, cocoa, chocolate, soy lecithin (emulsifier), and vanilla. Starbucks is not bad but too watery for my taste.

*Apple juice or apple cider? Apple juice is clear apple juice in which all the apple bits have been strained out, while apple cider has all those bits of apple from the mashing process still in them. Apple juice is much sweeter than apple cider and cooks often use the cider version for cooking since it is less sweet (and better for cooking). Hot mulled cider is either apple juice or cider heated up with spices for a delicious warm treat. Do not bother with mixes, just get a decent juice or cider and make your own. Most recipes call for cinnamon, cardamon, oranges or other spices to add. Most spices can be wrapped in cheesecloth (tied up with butchers or cooks twine). There are many recipes out there and have fun figuring out what you like in a mulled cider. Just remember never to boil it. You need to heat it up to a simmer and allow the spices to do their job for at least a half hour. You can cheat it a bit by heating up the cider and then reducing to simmer and adding the spices. If you do not use a cheesecloth, you will need to strain your cider before serving.

*Real fruitcake is not a doorstop but a dense, moist cake. It originated as means to preserve fruit during winter and alcohol was often used to keep it moist. Now fruitcakes do not last forever despite what some wags out there claim. They will spoil over time. Unfortunately fruitcake has garnered a bad reputation because of really bad fruitcakes put out by industrial bakers. Those are most definitely doorstops full of nasty ingredients, most of which are artificial. The best ones are made from bakeries, some of which are religious based. In fact many religious orders make fruitcakes for income and you can find many selections at Monastery Greetings . A blog called Mondo Fruitcake offers reviews as well. I usually get one from Assumption Abbey and it is one of the better ones out there. Chuck Williams liked the Assumption Abbey fruitcake that he put it in his catalog years ago. It sells so well there that they do not advertise at all and rely on word of mouth to sell. They make fruitcakes year round so you can get one for Easter (too late for Christmas but some online retailers may still have some).

*Use common sense when shopping at malls or just about anywhere. Never leave anything of any value (digital music players, gps, sunglasses, briefcases, packages, shopping bags full of goods purchases etc) in plain sight in the car. It practically reads break glass and take what you want. Never leave anything, even just small change (I once had someone break into my car for a mere 50 cents!). And two other things you ought to take with you when parking the car in a public area. Take your garage door remote with you. If someone breaks into your car and gets this combined with looking at your auto registration, they learn where you live. And visit you later by opening the garage door and entering your home from there (many robberies have occurred this way in my area). That leads to another tip: take your car registration with you. It is a pain but most states do not require you have it there when you park and leave the car. Otherwise thieves learn where you live (many burglary rings use valet parking services as a means to view such information).

*Professor George Giuliani has penned a book called No More Bullies At The North Pole which asserts that the Rudolph story (both the song and the animated version)is about bullying. He claims the treatment of Rudolph by the other reindeer and Santa are examples of unfair behavior. Lyrics such as this promote, he asserts, this view:

All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games.

The animated feature fleshes this out more in depth with how he is rejected and by Santa as well. So he takes off and joins with an elf who wants to be a dentist (rejected by his own as well), and a fanciful character who tries to find gold. There is a nasty creature (the North Pole version of the abominable snowman) and an island of misfit toys, where the rejected toys (due to square tires or other things that are considered production errors in the real world) hang around hoping for a kid to love them. The nasty bumble (as it is called in the animated story) eventually threatens Rudolph’s family and he comes to their aid. Both the bumble and miner seem to die but turn up later quite alive at Santa’s house and workshop. A very bad storm nearly keeps Santa grounded until he Rudolph’s nose and gives him an idea:

Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say:
“Rudolph with your nose so bright,
won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

No apology for their bad behavior from the deer or Santa, just a request to help them out. And off they go in the song (the animated story adds now tamed bumble putting a star on the Christmas tree)leading them to celebrate Rudolph as a hero for what he did.

Then all the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
you’ll go down in history!

Giuliani, who has doctorate in psychology, believes this song and show display bad things so the book is meant to help educators and parents. Now whether or not the merits of his argument are valid, let us begin at the source. The song Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer was based on a poem by Robert May, an advertising executive, that could be given out by Santa Claus in Montgomery Ward’s department stores in 1939. The goal, of course, is to encourage toy sales. And it did just that! Then in 1949 Gene Autry sang the song composed by Johnny Marks. The song became the number one Christmas song that year selling 1.75 million copies. Other versions and covers exceeded 150 million putting it behind Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. The animated version with Burl Ives (Rankin/Bass 1964) remains popular to this day and regularly shown at Christmas time.

Rudolph has a happy ending, in both the song and Rankin/Bass animation. He becomes a hero and in the animation the misfit toys each find a home thanks to Santa in the end. The problem Giuliani says is “the message to disabled children is we will not accept you as you are, but only if you can do something extraordinary.” I am not convinced that is the message here but I think many kids, past and present, remember times when they were not always accepted for whatever reason. And sometimes you got acceptance by being good at something, helping out at a needed time, or in some cases standing up to a bully and forcing him to back down.

Disabled kids are a different issue. I remember kids who had problems when I was a kid. And I see Giuliani’s point on this. Those kids are almost always, at least as I recall, laughed at and mocked for acting different (I never had anyone confined to a wheelchair). Why? Because they were weird in our eyes and so they were treated differently. Not fair at all I agree. That is why today parents and educators try to make them feel they belong. And kids are told not to make fun of them or call them “retarded.” But I am not convinced this song is directed at those kids. I doubt May, Gene Autry, or Johnny Marks thought it was about bullying either. It was showing someone who looked different but found a way to contribute to the team in the end. And make them all look good. Not unlike the American ideal of someone foreign arriving on the shore, not knowing how to fit in, and does find something that brings praise from those around him.

Except for some Christmas postings, I will not be blogging much this week. I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year.

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Titanic News For 20 Dec 2013

1. Premier Exhibitions, Inc. Partners With Crossmedia to Re-envision Exhibition Marketing Strategy (19 Dec 2013,Wall Street Journal-press release)
Many of the exhibitions have been touring for a number of years and in some instances, have been in their respective markets for five plus years,” said Elizabeth Natwick, the new vice president of marketing that recently joined Premier Exhibitions. “While the concept of the exhibit and the content is evergreen and transcends generations, the way we interact with the public in terms of messaging and marketing should be evaluated and updated, and we are looking forward to doing just that with Crossmedia.”

2. Deep Subterranean Microbe Thrives On Iron And Oil(19 Dec 2013,RedOrbit)
The team found that the bacteria are able to utilize iron and nitrogen from their surroundings and recycle scarce nutrients to meet their metabolic needs. The superstructure of the sunken Titanic is being consumed by another member of the same group, named the Halomonas titanicae. The researchers also found that the microbes living in the deep sandstone deposits of the Illinois Basin were capable of metabolizing aromatic compounds, a common component of petroleum.

3. Probably Coming Out Next Halloween:Ghostly Queen Mary Supernatural Thriller To Set Sail(18 Dec 2013,Bleeding Cool)
Described as “The Shining on a ship,” the untitled film will be a supernatural thriller that taps into the Queen Mary’s own sordid reputation as one of the 10 most haunted places in America (as declared by Time magazine in 2008). One cabin is said to be haunted by someone who was murdered there, while others have claimed to have heard children playing in the nursery.

Warning! Titanic Cliche Ahead
Warning! Titanic Cliche Ahead

4. Titanic Cliche Alert: Headline for Perez Hilton claims The Voice sinking like Titanic:
The Voice Finale’s Ratings Sink Like The Titanic!(18 Dec 2013,Perezhilton.com)
The actual commentary never mentions Titanic so the headline is just an attention grabber. Nice try. Except of course none of those on The Voice had to leave a sinking ship on a very cold night with too few lifeboats to save them. Bad analogy Perez. For that you get the fractured finger Titanic Cliche Award.