Continuously opining, intermittently publishing.

Archive for June, 2010


Gas-powered lawnmowers are better than electric lawnmowers.

We came back from vacation last week. While we were gone, our lawn became a jungle. We have long winters here in Laramie with short springs; I’m not sure, but I think the plants start to get restless and as soon as the last snow melts, they jump out of the ground and grow as fast as they can.

Anyway, some of the grass in my front yard was quite high – maybe 18 inches. Some of the grass in my back yard was two and a half feet tall. I know, that’s a little socially awkward in a residential neighborhood. I wasn’t cavalier about it; I just had quite a bit to do when I came back from vacation.

So today I mowed my lawn. Our lawnmower was broken, and the neighbor who lets me use his was not at home. So I bought one.

I bought a gas-powered lawnmower. I do think electric lawnmowers are cool: they are quieter and have zero-emissions. Batteries on electric lawnmowers are becoming more powerful such that one can mow an entire reasonably sized lawn with one.

But, it was evident an electric lawnmower wasn’t going to cut it today.

The lawn required two tanks of gasoline and may have been so thick that it damaged the front-wheel drive (I have to check). The job took about three hours, and near the end, as dusk was approaching, I realized I might be doomed.

Near the beginning of Laramie’s summer, legions of mosquitos hatch. There are so many sometimes that they form clouds. Laramie controls them with god-knows-what-kind-of-evil chemicals, but they do the job, mostly. Still, when you’ve killed ninety percent of fifty bajillion mosquitos, fifty octillion remain (yes, I’m defining 1 bajillion as 10 octillion).

They wanted me. Usually, I am not the most attractive human to mosquitos, but I was the only human around, and I was razing their homes and businesses. They started to fly closer to me, but then flew away.

Then I realized I had certainly made the right purchase. Heavy hydrocarbons are mosquito kryptonite. It seems that all the emissions of a dirty four-stroke engine drove the little Culiseta longiareolatae away from me. The engine might as well have been emitting DDT.

In general, receiving packages from the large private common carriers (FedEx, UPS, etc.) is easy and straightforward. They have the incentive as for-profit enterprises to be as customer-focused and efficient as possible.

One thing that slows the process down somewhat is the requirement of a signature for delivery. Of course, common carriers have learned that not all packages need to be signed for. Senders and recipients are often happy taking the minimal risk that loss may occur on the doorstep despite good faith by the common carrier in transport and delivery, because the irritation of hassle, particularly in having to be at home to receive personal packages, is greater than the risk of loss of value.

Naturally, the requirement of a signature for delivery of some packages is an important commercial and legal tool, because it provides for certification of delivery by the customer (or customer’s agent). If the customer signs for the package, he knows it has been delivered–to him personally. The common carrier knows it has been placed in the hands of the customer or the agent, versus assuming it will be picked up properly by the customer on his doorstep when he gets home, thereby decreasing the chances of theft, damage by weather or other mishaps. And finally, the sender can rest assured the package was delivered to someone who was willing to sign for its receipt. While if the customer himself does not sign for the package yet his agent or someone else does, there is a minimal chance of misplacement, but if the circumstances surrounding delivery are reasonable and in good faith by the common carrier, the law will not disturb the presumption of proper delivery. And practically speaking, loss does not occur terribly often in such situations.

Common carriers have made the process a bit more efficient for senders and recipients, because online tracking allows us to find out where packages are in the transport process. So, recipients receiving personal packages at home can gauge the day when the package is likely to be delivered. Some residents are fortunate to know the time the common carrier’s driver generally will appear and can make sure to be at home around that time. Unfortunately, however, tracking updates only provide limited information, viz., the day of delivery. Anticipated delivery times are rarely, if ever, designated by the common carriers.

But if they could or would designate anticipated times of delivery, the recipient could more efficiently plan for being at home for delivery. Certainly, if the driver has fewer packages on a given day, it is in the carrier’s interest to be able to deliver earlier than normal. And if there are a great number of packages on a route on a given day, it would be advantageous for the driver to be able to deliver as close to the day’s deadline as possible. Thus, it is understandable that a common carrier would not want to promise delivery or legally obligate itself to do so between a certain time band (absent a profit opportunity that would give it incentive).

Still, in the interest of providing constituents (senders and recipients) information with which they can better plan their days, I suggest common carriers should implement GPS-based technology to inform the constituents of likely delivery times. Of course, for security and proprietary reasons, a common carrier may not want to display to the world the exact location of its trucks at any one time. The technology could, however, combine the known delivery routes a carrier’s trucks with their location. Based on continuous GPS updates of the trucks’ locations, which common carriers most certainly employ today for internal monitoring purposes, the carriers could reliably extrapolate delivery times based on continuous updates to the zeroth-order truck locations, first-order truck velocities and even second-order truck accelerations on their delivery route contours. Such extrapolated times could be updated to the tracking numbers so that recipients, especially, can plan better when to be home to receive signature-required packages.