December 28, 2016

UPS upping it's game

I've written negative reviews of UPS in the past (UPS Review, UPS Sucks!) and I've been impressed by their incremental improvements that have culminated in a much improved service as of late. Pretty much all the areas of my major complaints have been improved.

If I'm not home to receive a delivery they now deliver it to a Mailboxes Etc/UPS Store several blocks down the street, usually immediately after the failed delivery or within 24 hours. Recently they've even started rerouting these drops to a business within walking distance from home. No more waiting for 3 attempts and another day, no more rushing across town on a weekday to make the horrible hours at the depot, these retail drop locations have much better hours.

The service from drivers has been good and I haven't noticed any damage to the packages that once was a common feature. I haven't been dinged with customs charges in years either, that could be because I don't use them to ship purchases, but I do recall even getting charged for things that were sent to me for free.

They also added the UPS My Choice system that you can use to get alerts, reroute packages and have some control and monitoring over delivery. So far I've registered and I get alerts whenever someone creates a shipment destined for my address, handy to know when a package is coming you don't know about.

Across the competitors I see a decline. Purolator used to be a favourite, they used to drop failed deliveries at a depot within walking distance the same day, usually ready for pickup on my way home from work. Now it's typically another 24 hours until it gets there and sometimes they drop it at the airport depot across town instead. Tracking has stopped being real time and the detail is lost, for example, the all important message that the package is available at the depot no longer indicates which depot it's at. I've also noticed lots of IT issues with the website.

Fedex too has slumped, they no longer leave failed delivery notices at apartment buildings and they don't leave a message on my answering machine that's attached to the doorbell/entry intercom. If I'm not expecting a package I have no way to find out about it until several days later when they call to tell me there is a package to pick up at the airport.

Canada Post was doing a top notch job to nearly match their more expensive competitors but has also fallen well back. Failed deliveries that used to arrive the same day at the post office across the street, now don't always make it there even for the next day. The hours at the local post office have been slashed several times as well. Tracking information is very slow and well out of date causing extra delays. The tracking systems also falsely sends a notification that a package is ready for pickup as soon as the delivery is missed, long before it's actually ready for pickup. It never does send the actual ready for pickup notice. Canada Post does have one handy feature, for products shipped from other countries, you can often enter the tracking number from the foreign post office into Canada Post and it will be able to track it, often only after it's reached Canada however.

I've just had a package go through Canada Post and they have upped their game and fixed some issues. If you're signed up for tracking updates, there is now an "Out For Delivery" email that goes out, a "Ready For Pickup" email that goes out at the right time and no false ready for pickup email. Instead of the previous false pickup message, a proper "Notice Card Left" tracking item appears. Tracking speed is also vastly improved and back to a reasonable and useful level.

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April 14, 2016

The New TV

A couple of recent changes have improved my TV experience and I felt like reporting on them. TiVo announced two new features. First, "QuickMode", it plays video 30% faster while keeping the audio intact. I've wanted this feature for years to briskly watch content light on interest or programming light on content. I've fast forwarded through shows like this before, but without audio, you miss out on stuff and it takes a lot of concentration to go in and out of fast forward. I actually saw this feature years ago on a friends VCR and perhaps noticed it in a software player or two. It's difficult to pull off well from what I understand. TiVo does pretty well at it, content flying by 30% faster does require a little more concentration, especially since the audio becomes a little less intelligible. I notice a syllable or pause here or there gets dropped. I've found myself using this feature very often, far more than the few use cases I already had in mind. Great feature, works on all content. Next up, "SkipMode", skips the entire commercial break with a single key press. When it was announced I wasn't much interested, especially since it comes with fine print. Such as only working on certain shows on certain networks and has a long history of legal issues that might make the feature disappear in future. I wasn't sure it would even show up for my Canadian service. When it launched, the little icon indicating a show that had the feature started to trickle in, mostly on US Network primetime. But as time has gone along, I have noticed it work and work correctly with both US channels that have been simsub'd to Canadian equivalents and also on Canadian channels directly. More often than not SkipMode is not available for a show, but when it is, it's really a time saver, much easier to use than fast-forwarding or doing 30 second skips through the commercial breaks.

The other change was the CRTC requirement that providers offer "Skinny Basic", a basic channel package offered at a maximum price of $25. They also included limits on how additional channels could be packaged. I was pleasantly surprised by Shaw's Skinny Basic and package offerings as I was expecting the worst, the bare minimum requirements. They added a few channels to the basic package, including the prime US networks and offered it at $25. Additionally the small packages they offer are reasonably priced, including the sports channels. In fact you could recreate their older larger packages using the new Skinny Basic and packages for about the same price, also unexpected. After evaluating the new offerings I found that I now had quite a few options I was interested in, it was nice to have a choice. I ended up switching to Skinny Basic and adding some channel packages, reducing my overall cost while at the same time increasing the number of subscribed channels I was interested in. By December the CRTC will require further changes with providers required to offer each channel individually as well. It will be interesting to see if that allows any further improvements.

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December 27, 2015

A New (Virtual) Home

A few years ago I moved my web site to a hosted VPS server and I was quite satisfied with the result. But some unfortunate decisions and technological limitations in the first few days meant it was difficult to upgrade the system. A change in their business model more recently made it pretty much impossible. So within the last few days I've moved everything to a new provider, Vultr (referral link), which looks to be a little faster, cheaper and better. All setup with the latest, greatest and optimized virtual interfaces. A lot easier to setup and run now with functional defaults and standard configurations.

Coincidentally, the little counter that has been running on my website since 1997 has just turned over into 8 digits, 10,000,000 hits. The first million took a little over 8 years, the next 9 million about 10 years.

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