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Monday, 26 May 2008


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What a small world is this, indeed... right David? ;-)

Going back to the topic on what kind of city is NY, histories like yours me me think around an old idea: the hugely different kind of human relationships that happen in different countries.

I am Spanish and have a few friends who have been living for a few years in the USA, the consensus being that it feels completely upside down with regards to some European countries, particularly those in the South.

But regardless of cultural differencies, one wonders where are we leading (in purely human terms) if a box can remain for days and days in front of somebody's house while nobody cares.... :-/

Count yourself lucky about the package.
All I can say is that had a package been left outside the door of a flat (apartment) in my home town of Dundee, Scotland, it would have been lifted by the first light-fingered passer-by never to be seen again. I can't imagine it lasting more than a few hours, especially if there were delivery people coming and going.

In fact, given the record of some immoral Royal Mail sorting office staff - more than 1300 have been sacked in the last four years for stealing items of mail - it might never have reached you in the first place.

I actually find it commendable that your package was still there waiting for you twelve days later.

Can I suggest an experiment? Get a pretier box, something that says "Nikon" or "Sony" on it, put some bricks inside and seal it. See how long does that last. I am curious, really.

Where I live, I don't think anyone would steal it (there are 20ish neighbouring appartments), but the cleaning guy would probobly throw it in the garbage after a day or two.

On another note, FedEX guys just leave stuff in front of your door? Where I live, they only hand it to you personally.

Good Lord! So, FedEx just drops parcels at the front door, without a proof of receipt? And, through negligence, it reveals personal data of another customer? Why don't you and Mr Pogue go to court to demand from that oaf corporation a million dollars?
After all, this is America, the land of lawyers, right?

But why would a Fedex guy leave a package in front of someones door without noticing anyone? Is that the famous Fedex? Uhhh...

Point two: You can also be lucky that nobody thought that your box was an obvious sign of a serious terrorist attack :)

You're kidding, right? A package waits outside your door for 12 days without being stolen and you consider this to be a city losing its edge? As I read the article, I expected you to say something about how the box disappeared and now you had to pay Olympus for the missing equipment. Didn't you ask any of your neighbors to "keep an eye on the place"?


I am from India. Like Bruce says a parcel would not have lasted long before it would have been stolen. But, in countries where there is terrorism, such a parcel would not have gone unreported. After 9/11 I would have thought the residents of the building would have shown more concern for security. Any parcel lying unclaimed should have been reported!


Ha, great story. I'm certain if it was left on the front porch of my rowhome here in Baltimore it would have been gone. And it's debatable if it'd make it even inside the storm door.

While I live in a fairly nice suburb of Austin, Texas I was stunned by a similar occurrence. I was asked by a magazine to review Leaf's new AFi camera and digital back. After convincing the PR person that I would not, could not, be liable for the product while it was in my hands he indicated that the product would be sent via second day air with UPS. The box was to include: One Leaf AFi camera, the 32 megapixel back, an 80mm Schneider Lens and the new 180mm f 2.8 Schneider lens and the usual attendant gizmos. The total price of the goodies? Roughly $44,800!!!! My wife and I spent most of the following Monday out running errands and meeting with clients.

When we arrived home around 5:00pm there was a cardboard box sitting in front of the front door to the house. No signature required!!! It had been sitting there since 10 am. I was sorely tempted to wait a few days and then call the PR firm and ask, innocently, "When will you be sending the camera?" But as a firm believer in Karma it was merely a passing thought.

Amazing. I can't believe it was still there when Mr. Hickey returned. I think my biggest concern was rain.....


Fantastic story!

Dear Folks,

I'm interested that none of the neighbors took the package in and left a note after a few days. May speak more to the local cultural definition of 'private space' than neighborliness. In the olden days when no cars had automatic headlights and door locks, people could be split into two camps. If they came upon an unoccupied car with the headlights on, some without hesitation would open the car door get in, and turn off the lights, to save some unfortunate's battery. Others could not imagine doing this in a million years, any more than they'd open your front door and switch off your living room lights.

As for the rest, less unlikely than you'd think from reading the papers. Remember that the news is a distillation of the anomalous from a billion people. You can't do statistics based on your impressions from the news. Even the scandalous RM thefts-- was even one package in a thousand nicked? Hardly. As an individual, you'd probably go your whole life without ever having a parcel stolen (which is partly how such schemes succeed).

Most people are too honest to steal packages and too smart to report every odd package as a security issue... thank god!

pax / Ctein

Dear Eamon and others,

As a general rule, it is not carrier policy to require a signature. Depending on the carrier, the package, the destination, and the delivery circumstances, a small fraction of parcels must be signed for and a small fraction must not. For all the rest, the sender specifies whether it ought to be signed for.

Possibly $4,000 is below Olympus' pain threshold. Seems unlikely, but maybe. $45,000 is certainly not below Leaf's!

Eamon, unless your miscommunication with Olympus conveyed the idea that you wouldn't be home during business hours but they should still send the package to that address, you should let Olympus know the package was left without signature. (The rest doesn't really matter.) It may turn out to be intentional on their part, but they'll appreciate the heads up.

pax / Ctein

"You can't do statistics based on your impressions from the news."

I've been interested recently in just that topic, because of all the tornadoes we've been having in the Midwest. The numbers of reported touchdowns are indeed way up over the past few years, and the numbers of deaths correspond, but I was reflecting the other night that I really have no idea at all of how widespread tornado damage is or what any given house's chances of being hit actually are. The news just gives an impression, based on a concentration on the most dramatic evidence. The impression is doubtless badly skewed. It's really not an adequate way of getting certain kinds of information.

Mike J.

The photographer Paula Chamlee tells a story about her parents leaving their farmhouse (on the Plains; I can't remember exactly where it is, although she's done many marvelous pictures there) for some extended period of time, like a month. She recommended to her mother that they lock the door, and she said her mother gave her a strange look and said, "But what if one of the neighbors needs to get in to borrow something?"

(I'm paraphrasing from memory, but it was something like that.)

Mike J.

Re: signatures. I occasionally order inkjet paper from a place in the US (I'm in Canada) and their courier service info page has a box where you can specify whether it's ok to leave on the porch. I wonder if different companies have different defaults. It's easy to miss an entry field and give the wrong instructions. In my case, having to drive to their depot is a lot less trouble than having the odd package stolen. So far, no one has stolen any boxes off my porch but the shrubs partly hide the boxes. But they're the only vendor I've dealt with that has an explicit box to specify what I want; either that or I missed it on other vendor sites, which is very likely.

I have never had anything stolen by post office employees, but I worked with a guy once who came within 100 metres of being hit by lightning twice.

It's funny how anecdotal evidence gets over-reported sometimes. In other cases, such as outbreaks of infectious diseases in different hospitals at different times, it may be handy for the authorities to know about them so they could at least check for commonality or at least statistical significance. I hope that independent doctors and medical institutions have a way to report occurrences of things like that, so that someone somewhere can collate the data.

I assume that somewhere, it's someone's job to count and do analyses on where tornadoes hit and how often and sincerely hope that things like that didn't get thrown out in the aim of reducing government costs. It's nice to reduce taxes, I guess, but what do you lose when you do that? I bet those people in New Orleans would have paid higher taxes to get better levees. Too late now.

A package lasting how many days outside a door in the East Village??? I remember when your worldly possessions wouldn't last the entire day upon moving into Loisaida (The Lower East Side/East Village). But that was when you could get a three bedroom for $300, and 42St wasn't an extension of Disneyland.

Dear Robert,

Yes, different companies definitely have different policies and rules. (I don't mean to suggest that their policies are necessarily correct. Back in the old CompuServe PhotoForum days, we discussed many specific instances of delivery companies having drop-off policies that very clearly did not make sense for the neighborhoods they were dropping off in.) Most of the rules, though, are on the supply side; it's the sender who decides whether or not a signature is going to be required.

As you noted, you can often asked a delivering company to hold packages in general or specifically for pickup by you or to delay delivery. But overall, I don't believe any of the delivery companies let the recipient specify whether packages require a signature or not.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

I lived in the East Village (10th and B) during the late 1970s. It was quite a neighborhood… When I moved in, a naive kid of 24, I didn't get what was happening when the building super hung out on the front stoop as I dragged my in from the rented truck and up to my 5th floor walk-up apartment.

A couple years later, after the whole block poured out onto the street when a neighbor screamed as muggers tried to assault her in the vestibule of the building. After some impromptu "deroaching" parties (scalding water is great for getting them out of those finned radiators they like to hide in, but the water dripping from the ceiling can alarm your downstairs neighbors). I started to get it. The city's sharp and impersonal edge started to get worn down as you got close to home -- at least in some neighborhoods, there really were neighbors and they did look out for each other.

Dear Mike,

Tornadoes are an interesting case. Sometimes the perception skews in the opposite direction. For a long time there was a prevailing wisdom that tornadoes tended to avoid city cores. A plausible explanation for this was that the heat wells around large cities produced pressure gradients that biased the storm tracks. Sometime in the last decade, meteorologists figured out that this was a statistical misimpression. On a square mile basis, tornadoes are just as likely to hit the business center as the trailer park. What skews the results is that major urban cores are a miniscule fraction of the land area of the greater Midwest, so it hardly ever happens.

Which is of little consolation if you're one of the statistical outliers. Did I ever mention that we had a tornado on my block? Truth! Back in 2000. I missed it, because Paul and I were off at the movies seeing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Damn! But, fer real, a tornado. Came in off the ocean, touched down at the end of the block and ripped the roof off a house, danced up the street doing minor damage (none to us) and bounced out to sea again. Like the man says, what are the odds?!

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

Ha HA,

NY is a mere shell of it's former self Eamon. Since the gentry finally took all of Manhattan, the only criminals left are wearing white collars!

As a landlord, I would have put that package inside your apartment door.

Everyone seems to be surprised that the parcel survived for 12 days outside the apartment, but I think Eamon seemed more worried that nobody in the building thought about his safety and well-being. Were they waiting for the smell of rotting flesh to come out from under the door?

Like another poster above, I've also lived in Spain. There, this story would have been different in two ways: 1) Your closest neighbours would have known you were away in California for a few weeks, leading to 2) One of said neighbours would have taken the parcel inside to keep safe until you returned. This highlights the social differences between southern Europe and big US cities. I live in a suburb of Boston and don't know the names of practically anyone in my 6-apartment building; everyone keeps to themselves.

On another note, I remember as a child opening cars to turn the lights off because they'd been left on. Nowadays I think it's only my dad that leaves his car unlocked.

As a practical matter you really can't turn off peoples' lights for them any more, for two reasons: 1) some cars are equipped with automatic shutoffs for the lights, meaning that a driver can walk away from her car with the lights on and a few minutes later they'll go off; and 2) car alarms.

The saving grace of these electronic sophistications is that my current car (like most current cars, I believe) beeps when I turn the engine off but the lights are still on, reminding me to turn them off. As a result I haven't left my lights on since I've owned this car. I used to do it with embarrassing regularity with my old car. My commute was so long that on winter mornings I'd set off for work in pitch dark, but arrive at work after sunrise. THEN I'd park in a designated spot that bordered on a vacant field--i.e., no wall to reflect the lights and remind me that they were on. At one point the building custodian just said, "Why don't you give me a key to your car and I'll just turn 'em off for you?" As I recall, he was of the option that managers didn't know their butts from holes in the ground, and I'll bet I was one of his favorite examples when he waxed eloquent on the subject at home and among friends....[g]

Mike J.

I had a 1974 FIAT whose lights turned off when you pulled the ignition key out, so there was no chance of draining the battery that way. It's always seemed to be a bizarre design choice to me to have a car beep at you when you leave the lights on. If the thing knows that the lights are on, well then, it should shut them off.

Nowadays cars also beep when you open a door while the key is in the ignition. I know several mechanics and one of the first things they do is to disconnect this feature. It's impossible to work on a car that's beeping all day. The reason that they design cars to beep when the key is in the ignition is because you might accidentally lock the car door while the key is inside; this is because most car doors are self-locking. Well, it was very difficult to lock the doors on my FIAT without a key, thereby elminating the risk.

(Mind you, there were a lot of bad things about that car.)

Now we have complex wireless systems with keyfobs costing hundreds of dollars, all to lock and unlock doors. The amazing thing is that we think this is normal.

It does seems strange that the papckage would have been left for you in the first place... Someone usually needs to sign for most packages, and if someone did, would that person havethe package for you (i.e. a neighbor) I would ask your landlord if he/she knew anything about this package.

On the car subject, my Saturn's lights turn on and off automatically. When it gets dark enough, the lights automatically turn on, vice versa when it's bright out and/or I turn off my car. I wonder why most cars don't have this now as it seems like pretty simple technology, probably no more complicated than a light meter, considering that's basically what it is... (or at least it works using the same technology)

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