Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Friday October 24 2014

A few days ago, my beloved Panasonic Lumix FZ150 started misbehaving.  An immobile black blob, the same blob every time, started inserting itself into all the pictures.  Disaster.  I shook the camera to see if it might be a superficial problem like a bit of gunk which further shaking might move to a harmless spot, but the black blob never moved, not by one pixel.  I am sure this could be mended, but I didn’t have time for that, because last night I was about to attend that Libertarian Home cost of living debate, for free, on the clear understanding that I would take lots of photos.

Besides which, I hate not having a camera on me at all times.  Who knows what unimortalisable dramas I might have to endure while being bereft of the ability to photograph them?

So, I immediately went out and bought another camera, from a shop.  I chose the FZ150’s smarter younger brother, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200.  This camera was a bit costly, yes, but, having been around for a while, not as costly as it might have been.  And, it works better than the FZ150 in low light, or so everyone who cares has been saying.  At indoor meetings, for instance.

I had hoped that the FZ200, being so very similar to and merely a bit better than the FZ150, would use an identical battery, which would mean that I would then have two spare batteries for the FZ200, in addition to the one it came with, on account of me having bought a spare for the FZ150 when I bought that.  Alas, not.  The FZ200 has its own somewhat different battery, and that meant I needed yet another spare battery.  Now that SD card space is infinite, it is batteries that are now liable to run out, what with all the snaps you can now put on your infinite SD card.  One battery, for a big event or expedition, is not now enough.

So, I ordered an FZ200 battery via Amazon, and paid extra for it to arrive yesterday, instead of just whenever.

And it did arrive yesterday.  Once again, just as happened with that book that reached me the day before yesterday, the fundamentally important thing got done.  I wanted the book and I got it.  I wanted a new back-up battery, pronto, and I got it.  Good.

An email arrived first thing yesterday morning, saying that the battery would arrive between 11.54 and 12.54, and that I should be in at that time, to sign for the package when I received it.  Excellent. This email was identical in format to the ones telling me about how Macmillan Distribution (MDL) would be delivering the book that they had been promising, but I recognised the email about the battery as genuine, because it had lots of Amazon verbiage at the top of a sort that always signifies genuine Amazon business.  Again, good.  I was all set to write an admiring blog posting about this latest delivery service, the one that delivered the battery, an enterprise called DPD.

Saying when a delivery will be made, to the nearest hour, is a huge step forward, when the receiver is householder in a household rather than an office worker in an office.  An office can have someone present throughout any given day, to receive incoming items and generally communicate with the outside world on behalf of all workers based there, present or absent.  But the idea that a householder should be expected to wait around all day just to sign for one incoming delivery is, frankly, contemptible.  As soon as a delivery person knows approximately when he’ll be arriving, and the chances are he will know this first thing in the morning, that information should be communicated to the householder.  This used not to happen, but with these two delivery enterprises, it did.  As I say, this is a big step in the right direction.

In both of these cases I did get this message.  The book was promised between 8.30 and 9.30, and it arrived then, by which time I just about believed that the book emails were genuine.  This battery was promised between 11.54 and 12.54, and it arrived then, just as I expected it to.

But all this fuss and palaver about timing becomes rather superfluous if all that the delivery person actually does when he arrives is leave the thing, unsigned for, in whatever place near to the householder he considers sufficiently near.  The whole point, as insisted upon in both emails about this, of stating a specified time of arrival, is to make sure that I, the householder, was present in person, to sign for the thing.  But in neither of these two cases was my presence, as it turned out, actually required.  My buzzer, the one outside the front door of all the flats where my flat is, is working fine.  I checked, using a visiting friend to hear it when I myself went downstairs and buzzed.  Yet neither of these two delivery persons deigned to use this buzzer.  They knew the number.  The book deliverer even found his way right to my own personal door.  But, no buzzing.

Let me spell it out.  Both delivery companies told me I had to be there during the hours they each specified.  Failure by me to sign would mean no delivery and further palaver while re-delivery was negotiated.  These proclamations may have been offered in good faith, but they were false.  I did not have to be there.

I got what I wanted.  But if the original supplier wanted proof that I had received the items in the form of my signature, then DPD and MDL, in the form of the two delivery persons, would be unable to supply this proof without faking it.  Were my signatures forged on little electronic devices, I wonder?

In the case of the DPD person, the person who did not even try to get my signature had, according to the DPD email, a name: “Mark”.  I had been anticipating something better from “Mark”. Sadly, not.

The basic problem here, I think, is that the service supply chain is too long and is out of control.  Suppliers of products promise in all sincerity that products will be delivered in exactly the manner they promise.  But the person they are depending on to keep that promise doesn’t care about that promise, or not about all of it.  He knows that, so long as the punter gets his hands on his precious thing, then whether any signing happens is, as far as the punter is concerned, a secondary matter.  Being commanded to be somewhere you didn’t actually need to be is annoying, yes, and this is what happened to me, twice.  But not getting the thing is something else again.  Had one of these items (especially the battery) not arrived when stated, then you can be sure that I would have been complaining.  But complaining as in trying to get my hands on the damn battery, not complaining as in just marking the whole scenario out of ten, after my basic problem (getting the battery) had been entirely solved.

By the way, when I enabled the graphic decoration of one of the Macmillan Deliveries (MDL) emails, the email then proceeded show me a picture of a DPD van.  Either Macmillan are all mixed up with DPD, or else Macmillan stole the DPD email and neglected to expunge DPD from it.  Or something.  I really do not care.

But that’s typical.  Who the hell was I dealing with here?  Who, in the event that either of these items had not turned up at all, would I have had to direct my seriously angry complaints?  As opposed to these mere grumbles about a basically satisfactory state of affairs, underneath all the crap.

When you have a major complaint to aim at one of these complicated supply chains, then you could well be screwed.  It may take you many hours or even days to find out even who to complain to, let alone how to gouge satisfaction out of them.  (Although, to be fair to Amazon, they take responsibility for everything that they do or that anyone unleashed via them does, for and to you, which is all part of why I bought that battery through Amazon rather than by some other cheaper but less dependable means.  (The previous sentence is a short explanation of why Amazon now rules the world.))

But (and to get back to my point before all the brackets), when it comes to lesser complaints, complaints about blemishes on a system that basically works pretty well, well, this is why blogs were invented.  With a blog posting, you can slag off the entire universe.  You don’t have to be bothered with which exact bit of the universe it was that did you wrong.  You can just tell your story.  Then, instead of you begging the universe to correct things, the universe, if any of it cares, has to convince you that there was no problem and to convince you to stop saying it.

In case you are wondering why I have gone on at such length about a basically rather minor problem, the answer is that I am optimistic about problems like this actually being solved.  A business often does a basically good thing, but rather crappily, while they struggle to get it totally organised and running totally smoothly.  People buy whatever it is, but sneer at the crap, because it is crappy and because they can.  The businesses then hears all the sneering and gets it sorted and gets even better.  Compare and contrast: the government.

This is a point I have made here before.  Follow that link, as you now don’t need to, and you will read me deriding a plan to refer to a Big London Thing as the “Safesforce Tower”.  Salesforce is a perfectly decent business, which does whatever it does.  But it had a silly plan to change the name of a Big London Thing from something sensible to something very stupid.  And guess what, what with all the complaints about this plan from me and from multitudes of others, that ridiculous circumstance has now been corrected.  Not in the way I would have liked.  Salesforce has still not been shamed into civility.  But nearby politicians have forced civility down Salesforce’s throat.  And the Heron Tower will not now be officially called the “Salesforce Tower”.

Although, London being London, this tower might now actually be called the Salesforce Tower, unofficially, in perpetuity, as a joke, given that no other joke name now obviously suggests itself for this rather ungainly erection.

By the way, it turned out that one battery sufficed for last night’s meeting.  But, I did not know that this would be the case beforehand, and had I only had one battery I would not have felt free to take as many photographs as I did feel free to take.  With public meetings, it’s a numbers game.  The light is bad and people are constantly moving about, so half your pictures will be rubbish right off, if only because someone was blinking at the time.  The trick is for the other half of your pictures still to be a large enough collection for you to be able to pick out a few truly good ones.  So, the spare battery was useful, even if I didn’t make any actual physical use of it.

I realise that very few readers indeed will have read right to the end of this ridiculously long-winded and repetitious posting.  But, having written it and having posted it, I feel better.