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How to Lose a Customer the FedEx Way

I’ve had a FedEx account for at least 20 years. Earlier this week, I logged into the account to ship a package. The first time I noticed that something wasn’t right was when the website wouldn’t display an estimated cost/timetable for my shipment. Instead, it displayed an ugly red error message stating that the service I had chosen was not available at the destination address. (Which made no sense at all, given my choices.)

But, I needed to send the package more than I needed a cost estimate, so I ignored the message and continued. Now another ugly red error message appeared, this one even more cryptic. It generically told me that an error occurred and displayed a link to click for more information. That link, however, led to a missing (404) page.

Ugh! I picked up the phone and called FedEx customer service. After the voice robot gave up on helping me, I was transferred to an agent. That agent gave up too, and transferred me again.

The new agent confirmed that the credit card they have on file is correct and unexpired. Also, that I could log in to the account (obviously), and then finally discovered that my account was suspended due to inactivity.

In other words, FedEx decided to put a hold on my twenty-year-old account because I haven’t shipped a package in the last couple of months. (Hello, business-stopping pandemic? You might have heard about it.)

Somewhere in FedEx HQ, a programmer created an algorithm that decided “Hey, we haven’t seen this customer for a few months, so fuck him.”

The new agent was able to clear the problem, and then I was able to generate the label for my package (after having to start all over, of course).

Livboj is IKEA’s excellent Qi charger

Qi inductive charging of devices is a convenient pain in the ass. Convenient because you don’t need to plug in; a pain in the ass because it’s slow and finicky. It requires too much attention to precisely align your device with the hidden charging coils — and if you’re a fraction of an inch off, no charging occurs.

The IKEA Livboj Wireless Charger e2010 significantly helps with the alignment problem. It’s very rare that my iPhone doesn’t immediately begin charging when I place it in almost any orientation onto the Livboj. I also have a Belkin charging pad, which cost 7x more than the IKEA model, but is very particular about how the device must be positioned.

The only downside to the Livboj is that the bottom has rubber bumpers, which may cause damage to finished wood furniture. I avoid any issues by placing the Livboj on a drink coaster.

To be fair, IKEA keeps the price low by not including a cable or power supply. All you get is the charging pad, but you almost certainly have the necessary pieces sitting in a drawer anyway. Well, except the pad uses a USB-C cable, so maybe you don’t have one of those lying around (yet). In that case, add a Lillhut braided cable for $5, and you’re still far below the price of the Belkin.

Book Review: Make Paper Inventions

This book, written by Kathy Ceceri, gives detailed instructions on making “machines that move, drawings that light up, wearables, and structures you can cut, fold, and roll.” It’s a MAKE and O’Reilly publication, so you know the instructions are top-notch.

photo of book on gordon meyer table

Additionally, the book has just the appropriate amount of educational content about the history and science behind the projects. The book is also chock-full of references to websites and retailers. (It was published in 2015, and there’s a poignant note that references to Radio Shack might soon be obsolete.)

I found the information on building electronic circuits from paper to be the most intriguing, but there is such a wide variety of things to try that I imagine almost anyone will likely find a project that appeals to them. The chapter on making paper was also of interest — somehow Ceceri’s instructions were more encouraging than others that I have read. Also included is a very intriguing machine that generates power using friction and mylar — I can’t wait to try that for myself.

I knew this book was meant for me when it began referencing familiar names and ideas, such as Martin Gardner and Buckminster Fuller. There are instructions for building paper models of their ideas, including a geodesic dome. I also found some new Möbius Strip information that would have been useful back when I used to perform Rick Johnsson’s Moby-Zip routine.

You can get your copy of this fun, easy book, along with many of the specialized materials, at Maker Shed. Or, via the Amazon, of course.

Pandemic Drip Dry

“What’s all this about?” — I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked about the album of photos that I’ve been posting on Flickr. Now, I am closing the project and explaining its genesis.

It began after a conversation with a friend about how our daily lives had slowed during the COVID-19 lockdown. For me, washing dishes by hand and letting them air dry was a mindful approach to the monotony seeping into every aspect of the day.

The symbolism of cleanliness, nutrition, and patience was intentional — why should I hurry to complete this mundane task? I had nowhere to go. The photographs reflect the everyday sameness, but also the quiet persistence of waiting for the plague to pass. There are gaps in the timeline because not every day of the lockdown can be recalled.

Now, two years into the pandemic and one year of this project, our Sisyphean routines continue due to the ignorance and callousness of others. But in these times, this means I am still here. Still washing. Still waiting.

How to make portable backups using Hyper Backup

If you use Hyper Backup to create a local copy of your Synology NAS (which you probably should), you will discover that its default setting creates a proprietary format. In my opinion, this is bad if you want a portable and universal emergency backup of your drive. If you see “HBK” files on your backup drive, you’re heading down a path that will cause you headaches if you ever want to restore your data to something other than a Synology device.

Like most Synology products, the Hyper Backup interface isn’t clear, but it is possible to turn off the proprietary format. When you create the backup set, turn on the option for “single version.” Yes, you’ll lose the ability to restore past versions of a file (ala Time Machine), but you’ll gain a simple and transportable copy of your files. (If you really need versioning, look into turning on the Snapshot Replication service for the directories where it would be beneficial.)

Book Review: Dr. Broth and Ollie’s Brain-Boggling Search for the Lost Luggage

What a charming and amusing book that Michael Abrams and Jeffrey Winters have created! (Granted, I’m about 22 years late to the party on discovering it.) From the charming retro-comics art (with perfect color palette), to the story, to the clever and often tough puzzles, this book is a winner. (Provided you’re into this sort of thing.)

gordon meyer holding book

The story revolves around finding a piece of luggage (lost at O’Hare, of course) accompanied by a time-traveling Alpaca named McGuffin. This simple, fanciful theme opens all the doors to a considerable variety of themes for the puzzles. The puzzles themselves are quite diverse, too, I encountered several that I’ve never seen before.

If you’re looking for a challenging, well-designed book that will take you hours and hours to finish (there are 80 puzzles), this is perfect for you. I stumbled across my copy at the delightful Bay Books in Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, but you can get it from the Amazon too, if you must.

Book Review: Move

Caroline Williams’ book is subtitled “How the New Science of Body Movement Can Set Your Mind Free.” It’s a very approachable book of science reporting that includes the latest research into bodily movement and overall health, and how our traditional view of “exercise” is inadequate.

Although there is a bit too much blaming of technology for our woes to suit my taste, Williams does discuss some interesting studies revealing correlations with sedentary lifestyles, lower IQs, mental illness, and anti-social behavior. And, as evidence of how current this book is, there is discussion about how the COVID-19 pandemic has served to limit movement further.

gordon meyer holding book

One thing I particularly enjoyed were the explorations of mind-body linkages — that is, not treating movement as a way of getting fit, but also as a way of promoting mental acuity. By the time I completed the book, I had a better understanding of why there are mindfulness and breathing functions in the Apple Watch.

Speaking of breathing, I also learned that benefits of breathing exercises are decreased by mouth breathing. “In through the nose, out through the mouth” is a cliché, but it turns out at least the first part is backed by science.

There are other tidbits that triggered “aha” moments, and some reminded me of “new age” or “ancient” wisdom. There is some discussion about the body’s role in memory (perhaps the brain is not the seat of all things), and also a long discussion of research into audio frequencies, the body’s electrical network, and rhythm. (Maybe those drum circles aren’t just for hippies after all.)

I also came to new understanding about the role of the vagus nerve. And although I have only witnessed, not experienced, the healing power of acupuncture the discussion of the latest research into the body’s fascia was fascinating.

The book is not only approachable and interesting, it’s also well indexed with an interesting bibliography. Overall, I’m impressed and pleased that I took some time to study it. I bought my copy at Barbara’s Bookstore in Northwestern Hospital, but you can also find it on the Amazon.

Rewarding rent-a-cops

A good story rarely begins with the phrase “Let me tell you about this dream I had…,” but this will be short. Please stick with me.

I was teaching a training course to people hired to be security guards at some sort of event. I was informing them that some “troublemakers” at the event would be paid actors who would instantly reward the guard with valuable prizes if they dealt with the situation according to policy and in a humane, de-escalating manner.

Even in the cold light of morning, I think that’s actually a good idea.

Book Review: Robot Magic and The Maker Magician Handbook

These are two separate, but related books, by Mario Marchese. He’s a specialist in entertaining children and performs under the name “Mario the Maker Magician.”

The books, like all publications from MAKE: and O’Reilly, are wonderfully designed technical instruction. Marchese’s clear intention is to inspire and encourage young adults, but grown adults can enjoy them too. (Particularly his unrestrained enthusiasm!) The projects and the author have a clear “do-it-yourself-with-what-you-have” vibe, and that permeates all the way through to the list of materials, which frequently reference using pizza boxes as a source of cardboard.

cardboard robot

The audience for the first book, the Handbook, is the most clear. That one focuses on simple (but very clever) magic apparatus and there isn’t much presumption of interest in magic, beyond having picked up the book. The second book, Robot Magic, aims higher with its magical jargon, and its reliance on downloadable starter code. But the physicality of the props that you’re building are given in exhaustive detail. It’s an interesting and contrasting instructional mix, but it avoids a much longer, dry book. It all works.

The book is supplemented by a web collection of sample cut-and-paste code, and videos of many of the projects. This video example at his site is a fine one to start with if you’d like to get a feel for the whole.

I truly enjoyed both books, and I found myself wishing they had existed when I was a youth. I’m more of a software guy, and for the first time I found myself understanding some electrical and mechanical concepts that had never quite sunk in for me. (My micro-servos should arrive soon.) These are widely distributed books, so you can find them almost anywhere, but in the spirit of things, see if your local bookseller or library has them before getting them at the Amazon, eh?

Book review: Scooby-Doo and You: The Case of the Glowing Alien

Yes, I read a 22-year-old book from Scholastic that is aimed at the youth. And I really enjoyed it. If this surprises you, read this: Why You Should Read Children’s Books.

No, I did not solve the mystery. But, then, I didn’t take advantage of the built-in clue tracking worksheets, which might have helped. It’s a fun story, even when you’re not trying to be the next Jupiter Jones.

gordon meyer holding book

I didn’t buy the book, it arrived in our Little Free Library, so having grown up with Scooby as well as being a fan of Scholastic and teen mysteries, I decided to read it. (One of the perks of being a library steward is getting first crack at the good stuff.)

If you don’t have a youngster from whom you can borrow a copy, you can get one from the Amazon.