Category Archives: Uncategorized

Startrack doesn’t deliver

It’s kind of funny for a courier company that it seems unable to execute its main reason for existence – delivering parcels.

Now, I get it that logistically it’s a huge task to deliver huge volumes of parcels around the country every day without some inevitable problems…but why do almost all my Startrack deliveries end up in some sort of drama?

I’ve been getting fairly regular deliveries from Startrack for a couple of years now. These are fairly large shipments, not just the odd parcel or two. I had a regular driver, and there was never any problem. I live in a small unit block, and the driver would ring the bell, I’d come down and sign for the delivery. There’s always someone available, so missing a delivery isn’t really a problem.

However, something changed in the last six months, and suddenly the drivers were different, and strangely they seemed unable to make their deliveries. We’ve had excuses ranging from “couldn’t find parking” to today’s excuse of “the premises was closed”. That’s really strange as there have been two people here all day and nobody rang the bell or bothered to leave a card.

So clearly, the drivers are just lying and can’t be bothered to attempt a delivery, or they’re running late or whatever. At the end of the day, they just seem incapable of actually performing the task that I’m paying them for.

No here’s where it gets really frustrating. If you ring up to complain, the call centre person will say they can arrange for the shipment to be re-delivered the next day, but when you ask if there’ll be a re-delivery fee, you get the standard response that you need to contact the sender.

Now, let me get this straight. Startrack have failed to perform the task that they were paid to do. Their drivers lie about the reasons for failing to deliver shipments. They then want to charge you again for having to try another delivery! And to make it even more complex, they will charge the sender’s account, and it’s up to you to convince the sender to dispute the charge with their account manager. This is beyond belief.

Hey Startrack, let’s pretend that you know how to surpass your customers’ expectations and that you have a policy that if it’s your fault, you wear the cost of the re-delivery and not make your customers frustrated and angry because of your intransigent bureaucracy¬† and performance failures.

Or is this just a fantasy?

“Magic: The Gathering” Proxygate

So, the latest storm of outrage has erupted in the “Magic: The Gathering” community over the decision by Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro to ban any proxy events being run by a local game store, under threat of that store losing its accreditation to run sanctioned WOTC events.

Mmmm…so how do I feel about this?

On the one hand, I think that proxy Vintage/Legacy events are a good thing. It clearly allows players access to the older formats without needing to spend $1,000s to buy the rare and powerful cards needed to play the format. More players actively participating in events is a good thing overall and I guess the only objection that WOTC would have is that they do not directly profit from these players. I’d imagine that any active player contributes in some way to the WOTC coffers, no matter what format they play in. However, I guess that Vintage/Legacy players would contribute the least.

This argument prosecutes the idea that an active and healthy player community is good for the overall game, even if specific segments of the players may contribute less than those currently playing Standard, the current WOTC cash-cow.

The arguments that WOTC put forward for banning proxy events are somewhat ludicrous. Seriously, the idea that writing “Black Lotus” on a basic land card is a violation of International Copyright law is laughable, but then again, lawyers are not know for their sense of homour.

Yes, real counterfeit cards are a bad thing and all steps to stop their use and prosecute those who produce and trade them are to be applauded. Banning proxy events has nothing to do with this, or any sort of copyright infringement.

The bottom line is that MTG sales are stalling and maybe even falling. Trying to corral everyone into Standard won’t work, and the tactic is likely to backfire and as far as we can tell has alienated large sections of the community.

The problem is not new, and one gets used to seeing large organizations making ham-fisted decisions. It’s just the typical bureaucratic evolution of an organization. You end up with employees in the middle ranks making narrow decisions without necessarily seeing the bigger picture. What usually happens is that either the organization recognizes its failure in its decision making and reforms, or it starts to fail in the marketplace and shrinks.

I’m not entirely sure that a shrinking MTG market is all that bad. Maybe it’s time WOTC and Hasbro had a bit of a shakeup with some culling in the ranks. I was at IBM before and during the giant turnaround in the late 90s, and it’s possible for a company to emerge refreshed from a situation like this. The game has fundamental strengths which has meant that it has survived for over 22 years. I’m sure it can weather a situation like this.

The never ending scourge of spam

We all have to deal with spam unfortunately, and it seems to be getting worse and worse every year.

At Spiffy Stores, we’ve been testing some new spam scanning and detection software, and one of the features it offers is the ability to define an email address which can be used as a spam honeypot. In other words, if someone sends anything to that email address, then it is automatically known to be spam because the address is not used for anything else and should never be used for legitimate email. So, if I mention this email address here, then maybe some bot will pick it up and add it to a spam list. I hope so, because it will help us to scan and detect new spam much more quickly. So, spammers, you scum of the earth. Please send your missives to dontsendspam@spiffy.com.au where we’re eagerly awaiting for your messages in our inbox.

Windows Automation with Watir and Ruby 1.9.1

We love automation at Spiffy Stores, so with this in mind, I thought I’d alert anyone who uses Ruby under Windows using the Ruby Installer that there are some small bugs that you should be aware of when using Watir.

First off, if you want to interact with dialog boxes, then you will run into problems using Ruby 1.8.7. There is a bug in DL under the mingw32 code that is used to build this version of ruby and this is what Watir uses. It causes a segmentation fault.

So, finding no solution to this problem, I tried to run Watir under ruby 1.9.1, and this is where the fun starts.

If you try to run a Watir script you may get a popup saying that ‘msvcrt-ruby18.dll’ can’t be found. Strange, I thought we were running 1.9.1.

It turns out the the default gem installation of win32-api comes preconfigured for Ruby 1.8, hence the popup.

The way around this problem is to install the gem manually and specify the platform as ruby and force the gem to be rebuilt when it’s installed. You’ll need the Ruby Installer DevKit installed to do this.

gem install win32-api –platform ruby

Just one of those little quirks that keep us scratching our heads.

Is Australia Post run by Amateurs?

Ok, this is getting silly.

Australia Post provides a copy of their Postcode database, which we use to validate shipping addresses in our software.

This database is automatically refreshed on a weekly basis from the data that Australia Post provide on their web site. A couple of weeks ago, this data got corrupted as someone had inserted random blank lines into the CSV file. Not a good look. Of course the database load failed and the postcodes table was wiped out.

Fortunately, we have checks planted into the system, so we picked up the problem pretty quickly and restored a copy of the database from a backup. No big problem.

Today, we received a complaint that customers in the Northern Territory were having problems entering thier postcodes, which all start with zero.

It didn’t take long to discover that the brains trust at Australia Post central have decided to encode the normal 4 digit postcodes beginning with a zero as 3 digit entries. Thus, the postcode ‘0810’ is now stored in the database as ‘810’.

Now this strikes me as being a bit like amateur hour. Do these people know nothing about quality control or testing? We’re not talking about a small corner-shop operation here, but a large government organization responsible for providing a national service. Other people’s businesses actually depend upon this stuff.

So I thought, maybe I should see if there’s anywhere that I can complain about this latest problem. So off the the Australia Post web site I go and guess what????

“Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete.”

The web site is down. On a Friday evening. Just when everyone has gone home. I wonder if it will be back by Monday?

Mmmmm…..

I rest my case.

First-class morons.

Update:

Optimistically, I sent in a report on the bug using their contact form. Needless to say, I have yet to receive any communication from them. I guess their response is “in the mail”.

Further Update (29th April, 2010):

How good is this? What a class operation. Over a month now, and no sign of a reply. And of course the database is still broken.

Trying out some Social Media

Well, the new Google Buzz is out, so I decided to give it a whirl.

http://www.google.com/profiles/eastsydneyboy

I might try to use it to keep everyone up to date with what’s happening in the Spiffy Stores world.

We hit a bit of a milestone yesterday as I finally finished the last of the pages in the new interface. So now it’s just a matter of tidying up some minor bits and pieces and then we can launch the new version in a couple of weeks.

Been Busy

I’ve not had much time to myself¬† lately, as we push ahead with the final phases of the Spiffy Stores development.

It’s almost done and we should be launching early in the new year. I’m just finishing up the account management functions so that we can manage our stores, but everything else is now finished.

We do have an early release Beta version available, and this has been up and running for over two years now and it’s fully functional. It’s just missing a bit of the icing that will see daylight when we launch the product.

You can get a taste of it here

http://spiffystores.com.au/

SBS Hall of Shame

This is just a quick post to highlight the recent degradation of SBS’s SD transmissions…

Here’s what it looked like on 30th March, 2009.

Shameless SBS 30-03-09
Shameless SBS 30-03-09

Now here’s what happened on 20th April, 2009

Shameless SBS 20-04-09 Interlace Problem
Shameless SBS 20-04-09 Interlace Problem

The main problem here is that SBS is transmitting the interlaced fields offset by 1, which means the two non-movement fields are on adjacent frames and not on the same frame as they should be.

We can fix that, and this is what we get…

Shameless SBS 20-04-09 Interlace Problem Fixed
Shameless SBS 20-04-09 Interlace Problem Fixed

Notice how the image is much blockier than the top image?

Update: 29/04/2009

The incorrect interlacing problem was not present in the Shameless episode this week, but the macro blocking is still hideous.

SBS Shameless 27/04/09
SBS Shameless 27-04-09