Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

A few thoughts on the proportion of complaints in my writings

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Looking back at some of my writings, especially in 2019, I see an awful lot of complaining. Do I have nothing better to do with my time? Is my view of the world really that bleak? Is my life really filled with that many annoyances?

To some degree the answer is “yes”—but to an even greater degree “no”. Notably, no matter how much I might seem to complain when writing, I see myself as of (possibly considerably) over-average happiness in life, in comparison with e.g. various family members and most of my past colleagues.* Why then the high proportion of complaints? The answers include:

*To the degree that I can judge their situation. Further, with the reservation that this was not necessarily always so.

  1. In all fairness—the “yes” aspect: We do live in a world plagued by incompetence, ignorance, irrationality, lack of respect for the rights and interests of others, …

    There objectively is much to complain about, and complaining has the benefit of allowing me to “process” these issues. It makes it easier for me to get things of my mind,* it makes it easier for me to find an upside on a negative situation (“at least I got material for a blog post”), and there is usually something to learn from the events (cf. below).

    *I do have a tendency to not let go of issues that bother me, before I have processed them: Write a text to complain and I can put the issue away; do not write a text and it can annoy me for days.

    However, a critical difference between me and many others is that I seem to be much better at spotting such issues—many are themselves too incompetent or naive to understand that they are the victims of one or more of these problems: They fail to see that things could be done better. They do not realize that someone is taking advantage of them. They miss causal connections. They fail to investigate the truth of claims made by others. They are tricked into ignoring the negative effects of a problem, because the causer of the problem smiled at them and said a few polite words. Whatnot. We all live in a highly flawed world; not all of us have noticed it.

    I can e.g recall how my mother once came home from the auto-mechanics, gushing with gratitude over the fact that he had found or “found” another problem than she originally came in for, which had yet to actually manifest in something negative, and which made the cost of service explode… Now, I am not saying that this was fraud—such problems do legitimately occur, and he might genuinely have found one. However, my mother did not even contemplate the possibility that it might have been a fake discovery. This despite such fake discoveries being a part of the auto-mechanic stereotype*. She shelled out her money, was happy, and might or might not have avoided a future issue. A more wise-to-the-world car-owner would at least have asked for a second opinion.

    *More generally the craftsman et al. stereotype—and for a good reason. My private experiences include, shortly after moving into a new apartment, having a plumber come by to fix something on behalf of the land-lady. He went under the sink, worked vigorously for a few moments, got back up, turned the tap on, pointed out the absence of a water flow, and insisted on changing the entire tap. This did not fly: The tap had worked perfectly until he came and it was obvious that he had just deliberately turned off the main-valve, which was also under the sink…

    While such naive behavior is bad when it comes to commercial transactions, it can be disastrous when politics is concerned—as can be seen both by the typical quality of politician elected and the often useless or even harmful policies that they push.

  2. Writing about the positive things in life usually feels pointless. Yes, it can be nice to recollect* them at some later time; yes, shared happiness is double happiness**. However, there is also less to learn and analyze, less of a need for change, less that might be achieved through writing a text, and less opportunity to provide “food for thought”. Indeed, when I (as a reader) encounter a “feel good” text by someone else, I rarely bother to read it to an end, because it seldom provides a push for me to think or an opportunity to widen my horizons.

    *And I have a few more positive posts in planning relating to my visits to Sweden and the many recollections of the past that they invoked. (That these topics are on my mind might be clear from this text.)

    **To quote a ceramic decoration that I re-encountered in Sweden: Delad glädje är dubbel glädje.

  3. One of my main goals with writing is self-development, and writing about things that are, in some sense, wrong provides me with a better opportunity (also see the previous item). For instance, if we look at my recent eCommerce and delivery issues (cf. a number of recent texts) and assume that everything had gone right—what would there be to learn from and write about? I could note that things went well and I could try to figure out why, but that is pretty much it. (And the “why” mostly makes sense with an eye on past eCommerce and delivery failures, bringing us back to failures…) When things go wrong, the situation is very different: What happened? What could the underlying problem be? How could things be done better? Who is to blame? Is this a wider problem or something that happened just to me? Etc. Not only is there more to write about, but there is also an incentive to read up on related issues. (Here, for instance, I have read a number of pages dealing with the delivery experiences of others, magazine articles dealing with the delivery chaos in Germany, and similar.)
  4. I strongly believe that learning from the failures of others is a great way to excellence—indeed, that merely avoiding the more common errors in a certain field will bring someone quite far towards the top in said field. (It is astonishing what proportion in more-or-less any field is actually quite incompetent and how many “beginner’s” errors prevail even among veterans.) By writing such texts, I do not only give myself an opportunity to learn, I also offer the same opportunity to others.*

    *To which I stress that the important part is not that my opinion be taken as an ipse dixit, although I am pleased when my opinions/reasoning/whatnot are convincing, but that the reader is stimulated to think for himself.

  5. I also strongly believe that many of the current problems remain unchanged because people do not complain enough.* If people were less naive, less complacent, whatnot, and actually stood up against e.g. incompetent service providers, things would change. My complaints might be nothing more than a lone candle in a vast darkness, but it is proverbially better to light a candle than to curse the darkness—and if more would join me, we might have enough candles to actually defeat the darkness.

    *Not counting the many complaints that are misguided effects of propaganda efforts by e.g. Feminists. Cf. any number of previous texts.

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Written by michaeleriksson

April 24, 2019 at 12:10 am

The plights of printing / Canon MG5650

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My printer for the last three (?) years, a Canon MG5650, has been a great source of problems.

Today, this included the idiocy that the color-cartridges are allegedly empty and that it tried to refuse me the right to print in black-and-white until I had them exchanged! Indeed, the printer locked up to the degree that it was not even possible to e.g. access the main menu of the printer… (Fortunately, there is a work-around that allows this check to be disabled on a per-cartridge basis—a prolonged simultaneous press of the “down-arrow” and “encircled triangle” buttons. On the down-side, this could endanger the printer, should I ever do try to print in color, because apparently printing with low ink can damage it—specifically, IIRC, the print-heads.)

This is extremely annoying on two counts: Firstly, the contents of the color-cartridges have no bearing whatsoever on a black-and-white print. Still, people are put in a situation where they might have to forego an urgent print and/or incur unnecessary extra costs.* Secondly, the only use of the color-cartridges that I have ever made is printing a few test pages, including for alignment of the print-heads, and a single call of the routine to clean the print-heads—they simply should not be empty at this juncture. (Unless, cf. a below footnote, Canon wastes my ink.)

*I note that the above-mentioned work-around is not suggested by the printer and that most users will likely not even know that a work-around exists. I found it on the Internet.

Of course, Canon has a corresponding opportunity of an unethical gain, well in line with common tricks of the industry, including attempts to prevent re-filling of cartridges or purchases of cartridges from independent suppliers at a considerably lower cost. (This through means like patents, design changes, and, perfidiously, chips that try keep track of previous printing, rather than the actual ink level. The latter might be the explanation for the allegedly empty cartridges in my case.)

A few weeks ago, while the printer was already complaining about the color-cartridges being almost empty, I found myself unable to print for another reason—the black* cartridge suddenly was empty. This with not one word of preceding warning, while the printer had kept harping about the color-cartridges for weeks. This forced me to forego a few printouts that I needed for a meeting, because I did not have anywhere near the time to buy a new cartridge. Had I had an advance warning, I could have bought one in time and been up-and-running in the thirty seconds it takes to change a cartridge…

*The main black one—not the little black one intended for photos or whatnots.

Ever since my move to Wuppertal, the printer had ever-and-ever-again complained that it was out of paper—while the tray was full. Indeed, often a mere press of “OK”,* without even touching the paper tray, was enough to cause printing, proving how flawed the complaint was. Worse, this complaint comes at the end of an endless-feeling period where the printer just makes noises (presumably, trying to load or detect paper), which causes the overall printing time to explode. About a month ago, I took a screw-driver, removed** and re-attached the tray, having made good experiences with the disassemble–reassemble approach on other items. Since then, the number of complaints have dropped from an average of one or two per printed page to a single complaint for a-dozen-or-so*** pages.

*The request by the printer is to fill the (allegedly empty) paper tray and then to press “OK”.

**There are a few screws and plastic attachments on the bottom of the printer.

***Which by my standards is a print-heavy month. (Otherwise, I would have attempted a correction a lot earlier.)

A great idiocy is a recommendation that the user print at least several pages in both color and black-and-white every week to avoid that the print-heads clog (or whatnot).* If I were to do that, almost all my color-printing (and a sizable portion of my black-and-white printing) would amount to printing-for-the-sake-of-preserving-the-print-heads. This would run up unnecessary costs and, obviously, lead me to the point where empty color-cartridges prevent black-and-white printing that much sooner (cf. above; note that the color-cartridges are a lot smaller than the black cartridge). Of course, Canon has little incentive to make the printer less sensitive, because the sooner new cartridges are sold, the more money it makes.

*I apologize for being vague on the details. I read this somewhere in official recommendations when the first warnings concerning the color-cartridges appeared, many weeks ago; and do not have the motivation to go back to look for details.

Then we have issues like long start-up and shut-down times,* a surprising amount of noise,* keys that carry obscure icons instead of text, an on-display navigation that ignores the left and right arrows,** …

*Both might be connected to internal maintenance programs or similar that might be a cause of wasted ink, which might explain my color-cartridges. Possibly, this can be avoided by not turning the printer on-and-off, but I use mine less than once a week on average, making this wasteful in other regards. To boot, fire-safety advice is typically to not leave electronic devices in the stand-by mode but to turn them of entirely. Of course, again, Canon has little incentive to be more economical with the ink…

**In favor of three keys below the display, which makes the navigation highly counter-intuitive. By all means, keep the extra keys—but also make the arrows work as expected. There is no need for an either–or.

However, my poor experiences have not been limited to this printer. (And not because I use Linux: CUPS et co. have done a very good job so far.) I note e.g. how:

  1. I helped my mother buy a printer (brand forgotten), did a test print of a black text, and was puzzled by the slightly brownish result. It turns out that the printer had chosen to print the black text using the color-cartridges, increasing cost and losing print quality (achieving a true black print through mixing colors is very hard). I went into the printer settings, disabled color-printing entirely, and now the same text came out black. (Note that I have made very certain to take corresponding steps with any printer that I have bought myself since then. A similar issue is not the explanation for the allegedly empty cartridges of my MG5650, unless it does some weird trickery on the hardware side.)
  2. At the beginning of the Windows Vista era, I bought a notebook with Vista pre-installed. At roughly the same time, I bought a new printer (brand forgotten), which was explicitly declared as Vista compatible. It turned out not to be… Moreover, my Internet searches back then indicated that such mislabeling was comparatively common.

    (While I was already a dedicated Linux user, I had no experience with Linux on notebooks or of (non-laser) printing under Linux, and I had heard again and again that both were complicated, did not work as intended, whatnot. For this reason, I originally stayed with Vista. Seeing that Vista was an absolute usability disaster, I eventually did try to install Linux—and it worked like a charm (as it has with any later notebook of mine). This particular printer, I had already returned, so I do not know whether it would have worked under Linux, but I do know that my MG5650 was easy to install. If I had but trusted in Linux to begin with… In all fairness, however, these might have been much more problematic areas in even earlier times.)

  3. Further back (possibly, 1998 resp. 2002), I had two Lexmarks (models forgotten, but different) under Windows. The first had, in terms of user-friendliness, one of the most awful print-apps, printer drivers, or whatnots that I have ever encountered. As I bought the second a few years later, I reasoned that with the years in between, Lexmark was bound to have improved. No: The second had virtually the same hopelessly idiotic interface.

    (Generally, I have found the manufacturer-provided interfaces somewhat to very poor. Under Linux, in contrast, CUPS, lpr, lpq, etc. provide a much more user-friendly and almost device independent interface. I might or might not miss out on some special settings, but this has not hurt me to date. Indeed, with printers or with other gadgets, I would prefer it, if more time was spent on developing standardized interfaces/APIs/whatnot for standard functionality and less on providing nice-to-have functionality over non-standard interfaces.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 23, 2019 at 1:51 am

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Follow-up II: Deliveries

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As a probably final follow-up on Hornbach ([1], [2]), I have just canceled the remainder of my order. Even now, and even after contacting Hornbach directly, my shelves have not been delivered and no guaranteed date for delivery has been set.

This is the more annoying as the one part that has been delivered is something that I only ordered on the assumption that there would be one single, joint delivery of all items in one go. With a separate delivery, the order of this item (a smaller shelf) borders on being pointless, and I would probably not have ordered it all. (And, cf. [2], this item turned out to be damaged…) What I actually had my eyes on, the actual purpose of the order, has not been delivered.

As a general observation, there is a strong tendency for German companies to not in any way, shape, or form try to reduce the customers’ problems or to compensate him for them. On the contrary, the general attitude towards contracts seems to be that they are an obligation for the customer to pay—while the product or service that is to be provided is left to good fortune. In particular, it is considered acceptable by businesses that a customer spends more time on trying to resolve something directly or indirectly caused by the business than the product, the fixing of the issue, or the intended recompense is worth.* In as far as a recompense takes place, the business presumes to unilaterally decide what it is to be, the sum is usually an absolute trifling, and the form is almost invariably some type of coupon “to use with your next purchase” (yeah, right). This is demonstrated e.g. by IDS’ refusal to deliver on a Saturday, despite having had the audacity to dictate a date and time for delivery and then not show up… To me, it would have been a given that if I screw something up for a customer, then I go the extra mile for the customer to get things corrected, including that I work on an unusual day or at an unusual time. Similarly, in a last effort, I gave Hornbach a final opportunity to deliver with the if-all-else-fails suggestion to just have one of the regular employees of the local physical store drive-out the same product to me—something entirely reasonable (unless out-of-stock), seeing that it were poor choices by Hornbach that led to the situation, including a spurious split of the delivery and the hiring of severely incompetent or negligent service providers.***

*As a specific example, this shelf cost 69 (?) Euro. Assuming that the damage lowers the value by 20 %, we have 13.80 Euro. Now, consider the effort and delay (especially in light of recent events) of arranging to send the shelf back and getting a new one in return. Unless I am compensated for my actual efforts, it makes more sense to live with the damage. Similarly, I did demand a refund of 20 %, which Hornbach refuses to honor without photographic proof—but photographic proof implies that I have to search for my (not used since I moved) camera, hope that I have compatible batteries (or new ones must be bought), take photographs, transfer them to my computer, and then email them. Again, hardly worth the trouble. (But, in all fairness, the photographic evidence is one case where I do not consider the requirement undue in principle, seeing that someone could claim a damage for an undamaged product. Indeed, I demanded the refund more in the hope of getting a message across than of getting money back.)

**Note that this is not a hypothetical: I have run a small business for several years, and that I e.g. have spent a few hours extra to clean up something has happened. Indeed, I have stayed late, come early, or similar to help with situations not caused by me…

***But I was not the least surprised that this did not happen. Again, this was more of an attempt to get the message across than something I actually expected to happen.

I note that it would be highly beneficial if businesses did take or were forced to take such responsibility: Things will only change for the better if the costs of errors land with the actual source of the errors. This applies in particular to deliveries, where the sender sees its job as done when a package is given to the delivery service, after which it is the problem of the recipient to arrange for actually getting the package—but where the recipient is more-or-less powerless against the delivery service, because there is no contract between them. The delivery service, in turn, does what saves costs, even if it falls well short of a reasonable expectation of performance—-the sender will not complain and the recipient is powerless. Also see a text on force majeure for a more general discussion of this principle.

Another interesting thing is the refusal to deliver on Saturdays*, per se: A delivery service worth its salt should deliver when it can expect to find someone at home. Refusing to deliver on Saturdays is absurd—just like the stubborn insistence on trying to deliver at times of day when most people are at work. The result is, again, that the effort lands with the recipient, who has to make arrangements, go out of his way, take a day off from work, go in person to the post-office, whatnot.

*Note that a Sunday delivery is probably ruled out by antiquated German legislation—just like supermarkets are still, in the year 2019, forced to be closed on Sundays.

As a personal conclusion, I will probably forego eCommerce entirely in the foreseeable future—there is simply too much that goes wrong. If I deviate, I will do my darnedest to keep to my own advice and never pay per “Vorauskasse”—as long as the seller already has the money, I have no bargaining chips. Cf. the problems around deliveries already discussed in [1] and [2]; around payment methods, web-design, etc. in e.g. [3] and [4]; and some other aspects in an up-coming text.

As a correction to my previous texts: It appears that the package that I did receive was the IDS package, which shifts the blame (cf. [2]) from DPD to IDS. On the other hand, DPD is guilty of causing a complete non-delivery of the other package. To boot, it is odd that the larger package was sent by DPD (in my understanding, a “postal package” delivery company), while the smaller was sent by IDS (in my understanding, a “bulky goods” delivery company).*

*A possible explanation could relate to weight: I believe that I at some point saw a weight of 26 kg for DPD, vs. the 31 kg from IDS. If so, it could be that some cut-off was used in the decision. However, the difference is fairly small, the volume difference remains, and the fact that IDS was used anyway would have made it reasonable to just deliver both packages at once by IDS. To boot, I am not certain that 26 is a reasonable number, as this would imply less than 13 kg per shelf (subtract weight of packaging, divide by two), while a similar-but-considerably-smaller shelf purchased earlier (in person) weighed 16 kg.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 18, 2019 at 12:13 am

German justice and prejudice against the written word

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On the good-news side, German law enforcement is actually looking into Koch Media (cf. [1], [2]), and I was called in to make a statement earlier this week.

On the bad-news side, this experience gave a second (cf. below) example of severe flaws in the testimonial process, pointing to the benefits of written statements.

Consider that:

  1. I was called to appear in person, despite having already given what I consider sufficient written information—which I would, obviously, have been easily able to amend in writing, had the need appeared.

    Going by what the interviewing police officer said, I suspect that he had problems comprehending the references to blog entries in English (in my German complaint) and/or was thrown off by the more general discussion of industry-wide issues in these blog entries. Had he asked me for a more concise German text, I would have provided one gladly.

    With a written statement sent by post, we would all have had less effort.

  2. This cost me: A fifteen minute train-ride + time waiting for the train + time getting from my apartment to the first station + time getting from the last station to the police + a security buffer, for a total of at least three quarters of an hour in one direction. Another twenty or twenty-five minutes waiting for my turn (past the time of the appointment, not including the planned buffer), because another interview took far longer than planned. Another half-hour to an hour* for the actual statement, including introductions, re-iteration of what I had already written, re-stating things that the police officer seemed to miss, and his hunt-and-peck typing. Another twenty-something minutes back to my apartment.**

    *I failed to look at my watch, but it was fairly lengthy.

    **I did not need a security buffer and also caught a speedier train (RE instead of S-Bahn, for the Germans).

    In my case, this is a chunk out of my day (if, admittedly, a lot of it could be used for reading); for many others, it requires taking time off from work—for a commuter, possibly the entire day.* In the latter case, questions like lost income appear. While lost income is allegedly re-imbursed, someone (i.e. the tax-payers) still has to pay for it. Then there is productivity loss for the employer (not re-imbursed), travel costs (re-imbursed), and whatnot.

    *The situation is very similar to my recent writings on deliveries and delivery times.

    To boot, the interview phase took time away from the police officer, which might have been spent with other tasks or (when factoring in similar cases Germany-wide) have led to less personnel and office costs for the police and, thereby, the tax payers.

    With a written statement sent by post, these costs and time loss would have been considerably smaller.*

    *Yes, there might be cases where a personal appearance is beneficial, e.g. because the police cannot predict the questions in advance or because the interviewed party is unable to produce a coherent text. No, this is not one of these cases: no new information appeared in the statement and any questions that might have been relevant could have easily been identified in advance. Further, the officer in question was himself a quite weak writer; and even in a case where questions were more likely to arise, a thought-through written statement would have allowed better preparations and a more productive interview at a later date.

  3. Not only did no new information appear in the statement, but I would also have been at a disadvantage if such had been needed: As is clear from the situation (cf. [1]) my memory cannot reasonably be relied on for early events, relevant information for describing the misleading information and the product at hand has been researched and put in writing (and my memory will be weaker than that writing), and if additional information was needed, I would be better of at home—with access to the Internet and the product (a DVD box, with plenty of writing on it).

    While my case is a little atypical in this regard, it will be quite usual for others to benefit from more time to think, the ability to check this-or-that in their records or on the Internet, the opportunity to order their thoughts in a more structured manner, whatnot.

    With a written statement sent by post, my input would have been more accurate and more helpful.

  4. The resulting statement, purporting to be my words, was written on the level of a high-school drop-out. This, then, is the text that will eventually be presented to (the German equivalent of) the DA’s office,* with a corresponding low credibility and lack of clarity/precision. To paraphrase an example from memory** into English: “I bought the DVDs in some store. I don’t remember where. This was a few years ago. I don’t remember when either.”***

    *In my understanding, the officer was not himself to be involved with any investigation, but merely taking a statement on behalf of the DA. He gave the verbal (possibly, incomplete) impression that taking statements in various cases was his job.

    **I was not given a copy, which is it self bad—a copy should have been handed out as a matter of course, to make sure that the signer knows what he has signed, that he has the ability to check for things accidentally left out, even at a later date, etc. (With several papers to sign, I also did not notice until too late that I had not received one.) Of course, with a written statement sent by post, I would automatically have had a copy.

    ***In contrast, something by me might have read: “Due to the length of time passed, my memory of the details is vague; however, the purchase took place in a physical store several years ago, likely 2015. If so, it was likely in [a certain store].”

    Now, my German is not perfect and a text by me might well have contained language errors. I would not have a problem with signing my name to them, however, because they are my errors. Here I have to put my name to words that absolutely would not have been written or stated by me, and that make me seem like a border-line retard—and with that I have a major problem. I was, in fact, one step away from simply refusing my signature (but decided to send in a written statement in parallel instead). To boot, there was at least one language error in the officer’s text too (an incorrect sentence break).

    With a written statement sent by post, the DA would have received a more intelligent text and would have been better able to judge me, my intentions, and my preparation.*

    *What should matter is the law and whether is has been violated, but, in real life, the persons involved will often matter too. Ditto, and with some right, whether someone just complains to the police, makes a vague statement about not remembering, and then slinks away—or whether someone makes informed and articulated statements, has a clear intent, and stands by his words.

  5. While this statement did not distort more than language, distortions of actual content, intentions, whatnot, do occur.

    In my case, it has been 50–50: The first (and so far only other) time that I gave a statement, some fifteen years ago,* non-trivial such distortions took place, both through “Chinese Whispers” and through a (natural) restriction to that which had actually been discussed. Here too, the discussion was led by the officer in a question/answer format, and he skipped over parts of what I had already submitted in writing**. (And here too, the well-short-of-Goethe formulations were the police officer’s—-not my own.) The situation was made worse by the officer insisting that he read the statement to me, and that I (the much stronger reader…) just sign it unread—I did not comply, seeing that this would have made my signature a complete travesty.

    *I am, unfortunately, a little vague on the details by now.

    **Note that this comes with a considerable risk that relevant input will never be given consideration, e.g. because someone makes a decision not to investigate further based just on the “official” statement, does not pay attention to the totality of the file during investigations, or similar.

    In the “Koch Media” case, I tried to steer against things being left out, drawing on my previous experience, but I strongly suspect that further distortions would have taken place without this effort. (Notably, I had to emphasize that I had given Koch Media an opportunity to react, and had received no such reaction, and that my previous texts explained why e.g. an accidental error on behalf of Koch Media was highly implausible.) To boot, I could only do this to the degree that I actually remembered things, which could have been a severe obstacle in a case with more events or details involved.

    With a written statement sent by post, the full events, my reasoning, whatnot, would not be in danger of distortion.

  6. The statement was also deficient in principle from another point of view: It was written as if it had simply taken down a spoken monologue, including use of quotation marks. In reality, it reflects what the officer found worth mentioning from a dialog driven by his questions. The DA is likely aware of such practices, but it is a potential source of confusion and simply unethical.

    A side-effect of this is that there is no excuse for using the language of a high-school drop-out: Because we do not have a monologue that is taken down verbatim, why should e.g. a sentence structure be used that emulates the spoken language? (But I stress that I would not have formulated myself in that manner even when speaking, as opposed to writing. People tend to speak differently than they write, but they do not automatically turn into high-school drop-outs. Indeed, if he had stated upfront what he wanted to know, I would have been able to dictate something better off the top of my head, be it stylistically or with an eye on e.g. structure).

    With a written statement sent by post, there could be no such confusion.

  7. The previous item at least points to the risk of leading questions providing an incorrect or technically-correct-but-misleading statement. While I do not claim that this happened here, such problems do occur, be it out of incompetence, prejudice, the wish to see a “politically” convenient result, or similar.

    With a written statement sent by post, this risk is reduced.

Unfortunately, the German justice system seems to have an obsession with oral statements and whatnots, even when the written word would have been superior, including for the increased ability to form a strong and thought-through argument. I can e.g. recall reading a blog post by a “Schöffe”*, who lamented that his judge had denied him access (!) to the files of a case that he was to co-judge—because the spoken word was all that mattered in court. Under such circumstances, it will be very hard for a Schöffe to do his job properly—and I have great fears as to the quality of the judge’s work too, with such an anti-intellectual attitude.

*A type of lay-judge, elected for five years, who has an equal vote with the (professional) judges in at least some trials. (Where e.g. the U.S. has a judge and a jury with different roles, Germany often has a small group of judges, some lay- some professional, simultaneously filling both roles.)

Excursion on historians and the like:
An unfortunate side-effect of this type of amateurish statement taking is that future historians who dig into the material can get an extremely wrong idea, with regard to what took place during such sessions, the education/language level of the population, and how people expressed themselves in general.* With people of individual historical interest, future biographers might be led severely astray.

*I am uncertain whether documents of this type are publicly available (now or after some time)—but a few hundred years from now, current rules are unlikely to matter in the first place.

Excursion on other problems this week:
I was originally invited* for an earlier date. Being ill, I sent an email to decline due to personal reasons, giving an indication of when I would be available. I received an automatic notification of receipt, and heard nothing more in the matter until the second invitation—accompanied by a note threatening me with a forced appearance, should I not appear voluntarily.**

*I am uncertain whether the English “subpoena” applies in this case. However, it does go beyond a regular, ignorable, invitation.

**Note that while I could see a cause for this in the case of a regular witness or the accused/suspect in a matter (when unexcused!), it seems absurd when applied to the complaining party. Here a better remedy would be to abstain from further proceedings due to non-cooperation.

As I arrived, almost the first thing out of the officer’s mouth, narrowly pre-empting my bringing the topic up, was to explain the need for this note with the claim that I had not appeared the previous time, and that I had presented no excuse for not appearing. As I pointed out my email and the notification of receipt, he claimed to have no knowledge of it.*

*I am far from certain that he was both telling the truth and innocent of own errors, e.g. of having accidentally deleted the email unread; however, it is possible that someone else is to blame, seeing that the only email address presented in the invitation was to a police-internal “mail center”, which might have failed in its promise to forward the email immediately.

Interestingly, in this email, I had made a point of mentioning my prior experiences and the drawbacks of answering questions without research time and whatnot (cf. above), and suggested a written statement based on any questions the police might have. If I had received a sensible answer to this email, all parties would have had less effort, the costs would have been smaller, and the DA would have received a more useful text…

Excursion on cross-examinations:
The above is not necessarily an argument against cross-examinations in court, notably through the difference that they allow the defense the opportunity to probe for weaknesses and contradictions in a testimony, while the above deals with an early input, at a time when the defense does not even yet exist. (However, even in court, I consider it wise for text to be the main form of input, because an oral testimony can easily and accidentally leave too much out, be too poorly reasoned, and similar.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 14, 2019 at 3:51 pm

Follow-up: Deliveries

with one comment

My DPD-package (cf. [1]) has unexpectedly arrived: I had explicitly, per web-interface, chosen Saturday as the date for the next delivery attempt. Today, Friday, I came home to find the package standing between the house-door and the stairs, where any of the neighbors could have walked off with it.* Apart from the risk of theft, this approach denies the recipient the right to turn away a delivery for reasons like a damaged package** or a cancellation of an order—and it removes any proof of delivery, to the disadvantage of the sender***.

*Not that I consider it likely that they would; however, if we look at the overall number of daily deliveries, it is a virtual given that a considerable loss of property will ensue, even should the likelihood be small in any given case. Correspondingly, such careless treatment of deliveries is inexcusable, unless the recipient has explicitly consented to it (I had not).

**Note that a blanket rejection of anything with non-trivial damage to even the outside of the package is a common recommendation,

***For instance, here I could have just claimed never to have received the package, demanded my money back or a replacement delivery, and no-one could have proved that I was lying. At best it would be word-against-word vs. the deliverer, and due to risks like a mistake in house or a later theft, even a good-faith claim by the deliverer would not be sufficient evidence of delivery.

Worse: The product turned out to be damaged. One of the sides of this shelve has a crack and a bit of a curve in the area surrounding the crack. Unless the product was faulty leaving Hornbach’s care, the delivery service has obviously been so careless that the package has been bent and the product damaged. (A similar bent is present on the other side and the back, but to a far lesser degree and without cracks, likely because the cracked side was on top during the bending.) Fortunately, the shelve could still be put together and looks to be functional enough, so I have decided to live with the beauty error rather than taking on the hassle of trying to return the defect product and starting over with a new wait for a re-delivery. Of course, this is a manner in which the sender can actually profit from poor deliveries: if it is too much of a hassle to receive corrections, then fewer people will ask for corrections. (However, once the rest of the delivery, expected for Monday, has played out successfully or unsuccessfully, I will communicate the repeated problems to Hornbach and demand a partial refund—not because it is a worth-while use of my time, but because it is important to signal that events like these are not acceptable.)

As an aside, the package weight was as much as 31 kg (not the 26 mentioned in [1]), which is considerably more than I had anticipated for the smaller shelve. The larger shelves, if and when they do arrive, I will almost certainly have to carry up in pieces. (But I stand by my claim that any of the neighbors could have taken it, even if some, like the old lady on the first floor, might have needed a collaborator—I hand no problems with getting it up to the third floor single-handedly.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 12, 2019 at 7:26 pm

Deliveries

with 3 comments

The never-ending story of eCommerce continues. I had moved my shelve order to Hornbach, and the ordering was surprisingly free of problems. The delivery? That is a different story…

  1. The delivery has been divided into two parts in a customer hostile manner. This forces me to be present on two different days over long stretches of the respective day. In my* case, this is a limit on what I can do when; for many others, it could imply having to take two days of from work, instead of one. Generally, web stores (and post-order companies, etc.) seem to be completely oblivious to the problems caused by having to take a delivery.

    *I am still on a sabbatical, and have, besides, decided to give professional writing an attempt at its end. Correspondingly, I have no office hours, no colleagues that need me, no supervisors who might dislike my absence, …

    It is possible that this division makes sense for Hornbach, e.g. because different products might have been stored at different locations, but the coordinating effort cannot have been that large and costly. Moreover, looking at past experiences, I would not rule out that they unreflectingly send certain* products with one type of delivery and others with another—even when part of the same order. For instance, in December 2016, I tried to address the furniture issue the first time around. Placing a large order with IKEA, I decided to throw in a bath-room mirror—taking for granted that it would be delivered in one go with all the larger items, saving me a trip to a store to pick one up. No: The mirror was sent separately by DHL, incurring an additional cash-on-delivery fee, and causing me more** effort than if I had picked it up in a store… (At that point, I canceled the entirety of my order, this being the last straw after a series of problems.)

    *Here e.g. by the criterion that this-smaller-shelve-is-small-enough-to-be-accepted-by-DPD vs. those-two-big-ones-are-too-large-for-DPD (cf. below).

    **DHL implies that I have to go a DHL shop several hundred meters away and up a steep hill. There are stores with mirrors that are closer to my apartment. There is far less hill to cross, and I would not have the additional volume of the packaging materials to cope with. Obviously, the stores have no cash-on-delivery fees either… (And delivery to a neighbor, which I loathe to begin with, was practically ruled out by the cash-on-delivery.)

  2. One part appears to have been sent by DPD*. My first sign of any activity from DPD was a notification that I found in my (snail) mail today: allegedly, two calls had already taken place and been unsuccessful. This might or might not be true (I do not spend the entire day in my apartment), but why no notification after the first attempt? Besides, who tries to deliver a 26 (?) kg package of some bulk without prior notification?!?

    *A DHL-style delivery service.

    I have now requested delivery for Saturday. I was given no indication as to when on Saturday this delivery might take place. By all means, I understand that times can be quite hard to predict for this type of delivery (e.g. due to variations in what other deliveries take place on the same day). However, by not even mentioning e.g. “morning”* vs. “afternoon”, after or before a certain time, or similar, DPD effectively locks me in the entire day until delivery takes place. Similarly, I have no idea whether I can sleep long or must be awake by a certain time. Etc.

    *Of course, such statements are only sensible if being used correctly. One deliverer, many years ago, gave the choice between “morning” and “afternoon” delivery. The morning ended at 2 PM and the afternoon began at 10 AM…

  3. The other was sent by truck, specifically through the transport company IDS Logistik. It should have arrived today. At around 12:30, I heard my door-bell ring. I immediately went to my apartment-door, pressed the button to unlock the house-door,* put on my shoes, and went down the two stocks to the house-door**. Once there, possibly thirty or forty seconds after the ring, I saw no sign of anyone in the vicinity of my door, not even around the corner. I went back up again, thinking that it might have been pranking kids or something of the sort. Some time later, the stated delivery (10–14) interval started to grow short, and I visited IDS’ website to look at its delivery tracking—only to be met by the claim “04/10/2019 12:27 pm Hilden Your consignment could not be delivered because no recipient was on the location or the receiving department was closed (delivery before 16 clock).”***

    *There is no intercom, otherwise I would obviously have started there.

    **Delivery conditions were curb (“Bordsteinkante”), not apartment-door.

    ***Original text. Why in English rather than German is unclear, but I note that many a German would have problems with understanding this text. (“consignment”, “recipient”, “receiving department”, …) To boot, the reference to “Hilden” (a German town) is confusing, seeing that IDS appears to be situated in Hilden, but that the event took place in Wuppertal.

    Here, I can only assume that the deliverer pushed the bell, (metaphorically or literally) counted to ten, noted a delivery attempt, and then took off, without giving me a reasonable chance to react and without even leaving a notification*. And, yes, I do have the impression that individual delivery-staff members are often looking for excuses not to deliver.* For instance, I have repeatedly received DHL notifications of you-were-not-at-home-please-come-pick-up-your-parcel when I most definitely was at home, I have heard several colleagues relate the same experience, and the German sit-com “Pastewka” has used this scenario for material**. On one occasion, the deliverer from a post-order company claimed that he could not reach my then apartment due to a market in front of the house—there had been no such market.***

    *Something which is made plausible by rumors of undue time constraints and similar. However, pushing the efforts and costs onto the recipient is inexcusable—and has the side-effect that conditions for the staff will not improve.

    **To my vague recollection, the eponymous Pastewka is actually shouting at the delivery man that he is at home—only to be ignored.

    ***This was roughly twenty years ago, so the problems are not limited to recent years.

    I note that if so short reaction times actually were an acceptable requirement, then the recipients would land in an unconscionable situation, e.g. in that going to the toilet or answering the phone at any time in the four-hour interval would involve risking missing the delivery: Even when terminating such activities fairly abruptly, these very short times could still be used up by the time the recipient was at the door (let alone at the ground floor).

    To boot, Hornbach had stated that the delivery would be preceded by a phone call to coordinate date and time—it was not. Instead, I received an email on Monday evening, less than two days in advance, where a four hour interval in the middle of the day was unilaterally dictated by IDS. I can imagine how such delivery terms will end for many employees: “Hey, boss! Can I take all of tomorrow off to take a private delivery?”—“Are you crazy?!? We have work to do. The next time around, ask a week in advance!”

The whole mess is in need of radical changes, including that delivery services start with evening deliveries, that the recipient is given legal/contractual/whatnot rights* towards the delivery service, that payment to the sender is either always after delivery or through some form of escrow mechanism,** that customers are given the say on when*** and how an order may be split into separate deliveries, and that delivery services be prevented from the large scale cheating that goes on (e.g. with blanket you-were-out notifications, cf. above). Should this lead to higher nominal costs, this is acceptable—these costs will be transparent, much unlike the current hidden costs, and likely smaller to considerably smaller on average.****

*Today, the sender is the contract partner of the delivery service, and the recipient can do nothing but complain to the sender—who usually does not give a fuck. (Cf. e.g. my experiences with Beyerdynamic. I note that this text contains the advice “Never, ever pay before delivery—not even when you have reason to believe that the business is not one of the many outright fraudulent web shops.”—advice that I did not heed with Hornbach…)

**With the seller carrying any extra costs than might be involved over payment-on-invoice, because these costs serve to protect him—not the buyer. This notably for cash-on-delivery fees.

***There are cases when this can be a valid option, e.g. when waiting on one part would delay the entire order by several weeks. Even then, however, this must be the customer’s choice, because he might still prefer the one delivery.

****For instance, an optimistic estimate of the time needed to go by the post-office to collect a parcel that was not delivered (even on a pretext) is twenty minutes. Assume an hourly net-payment of (a highly unimpressive) 21 Euro when working, and the hidden cost is 7 Euro, not counting other costs that might apply (e.g. gas for a car). This is more than the nominal price for most package deliveries. Now: How much is the nominal price likely to rise if DHL et co. actually do what they are paid to do? (The hidden cost is actually likely to be even higher, even with these cautious assumptions, because the hourly rate is an average over regular working hours, while here a marginal rate for additional time should apply, e.g. through the over-time rate at work.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 10, 2019 at 7:49 pm

WordPress and its user-hostile administration area

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And don’t you believe it: The morons from WordPress still managed to introduce links where they do not belong, despite use of quotation marks.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 8, 2019 at 11:08 am