Tuesday, November 01, 2011

How to ship your household to a foreign country.

Having just done this, I thought I'd write it up because it worked well but I hit a lot of dead ends and almost payed a hell of a lot more for a worse service. I didn't ship any furniture, TVs or big items, so this method is for a small or medium sized move.

What I did was ship 9 boxes of various sizes for a total of 225KG from Dublin to Narita airport as unaccompanied baggage. This cost me just over 700EUR with K International Freight, including 40EUR to come pick it up from Crumlin. I dealt with Kevin who was helpful, prompt to give a quote and answer questions. They also reinforced some of my less well done packaging, without which I suspect some of my stuff would still be littering the floor of a warehouse in Dubai. The boxes were shipped with Cathay Pacific and took about 3 days of flying via Manchester, Amsterdam, Dubai and Hong Kong. They were trackable all the way. We rented a van in Tokyo, got various bits of paper stamped by customs and loaded the boxes up. The airport part of it took about 1 hour in total, I would not like to have done it without a Japanese speaker.

Less than a week after I arrived, we had all the stuff. We could have had it sooner but I only finished packing at 4am - 5 hours before I got on the plane! Also I was happy to be a bit rested and settled in before organising the pickup and wanted to avoid any complications where my flight was delayed and the boxes arrive before me and need to be stored. I never figured out how long they would hold it for free or how much storage might cost but the Cargo Terminal in Narita is a busy place, so my guess is "not long" and "lots". I also never figured out what would happen if it arrived on the weekend. The Cathay Pacific website says customs "office ours" are Mon-Fri.

I hadn't heard of unaccompanied baggage until I was on the plane to Narita and filling out the customs form. It had a space for how many pieces of unaccompanied baggage I had, so I filled that in and confirmed with the customs guy in Tokyo that it was appropriate. I needed to fill in 2 copies of the form, one he kept and the other he stamped and I presented that when picking it up. I contacted Kevin and asked him to mark the boxes as unaccompanied baggage, which he did. I assume other countries have the same concept, but I've never seen that on a customs form before.

As for other solutions, I looked at lots of moving companies and got a range of quotes, up to many thousands of EUR. Some of the companies offered a full service, they would come and pack your whole house up and deliver it door to door. This was not what I wanted, others ranged in between. Some companies had to be harassed to actually quote me. Others wanted a list of all items in order to quote me! All were far more expensive than K International. There were even some who would put my stuff on a boat for 8 weeks and charge me a small fortune for it.

The 2nd most reasonable option was An Post who cost 145EUR for 20KG but have some tricky size restrictions on the parcels and I also don't trust them too much - according to their website, a parcel that was delivered 4 weeks ago, still hasn't arrived!

Another pretty reasonable option is Vigin's extra baggage service which charges about 100EUR for each extra bag up to 23KG (1st extra bad is only 40EUR). Since my flight started in Dublin with Aer Lingus, I could not use that. It took a bit of work to get a straight answer on that but eventually I got confirmed that I would have to pay Aer Lingus 9EUR per KG for the Dublin to London leg. Given the chance, I would have shipped it this way and avoided 2 trips to the airport but it was not to be. Fuck you Aer Lingus, if you're going to do connecting flights (unlike Ryanair) you cannot avoid checked in baggage, so by charging penal rates you're just doing yourselves out of business.

I suspect other freight forwarders would have similar prices but they do not seem to be common knowledge or targetting the "moving your house" market. I only found K International because I phoned Virgin Cargo (to see if I could bypass Aer Lingus) and they told me they don't deal directly with the public and pointed me at K International.

The only thing I regret was that I tried to pack things into the smallest number of boxes possible. This made it somewhat cheaper but really wasn't worth it. Most of my boxes were 50cm cubed (from Elephant Storage). Freight is charged by weight or if the density isn't high enough, it's charged by volume. Take the volume in cubic cm and divide by 6000 to get the "volumetric weight", you are charged for whichever weight is higher. So I just needed to make each of these boxes at least 21KG to avoid paying by volume. I did better than that but I spent a lot of time dicking around and moving stuff. I also made too many trips to the box shop. I was always sure I needed just 1 more box, I should have just bought lots and returned the ones I didn't use. I optimised for money but at huge expense of time. Lesson learned the hard way (45 min sleep before leaving for the airport and a mess in the house that my family very kindly took care of).

Also, shipping by sea tends to be no cheaper than air. I imagine if you get a container and fill it with your house and car it probably works out better but for a small move, air freight seems to be much cheaper.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Half way to Tokyo.

M and the kids got on a plane to Tokyo this morning (just barely!). That was all much harder than it should have been but they should be in the air on the way from Abu Dhabi to Tokyo now.

It's been a remarkably stressful week.

It started last weekend with me noticing that S had chicken pox just days before they were all due to fly. He actually had spots one or two days before that but I thought they were insect bites (R had insect bites aplenty). We thought we might be able to fly anyway given the timing and the official policies of airlines but the doctor said we couldn't (and if he had not still been contagious, S would have been horrible to fly with on Thursday). So now we're into insurance claims. We were lucky that managed to rebook at about the same price. It seems that not so many people want to fly Etihad via Abu Dhabi on 9/11. Any other airline or Etihad on any other day was 800e more! Virgin Atlantic take bikes for free, Etihad charge them as excess baggage (45e/kg * 20kg = 900e!). So I'm left with an enormous cardboard box with half-assembled bikes in it.

Next up was finding out at the start of the week that my original Tokyo transfer plan has been scuppered by company-wide changes in staffing. I can either wait and see with no guarantees or start down a different path. So now I'm starting down a different path. Also wondering whether I should start dusting off my CV.

Finally today, for no very good reason we barely made check-in at the airport. It didn't help that it was terminal 2 which neither of us had ever been in and, as they say, mistakes were made. It ended with my heading to oversized baggage while M took the kids up to the security queue. Oversized baggage was broken in some way and had a queue of about 30 people with golf bags when I got there. I headed to the top of the queue and explained that they had made special phone calls about our luggage at the desk and that my wife and kids were running for the flight. Once the system was working again, the nice man took our stuff. By the time I got upstairs they were gone.

With about 4 hours sleep and a major dose of adrenalin at the airport this morning I have been completely unsettled all day. I'm supposed to be tidying the house but my stomach is still spinning and doing something useful seems impossible. I wonder would I feel better if I had managed to say goodbye properly. Do the "sad goodbye" chemicals cancel out the "run for your life" chemicals? It was weird feeling like this all day. It reminds me of taking exams or sitting outside the principal's office but that's usually quite quick. Having had it for about 12 hours now, I can totally understand how people give themselves up to the police after they've committed a crime.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Getting a chumby to play from NFS.

Mostly a note for myself. I'm finally in the process of ripping all the CDs in the house, since hauling them physically to Japan is unappealing. I've had the chumby for ages and I'm a bit disappointed in it's inability to easily play songs from the network and as a result it's been gathering dust.

Tonight I figured out tonight that mount -t nfs pop.lan:/share /mnt/usb will convince chumpy's mp3.x utility that my server is actually a USB drive and now the songs show up under the builtin "my music" player. That just gives me random shuffle which is still pretty crappy but maybe getting somewhere.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Independent nonsense: banks should be lending to house buyers

So, house prices are way down but the silly banks aren't lending. As usual the Independent leaves out half the story.

The monthly cost of a mortgage (and so the ability to repay it) is determined by the price times the interest rate. Interest rates for Irish borrowers are about twice what they were.

Our interest rates used to be a little above the ECB but now they're massively above it. There's a double reason for this. Irish banks have to pay lots more for their credit now, they can't get it at ECB rates anymore. So they have to charge people what the bank is paying plus a margin for profit.

Secondly, the banks sold a load of tracker mortgages which means that for all those customers, not only are they not getting to add a profit margin, they are actually charging those customers less than what it costs the bank. The result is that they have to add an even bigger profit margin on their non-tracker loans. Yes, if you don't have a tracker not only are you not as well off as those who got a tracker, you are actually being charged extra because of them!

The only mention of "interest" in that whole article is for the buyers who are "interested" in the properties.

So should the banks be lending? I had no idea before I read that article I have no better idea afterwards.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Independent nonsense: balance of payments

Am I missing something or is this article contradicting itself in the space of a single paragraph?

Our export-led growth has given us a positive balance of payments position on current account. Depressed consumer demand has helped keep our spending down on imports. So we don't owe as much as we might. The real problem impeding a fuller economic recovery is that consumer confidence and domestic demand have not bounced back. The positive balance of payments will be short-lived if domestic demand does not improve.

So on the one hand depressed consumer demand has kept our imports low and so our balance of payments is positive. Yet somehow, our balance of payments will become negative unless consumer demand increases.

While I agree with some of what he says, the whole article has the feel of a random collection of assertions and opinions about the crisis cogged from others.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Adventures in Dublin

I got to see Hanna this evening which was good fun. Just before it started, Midori phoned to say she couldn't get to the house because the road was taped off by the police (actually not our road but the one we usually come in by) and Midori has photos of an army truck with "Explosive Ordinance Disposal" on the side. Presumably a pipe bomb (or suspected pipe bomb). Robots were involved. I passed a similarly taped road on the way home a few days back. Meanwhile town is all taped off for that other bomber, Obama and I had to cycle the long way to get home.

When I came out of the cinema, some scumbag was rattling my bike. I shouted and I was told to "fuck off" and his girlfriend explained they were "only looking". So it seems it was all just an innocent misunderstanding or something.

Half-way home, crossing Sally's bridge over the canal, a guy exited a taxi, drunkenly stumbled backwards down the bridge, grabbed a railing, spun round and fell on his arse into the grass. I stopped and went over, he was lying with eyes closed, seemingly at peace, listening to his ipod. I didn't think the top of the canal embankment was the best place for him (an unstable equilibrium) so I offered him a hand up. He seemed a bit embarrassed but happy for the help. He told me I was "very sweet". Yes... well... indeed. He made his way a bit more steadily (sobered up by embarrassment I think) over the bridge to his house.

And speaking of the Queen, Sean decided to stage a dirty protest during her visit. He's been very independent toiletwise for a few months now but this time something went horribly wrong. I'm talking #1 and #2, wall, floor (multiple places), trousers (inside and out), socks, toilet seat, bath mat and his plastic step. I am absolutely at a loss as to what actually happened. It must have been a bit like JFK's magic bullet. I should really have outlined everything in chalk and taken photos.

Finally, Riona's on a roll. After watching Madagascar 2 yesterday, she later said that certain parts of her mothers anatomy were "heavy... they look like a hippo's bum". This morning while sword fighting with Sean, she told him, "I'm going to kick your nuts off!". Sean thought it was hilarious, I couldn't help but laugh, so now this phrase is the best thing ever. Apparently she heard it on TV (seems unlikely, given what she gets to see but who knows).

Over all, this week has been above average colourful.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Forget π (pi), τ (tau) is where it's at

Below is Vi Hart's video explaining why τ (= 2π) is the more natural "circle constant". Everything just works out more neatly with τ and thinking about a full turn rather than a half turn just makes sense. And yes,

e = 1
is how it should be. The Tau Manifesto has more details but suffice to say, while Mar 14th never did much for me, on Jun 28th I might just make an effort this year.

No this is not entirely a waste of time, using τ with beginners would actually eliminate quite a bit of confusion.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bit of a maths puzzle.


Ugh! This comes out nicely on my blog but looks like crap in Google reader, presumably because the javascript can't run.
Define a function:
\[ f(x) = \frac{2x}{1 - x^2} \] In case that maths layout thing isn't working, that's f(x) = 2x/(1-x^2)
Now, \[ f(0) = 0 \] so that repeats. Also \[ f(\sqrt 3) = -\sqrt 3 \] and \[ f(\sqrt -3) = \sqrt 3 \] so that repeats too.
The question is, what values repeat if you keep applying f to the result? I thought I knew the answer but now I think maybe it's more tricky.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The medical miracle of checklists.

From this New Yorker article

Michigan’s infection rates fell so low that its average I.C.U. outperformed ninety per cent of I.C.U.s nationwide. In the Keystone Initiative’s first eighteen months, the hospitals saved an estimated hundred and seventy-five million dollars in costs and more than fifteen hundred lives. The successes have been sustained for almost four years—all because of a stupid little checklist.
Pronovost and his colleagues monitored what happened for a year afterward. The results were so dramatic that they weren’t sure whether to believe them: the ten-day line-infection rate went from eleven per cent to zero. So they followed patients for fifteen more months. Only two line infections occurred during the entire period. They calculated that, in this one hospital, the checklist had prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs.

I work as part of a team that helps keep several giant websites up and running. An error by any of us can result in millions of users seeing error pages. That's not to say that every error is that dangerous, there are plenty of backups, fail-safes and checks but there are still opportunities for massive accidental destruction. Checklists and documentation are essential for us, although we prefer to produce software that removes the need for manual following of steps where possible. We aim to leave humans dealing with the big picture. We also want to free up our brains to make the best decisions we can during a crisis. When the site is melting, the last thing we want to be doing is to try to follow a procedure we haven't thought about for six months. With more to think about, we are more likely to make poor decisions and more likely to get the procedure wrong.

Most medical care is a long way from being automatable and in lots of cases human judgement is critical but it seems also that lots of common procedures are well understood and have well known procedures for minimsing risk. Errors in these are more far more common than you'd hope and can result in pain, disability and even death. For those interested in the bottom line (which is everyone in Ireland these days), all of the above lead to increased expense, usually for the tax payer. In the case of a 5 step procedure for inserting a sterile line the article says that "In more than a third of patients, they skipped at least one [step]." and when they introduced mandatory checklists the infection rate went from 11% to 0%, saving lives, huge amounts of money and freeing up staff and beds to look after new patients. Before the checklist, these staff would instead have been treating those who became even sicker because of an infection.

It's also important to note that when freed from thinking about the minor procedures, staff can apply better judgement about the big picture. They can also attempt more complex procedures knowing that all their effort won't be wasted just because 1 of the 10 sub-procedures is going to be fluffed and end up doing more harm than good. When you discuss a procedure with a doctor they explain it all and tell you the odds of success, failure, injury and death and you give informed consent or decide that it's not worth the risk. Those odds are based on previous cases and they are not just the odds that the specific cut or splice that the surgeon wants to make will work. They include complications that arose from all the other procedures involved, anaesthetics, blood transfusions, keeping you sterile, not leaving equipment inside you, stitching you back together etc. If you could guarantee that all of those other procedures would go perfectly, that could change the overall odds quite a bit. Enough that procedures that were previously high risk, high reward would now be much lower risk and well worth opting for.

Every now and then, someone in work quips, "it's only a website" but really we take it very seriously and do everything we can to improve the outcome, learn from previous mistakes and remove any element of chance. Most people would be horrified to hear a doctor say "it's only a patient". With checklists we have a simple technique that is uncontroversial in my line of work, that has a big impact on success or failure and that has now been proven to have the same impact in medicine. I'm horrified to find out that it has been adopted widely and that its introduction can meet significant resistance.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised though, anaesthesiology has had a lot of engineering know-how applied to it as well as standardised user interfaces on their machinery with huge improvement in outcomes but that was also met with great resistance (I don't have a link for that, I read about it in a book once, so it must be true.)

The original article is from 2007, here's another from 2010 on the spread of this checklist since then. Here's another report on a similar checklist for general surgery.

I would love to know if checklists are being adopted in Ireland. It seems like a no-brainer. I will ask the next medical professional I meet.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"fixing" a hard disk with hdrecover

Mostly so I don't forget. I fixed Midori's windows laptop a while back. After finding 0 viruses and others nasties, I couldn't explain why it was so jumpy and crappy. During the virus scan I'd noticed some disk errors and after fruitless messing with SMART I ran into hdrecovers which reads every sector of the disk and tries to provoke the disk into declaring a bad sector as irreparable. The disk then marks it as such and replaces it with one from its stash of spare sectors.

Surprisingly, after "fixing" about 10 sectors, video stopping stopping and audio stopped being randomly distorted. For whatever reason, these sectors were upsetting windows but they clearly weren't actually important because when they are fixed, their data is lost forever.

I'm about to give it a spin over another disk that had been causing problems.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Disney more evil than I thought!

http://xkcd.com/843/ brought me to this page where I find in the section on how lemmings wrongfully got a reputation for suicide (last sentence is the punch-line):

"The misconception is due largely to the Disney film White Wilderness, which shot many of the migration scenes (also staged by using multiple shots of different groups of lemmings) on a large, snow-covered turntable in a studio. Photographers later pushed the lemmings off a cliff."

I guess somewhere in the credits was "fewer than 1000 animals were harmed in the making of this film".

in reference to:

"The misconception is due largely to the Disney film White Wilderness, which shot many of the migration scenes (also staged by using multiple shots of different groups of lemmings) on a large, snow-covered turntable in a studio. Photographers later pushed the lemmings off a cliff."
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_common_misconceptions# (view on Google Sidewiki)