Year in review

My highlights of 2008, in chronological order:

I’m not much of a car person, but “buying a Lexus LS 460”: was a treat. It’s still a pleasure to drive and we took it to “Cannon Beach, Oregon”:, “California”:, “Vancouver”: and “Whistler”: I hope to use it to take more driving trips in 2009. We took a “trip to Mexico”:, not in the car, which was relaxing because we spent most of the time doing nothing.

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Seattle UPS finished sucking (for me, at least)

The last of my packages from Christmas were finally delivered today as well as a few more that I didn’t have tracking numbers for that were also delayed for a long time. After “I posted about my problems”:, several people posted their similar stories. “The Kitsap Sun”:, a tiny newspaper (way) outside of Seattle, is the only place I’ve seen this story covered in the local media.

What is amazing to me about UPS is how poorly they handled this. Lots of packages for Christmas is not new to UPS and neither is weather. As bad as the weather was in Seattle, it wasn’t _that_ bad and certainly minor compared to the weather they get in other parts of the country. They obviously don’t have a system in place to handle a case like this.

Severe weather can be understood and customers are generally forgiving of unusual circumstances, but only if the company can communicate effectively. UPS can’t. Their customer service, in my experience, was dismissive of the problem and was not interested in finding a solution for me and expressed absolutely no interest in improving the company for such situations in the future. As another sign of a company with problems, UPS in California “had to apologize for labeling a customer a terrorist”: because he wore a turban. These problems are caused by poor management — employees are powerless and uninformed, suggestions for improving the company are clearly not welcome and their is little evidence of pride in being a UPS employee. UPS is unlikely to ever be a great company.

Here’s my updated list of deliveries, clearly 2nd Day Air got short shrift:

|_. Tracking # |_. Service |_. Shipped |_. In Seattle |_. Delivery Date |_. Idle |
| “1Z1823390262844260”: | 2nd Day Air | Dec 15 | Dec 18 | Dec 22 | 4 days |
|{background:#eee}. “1Z1823390264597202”: |{background:#eee}. 2nd Day Air |{background:#eee}. Dec 15 |{background:#eee}. Dec 18 |{background:#eee}. Dec 31 |{background:#eee}. 13 days |
| “1Z1823390264210655”: | 2nd Day Air | Dec 15 | Dec 24 | Dec 31 | 7 days |
|{background:#eee}. “1Z1823390264673263 “: |{background:#eee}. 2nd Day Air |{background:#eee}. Dec 15 |{background:#eee}. Dec 24 |{background:#eee}. Dec 31 |{background:#eee}. 7 days |
| “1Z1823390264961657”: | 2nd Day Air | Dec 15 | Dec 19 | Dec 31 | 12 days |
|{background:#eee}. “1Z23EW070331035404”: |{background:#eee}. Ground |{background:#eee}. Dec 17 |{background:#eee}. Dec 22 |{background:#eee}. Dec 31 |{background:#eee}. 9 days |
| “1Z8E26Y00357236396”: | Ground | Dec 18 | Dec 20 | Dec 29 | 9 days |
|{background:#eee}. “1Z226A5R0209946300”: |{background:#eee}. 2nd Day Air |{background:#eee}. Dec 19 |{background:#eee}. Dec 22 |{background:#eee}. Dec 31 |{background:#eee}. 9 days |
| “1ZA7815W0349141254”: | Ground | Dec 19 | Dec 22 | Dec 24 | 2 days |

Ground packages were idle in Seattle for an average of 6.67 days, 2nd Day Air packages were idle for 8.67 days, or 30% longer even though it cost twice as much to send them 2nd Day Air. If/when I ever ship anything UPS, I’ll never choose anything but UPS Ground — it’s cheaper and higher-priority.

Daniel Gilbert on Happiness

Humans are lousy at making correct rational decisions in life. The brain is easily tricked by things that only matter to the irrational part of the brain. For example, people prefer to get $50 now rather than $60 one month later because being patient is rational. When told an item is now on sale, people think they’re getting a good deal even though they wouldn’t have paid the sale price before finding out about the sale. People fear terrorism but not swimming pools even though you are many many more times likely to die in a swimming pool than in a terrorist attack (this is also why terrorism is so powerful a tool).

The author of the great book, Stumbling on Happiness, gave a talk at TED that talks about these things:

One of the points he makes is about comparison-shopping. This is something I learned years ago. Just in the last year, I’ve had several conversations about people who are thinking about buying a new TV. When I tell them that I just go to, sort by best-selling, read the reviews of several items and buy one, they think that’s dumb. They believe going to the store to compare TVs side-by-side is the smart way to select a TV. I always say “But when you’re at home watching it, you never remember that other TV in the store”. I think I save a lot of money (and time!) this way and Daniel Gilbert explains why.

Seattle UPS sucks

This year I finished all my (online) Christmas shopping early, or so I thought. UPS deliveries would be reasonably on-time, “much better than FedEx”:, or so I thought. Of the 5 packages I ordered for Gay, only 2 arrived on schedule. One arrived today and the other 2 still have not been delivered as of today. Three other packages that were sent to us have still not arrived as well. UPS blames it on the snow we had in Seattle, but that excuse is a lie.

How do I know? We received deliveries from UPS on Monday and Wednesday before Christmas, which is after Sunday, the last day it snowed in Seattle. So clearly UPS could get to our house to make deliveries. The Seattle UPS hub is where the problem was.

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Pliny the Elder!

One of my Christmas presents was a few glasses for different styles of beer: a goblet, a “nonic”: and a snifter. Gay also found “Pliny The Elder”: from Russian River Brewing Company at our local grocery store and made 2 bottles of it my stocking-stuffer. I’ve been trying to find this beer for several months after reading about how incredible it is. Beer-reviewer William Brand even considers it “his best beer of the year”:

bq. This is simply awesome double IPA: 8% percent, 100 IBUs. And Russian River got it right in bottles. Is the bottled version or the tap version best? That’s a taste test I haven’t tried. They’re pretty close, I believe and that makes bottled Pliny my “best of” this year.

Pliny the Elder

It’s become one of my “white whale” beers since it’s only available in a small number of stores in the San Francisco area and “they are very particular about what stores they distribute it to”:, requiring refrigeration in storage.

The outside of the label reads:

bq. Respect your elder. Keep Cold. Drink Fresh. Pliny the Elder is a historical figure, don’t make the beer inside this bottle one! Not a barley wine, do not age! Age your cheese, not your Pliny! Respect hops, consume fresh. If you must, sit on eggs, not on Pliny! Do not save for a rainy day! Pliny is for savoring, not for saving! Consume Pliny fresh or not at all! Does not improve with age! Hoppy beers are not meant to be aged! Keep away from heat!

After reading that, I decided it was best to drink it sooner rather than later. So I did.

You can really smell the fresh hops, one of the freshest beers I’ve ever tasted (mine was bottled on Nov 4), which is not surprising given that it’s an Imperial IPA so it’s loaded with hops. It’s a well-balanced beer, which is hard to do in an Imperial IPA, very much like Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA, but much less hoppy than their “120-Minute IPA”: or Stone’s Ruination IPA, which really does ruin my taste buds for a while afterwards. Interestingly, Dogfish Head’s label on their 120-Minute IPA says “Ages Well”. Go figure.

It’s not as citrus-y as I’d have expected, but nothing in it is overpowering. The body is a little on the light side, or maybe I’m just used to all the heavy winter beers I’ve been drinking lately. I hope my local grocer keeps it in stock year-round because this would make an incredible beer on a hot summer day. All in all, a wonderful beer. I’m glad I have a second one.

“A+ on BeerAdvocate”: “4.19 (100th percentile) on RateBeer”:

How the banking collapse was avoided

NPR’s Planet Money broke the story in September that the TARP program, a.k.a., the “Wall Street Bailout”, included a provision to buy equity in banks, which was not only unknown to most observers it was unknown to most members of Congress who voted for it (classic). NPR has finally reported on the back story of how it happened “in their podcast”:

Henry Paulson didn’t want it included because he believed government-owned companies are to be avoided, but it went in anyway thanks to the work of Jim Moran, a Virginia Representative, and Spencer Bachus, a Representative from Alabama with support from Barney Frank. It was so unwanted in the bill that the wording was vague to not draw attention to it. The interesting thing about it is not that it’s just a much-better idea than buying toxic debt (as I mentioned “here”:, but that Paulson reversed his opinion and is _only_ buying equity in banks instead of toxic debt and the reversal is credited with avoiding a banking collapse that his original plan likely would not have avoided.