Harrison Farm

for now, the only thing we're growing on this farm is kids - not the goat variety

Author: marathon (page 3 of 11)

UPS in-store packaging costs (and related hidden costs)

Yesterday, 10mar16, I had a need for a fairly typical size box so that I could ship a custom drawer insert (26x20x4, 6.5lbs) from the Santa Barbara, CA area to Portland, OR.

I didn’t want to go hunting for the right sized box, so it seemed convenient to use the in-store packaging service of UPS. Together with the hidden costs involved, the total cost of their packaging service came to a whopping $85.

I declined. More details of how it transpired:

The rep with whom I spoke first went hunting in the storage room for a box that would work. He found a “32” box and said he would cut it down to make it work.

Based on the weight of the drawer insert, he initially mentioned a price of $40. Then he asked how well it needed to be packaged.

I said, “Well enough that it would meet the rules for a UPS insurance claim if there was damage.”

Him: “How delicate is the item?”

I said it was pretty tough — essentially a hardwood box.

He eventually decided on a packaging price of $59 (including tax).

When I expressed some surprise, he said that he was figuring it as about halfway between the minimum packaging and something very fragile.

Then I asked what total package weight and dimensions I should expect when the package was complete. He said 10lbs and 31x31x11.

I took a little timeout at that point and conferred with my shipping experts (who are available for consultation by the way — contact me below if interested). They found that our commercially-discounted UPS shipping for that package would be $XX (not sure if we’re allowed to publish that number to the public).

Anyway, based on our experience of something like 1,000 similar package shipments, we estimate that the difference in shipping for that excessive packaging was $26, bringing the total cost of their service to $85.

We’ve also found it better to self-insure than to buy the UPS insurance. I guess we believe in them more than they do. Or it could be they have problems with fraudulent claims.

It’s too bad that UPS can’t find a way to cut the fat on this. They should be uniquely positioned to offer crazy-cheap packaging, but instead it’s the other way around: this is probably one of the places where they pick up significant profits.

I’m determined to find a better way because I’m going to be doing a lot of this. Since the shipment isn’t urgent, I’m going to try ordering a stout custom box to be sent to Santa Barbara. We’ll see how that goes.

Update on 12April2016: The custom box ordering went well. I was able to get a box of about 26x20x4″ made from double-wall cardboard and sent to Santa Barbara for about $30. All who saw the box were impressed by its quality.

But dude … they need competition!

At the time I ordered the box, they were saying on their web site that, if you place your order before 10AM or something like that, the order would ship out the same day. So, I got my order in well before their deadline. That was on a Friday.

On Monday, I received a shipping notification. So I wrote them :

“That was unexpected. I sent in the order in early Friday morning. Shouldn’t this have shipped Friday?”

Their response was simply:

“Going out today due to the production load.”


No apology or even acknowledgement that they broke their promise.

So, for all you folks considering getting into the custom box business, I say PLEASE DO! There’s a heavy “production load” to the point where the current providers are swaggering around like they have a monopoly.

Worried about building a web site that can support this? Worry not. If need be, I will build it for you at a sweetheart price. I want to see this happen.

If you do decide to go live with offering this service, please contact me!



Unusual: Sea Birds in Santiago

449348812_787181f04d_mAround 8AM today, Sudoku and I turned away from our screens and looked at each other quizzically. Outside we could hear a strange bird call … and it was loud!

I couldn’t identify the call, but, once I saw the distinctive birds, I immediately remembered. Sea gulls.

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The Heroic Entrepreneurship of Mary Emma and Company

“Happy are they who have the courage to defend what they love.”  -Ovid

We are in our second family reading of the biographical Little Britches series by Ralph Moody, and we have come now to the place where, at long last, the widow Mary Emma has led her little flock (six chidren, aged from 2-15) to a place of financial stability. The family narrowly escaped from Colorado after Christmas, enduring a harsh winter in Boston, and, with the coming of spring, their in-home laundry service is finally beginning to flourish.

If you were unfamiliar with this family and this era of history, you might be surprised that it would ever be possible for such a family to support itself. Upon getting to know them, you might just as well conclude that it would be just the opposite. How could such a strong family, with such work ethic, in such a golden age of prosperity, ever fail?

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Carman in Transition

Many of our family expressions come from the books we read to the children when they were lap size. Reading was a favorite pastime, and since toddlers love to hear the same stories over and over again, we ended up nearly memorizing many of the ones we had. Let me pull out (of my head) a few common sayings of ours and see if I can remember where they came from:

  • When things are really busy, we just say “busytown” — I think that comes from a rather unimaginative book by that name.
  • When someone has a rough time at something, we might refer to it as “knocks and socks from very large blocks” — from Bruce’s Loose Tooth, a family favorite.
  • When a situation could break for bad or good, hinging on whether we can accomplish something small, we might say, “He was groping for the lever…” — from a Curious George book (about a rocket).

Well, the phrase for this week comes from our book about the Three Little Pigs. Carman has officially “gone off to seek his fortune.”

Carman recently turned 18, which is the green-light age for working in Chile without the need for special permission. He immediately began pounding the pavement in search of a job: bike shops, restaurants, construction, etc.

He pushed hard for several weeks, enduring a lot of Chilean No’s (where you just get silence). Fortunately, he landed a coding job before he was accepted anywhere else. It’s a good fit for where he is and where he is going. And it’s only a mile away.

So here’s a shot of him riding out for Day #2. Off to seek his fortune.

ike leaving for 2nd day


Product Development Bunker Zone

Several of us are in “deep bunker mode” right now, pushing to complete the development of a new product.  This picture just about sums it up:

wp dabs product dev

To Educate a Teen

Carman and Sudoku are in the thick of the teenage years. This morning we were all reminded of why we manage their education in our special quirky way.

It happens that Doodle (10) was struggling a bit with “Converting multi-digit repeating decimals to fractions”, and I thought it would be a good exercise for all of us (including Milkmaid, but not Rosebud) to jump in and work a problem with him.
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Unusual Flights over Santiago

For the past three days there have been military planes flying over the city of Santiago during the middle of the day: right around our lunch time.

It reminds me of the weeks after the World Trade Center attacks: military jets flying back and forth over Chattanooga to try to demonstrate … something.

It actually became quite annoying — especially the frequent sonic booms at close range — and then finally went away altogether after there was a massive sonic boom over the city during “church hour” (between 11AM and noon on a Sunday).

The recent Chilean activity is nothing like that level of aggressiveness (no sonic booms or “maneuvers”, just a one-time fly-over of a group of planes), but is still odd.  Flying any plane over a crowded city seems questionable.  Is the Chilean government and/or military trying to demonstrate something?



A little ditty for today

The Ho Shan man

for whom we yearn

will soon return

with miles of smiles.

Carman Benchmarks, Old and New

Carman (16 now) is not much of a runner.  He much prefers cycling and he, like me, has a body much more appropriate for pushing pedals.

But after several failed attempts, it appears that we have finally succeeded in getting into one of the free footraces around town and the older kids have been noticeably motivated to run lately.  This particular race will be a road mile, with separate heats for each age group.

So today, as the time approached for our every-other-day 4-5 mile run, Carman announced to me that he had found a good mile course in our neighborhood.  Later I realized that he intended to run it hard, with the caveat that we would be toe-striking and nose-breathing.  I thought he had a shot at beating me because he had seemed pretty strong lately over middle distances when we would get frisky during our otherwise relaxed runs.

It was just in the last year that he officially out-sprinted me for the first time.  Starting about five years ago, he would challenge me to a sprint every so often and always manage to come up short.  We raced on the beach at Valpo about 15 months ago and I won “on a technicality”.  (He misunderstood where the finish line was — gotta love that 🙂 )  Finally, he beat me outright in a local park about six month ago and it was official.

Beating me in running was a long time coming for him compared to cycling, in which he blew me away on a time trial in September of 2012.  I know it was fair because we rode the same bike.  (No, not at the same time, silly.)

Similar story with armwrestling, with the baton passing to him (for left and right arms) about a month ago.  We haven’t been swimming at all lately, but I already know that I’d be lucky to be keeping up by drafting off of either Carman or Sudoku at this point.  Carman could certainly out-do me in push-ups and pull-ups by the time he was 12.

But in running, no.  Certainly not distance running. After all, I spent huge chunks of my life doing this!  Surely I’m not going to be struggling to keep up in this, too?

We started our mile time trial and, within 100 yards, I knew that I couldn’t hang with him. He pulled away. I thought maybe he was going out too fast and would come back to me. He kept pulling away …  very evenly like he was an old pro at this.

He finished in 5:40 and I in 6 flat.

Looking at the bright side, now I have a real training partner!


Giving Access to Wikipedia

[Important update to my view on Wikipedia is here.]

Haven’t blogged for a while, but i couldn’t pass up this opportunity to brag on Carman (now 13 and a half and in full bloom in so many ways) and on Wikipedia. Here goes…

So, over breakfast, Carman and I (Marathon) were reading an article that included the following (probably apocryphal) anecdote:

“After 9/11, staffers and others present in the white house realized they didn’t know where Afghanistan was and had to find a globe.”

He laughed at that and said it would be “so easy” to know a thing like that. I looked back at him suspiciously.

Then I had an idea: “Okay, wise guy, you draw a map on this side of the refrigerator and I’ll draw mine on that side. Draw Afghanistan and the countries around it.”

A minute later, we had our maps. First I’ll show you mine.

I knew that Afghanistan didn’t have any coastline, but I couldn’t seem to resolve it without having India border Afghanistan to the south. Iran to the west and Pakistan to the east were easy, and I stabbed in the dark the Kazakhstan lay north.

Okay, here’s Carman’s map. Wow! He nailed the (very important) shape of Pakistan and stayed away from my error of having India border Af. Also, he surpassed me by naming Turkmenistan as one of the northern neighbors. We both messed up with Kazakhstan — The other northern neighbor turns out to be Tajikistan.

So, how does one account for a 13 year old who can do this? I would lay the credit on two things.

First, in our house, we talk about the world: politics, economics, history, etc. It’s one of those homeschool freebies.

Second, Milkmaid and I decided — about a year ago– to give the older kids free run of certain websites, the most important of which is Wikipedia. Since then, Carman estimates he has visited over a thousand Wikipedia pages, usually liking for some snippet of info about a country or event that interests him.

Moral: freedom opens the door for unexpected things. Some of them really good things.

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