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July 24, 2013 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Unhappy Truckers and Other Algorithmic Problems - What happens when the traveling salesman problem meets the real world at UPS and Yellow Freight.
posted by Chrysostom (54 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
UPS saves fuel by avoiding left turns
posted by exogenous at 9:16 AM on July 24, 2013


UPS is obsessive about time and motion type stuff. They teach all of their drivers which foot to use first to get into the truck.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:28 AM on July 24, 2013


Who else knows what a Therblig is?
posted by Madamina at 9:37 AM on July 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


They teach all of their drivers which foot to use first to get into the truck.

...after measuring their stride length and seeing if they climb steps 2 at a time, right?
posted by DU at 9:40 AM on July 24, 2013


Who else knows what a Therblig is?

$20, SAIT, but they're cheaper by the dozen.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:40 AM on July 24, 2013 [24 favorites]


GROAN

(but a delighted one)
posted by Madamina at 9:42 AM on July 24, 2013


I guess this also explains why by the time I answer the doorbell, the truck is already gone. What it does NOT explain is why packages keep showing up at the door we've put a sign on AND blocked off and then get left in the rain.

The USPS manages to do it right. But the media keeps telling me I'm supposed to hate the USPS.
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on July 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


What it does NOT explain is why packages keep showing up at the door we've put a sign on AND blocked off and then get left in the rain.

Sure it does, the model doesn't allow time for finding the right door.
posted by ghharr at 9:52 AM on July 24, 2013


Who else knows what a Therblig is?

It's like updog.
posted by cortex at 9:56 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


UPS also routes around busybodies who repeatedly call UPS dispatch and their city council person and police dispatch complaining that going 50 mph in a school zone at 3 p.m. is going to kill somebody.

ASK ME HOW I KNOW.

I really, really want to know how that's entered into the computers. But I'm also curious how many times a UPS driver has to get ticketed before they're urged to obey the speed limit rather than go as fast as possible, and/or how realistic the models are about legal speed limits.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:56 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much things like amazon lockers and driverless vans will change this. Packing boxes is basically like packing lockers, if you get a good enough robot I could imagine not having any humans in the loop at all.
posted by Skorgu at 10:01 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


if you get a good enough robot I could imagine not having any humans in the loop at all.

Especially once the banks start giving robots credit cards to shore up the consumption economy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:03 AM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I guess this also explains why by the time I answer the doorbell, the truck is already gone.

I stopped this by ordering 150 pounds of weights off Amazon (God bless free shipping). When he heave-hoed it to my door, he stuck around to complain, and I said "Tell you what. Quit flinging my shit against the door and it won't happen again." From then on, he always did me the courtesy of a knock and gently placing it down on the doorstep if we weren't around to get the door.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:04 AM on July 24, 2013 [17 favorites]


DHL took efficiency to a new extreme a few years ago. I observed them not even bothering to stop at my house. They slowed down and threw the box out of the moving truck without stopping. The box stop bouncing in the middle of the driveway.

When I called DHL to complained I was informed that was against policy and thus could not have happened.
posted by COD at 10:07 AM on July 24, 2013 [19 favorites]


Does anyone else find this to be unreadable on mobile? A site sticker floats unhelpfully over the actual article. Someone needs a congratulating.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 10:08 AM on July 24, 2013


Sure it does, the model doesn't allow time for finding the right door.

It should, because in this case the right door takes less time. Our front door is physically closer to the road, but requires navigating the garden, broken bricks and some bikes.
posted by DU at 10:11 AM on July 24, 2013


Someone needs a congratulating.

Hey, good designers are expensive, man!
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:12 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


it is interesting to note that the latest contract between the company and the union included a provision that no driver would be “discharged based solely on information received from GPS or any successor system.”

That might help explain why the computers don't help with staff quality.

I do recommend the author's book, TRAFFIC. It's fascinating and eye-opening.
posted by alasdair at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2013


Who else knows what a Therblig is?

In a proper context, I once told a manager that Frederick Taylor was an asshole. He had no idea who he was so I offered to let him borrow my copy of "Principles of Scientific Management."

Company man is company man even if the company doesn't care about company man.
posted by CincyBlues at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Does anyone else find this to be unreadable on mobile?

Even on a desktop browser, the site's behavior is... unconventional. Go to the front page and notice that your vertical scroll bar isn't at the top. Scroll to the top. Then scroll all the way down to the bottom. Along the way, count the number of layers that scroll independently of, and then dependently with, other layers.

I believe I counted five but it was hard to tell with the blood in my eyes.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting article, and I'm liking the look & content of this new magazine, Nautilus. Thanks for introducing me to that, too!
posted by dylanjames at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2013


Interesting article, and I'm liking the look & content of this new magazine, Nautilus. Thanks for introducing me to that, too!

Aside from the blood-inducing layout, I really like the article and like what else I've seen of the content. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling from almost all things algorithmic.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 10:23 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Especially once the banks start giving robots credit cards

Asimov's little known fourth law of robotics is that a robot must deal in cash only
posted by Hoopo at 10:39 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I had some furniture delivered recently from a large chain furniture store. The delivery guy said they had just implemented a new computerized system for scheduling deliveries, and this was the first day.

The computer had allocated 6 minutes for each delivery, including driving time. Meanwhile they had to carry 2 couches and setup a washer/dryer on my 2nd floor. They were fast, but apparently 4 hours into the day they were already 2 days behind.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:42 AM on July 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


Stopping "hurry up" on the lines is one of the responsibilities of organized labor. HAHAH- Just Kidding. Efficiency is always an unmitigated boon for everyone!
posted by absalom at 11:02 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Who else knows what a Therblig is?

It's like updog.


To what are you referring when you say, "updog"?
posted by horsewithnoname at 11:07 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much things like amazon lockers and driverless vans will change this. Packing boxes is basically like packing lockers, if you get a good enough robot I could imagine not having any humans in the loop at all.

I cannot read this without recalling an episode from Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge:
A long cloak would conceal the uniform while I left the hotel, but the gold-encrusted helmet and a brief case of papers were a problem. I had never explored all the possibilities of the pseudo M-3 robot, perhaps it could be of help.

"You there, short and chunky," I called. "Do you have any concealed compartments or drawers built into your steel hide? If so, let's see."

For a second I thought the robot had exploded. The thing had more drawers in it than a battery of cash registers. Big, small, flat, thin, they shot out on all sides. One held a gun and two more were stuffed with grenades; the rest were empty.

I put the hat in one, the brief case in another and snapped my fingers. The drawers slid shut and its metal hide was as smooth as ever.

I pulled on a fancy sports cap, buckled the cape up tight, and was ready to go.
I want to see that movie, but I'm apprehensive if I got what I asked for what would in fact be delivered.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:13 AM on July 24, 2013


I stopped this by ordering 150 pounds of weights...

Whenever I order something heavy, the delivery person just leaves it on the truck, and delivers the failure notice to the main door. I've caught them doing it, by spying the truck driving up and opening the door just as he was turning on his heels.

I wonder if they could optimize their delivery route with some kind of "Yes, I'm here and waiting for delivery - did you notice that there's no traffic at this time of day?" vs "No, I'm at work because it's not supposed to arrive until next week" web app that you could use to check yourself in on delivery day, like four square or something. UPS has some home delivery schedule thing now, but you have to pay extra and it seems to mostly be for telling the driver it's ok to leave packages at the UPS store so you can pick them up yourself.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:26 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


What's most interesting about this to me is that it highlights a real problem in the custom software business: People often just want to computerize whatever they're doing already, but what they really need is business process improvement first. So the customer is disappointed when they farm the job out to the cheapest bid and don't see any actual benefits.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:30 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


If UPS is so efficiency-minded, why is it trucks will come through my out-in-the-cornfields neighborhood a couple of times in the afternoon? Why not put all packages for this area on the same truck and run it out here once?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:40 AM on July 24, 2013


Thorzdad, that would require some sort of bi-directional communication, which is probably not completely unpossible. Instead of some sort of "2.99 and it'll be delivered by Tuesday" concept, their system would just recognize that there are already packages scheduled to be delivered to the same locale on Thursday and the java applet would pop up and advertise their "special" pricing of 1.99 to be delivered on Thursday.

Of course, this is assuming that the 15 minute drive out to your particular section of rurality is actually worth something to a system devised of millions of 15 minute drives to nowhere every hour.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:49 AM on July 24, 2013


To what are you referring when you say, "updog"?

I dunno; what's up wi--

oh man.
posted by grubi at 11:50 AM on July 24, 2013


UPS saves fuel by avoiding left turns

A boot stamping the face of a human
A brown box circling clockwise forever.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 11:57 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


If UPS is so efficiency-minded, why is it trucks will come through my out-in-the-cornfields neighborhood a couple of times in the afternoon? Why not put all packages for this area on the same truck and run it out here once?

Not all packages arrive at dispatch at the same time and some are on a delivery deadline. So extra trips are often warranted.

That's my guess, anyway.
posted by grubi at 11:58 AM on July 24, 2013


DHL was legendarily bad. Several years ago, my coworkers were trying to track down a package and had to call them to see who had signed for it. "Says here... hmmm... someone named David Ward."

David Ward was a) not the mailroom person, b) didn't even work in the building, c) at that time, hadn't worked in the building, OR at the university, in close to 10 years. David Ward would never, ever have signed for the package in question, because David Ward was the CHANCELLOR. It was basically like saying that the package was accepted by someone named "Barack O."
posted by Madamina at 12:14 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


The last time (and I do mean last) I ordered a Dell laptop they chose DHL to deliver it. When it didn't arrive on time I called Dell to find out what went wrong, and they told me the laptop was stolen off of the DHL truck by the driver before it could be delivered. They then told me they were not responsible for the theft. I had to talk to six heavily-accented "customer service" representatives before they'd send a replacement, which arrived five weeks later. Two terrible companies working together to be even more terrible.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 12:23 PM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


they told me the laptop was stolen off of the DHL truck by the driver

Wait -- WHAT? The driver swiped it?
posted by grubi at 12:34 PM on July 24, 2013


The happiness of the driver reminds me of a peer of mine who did an honors project on automatically typesetting music using an AI algorithm. When he did his final presentation, he started off talking about TSP, except that you had a start and a destination and you had to make the most pleasant journey possible. Each decision you made would either give or take away pleasantness points, but you still had to make progress to your goal.

After explaining that, he reframed it in music where instead of pleasantness points, you got ugly points and you had to make the trip such that it was the least ugly trip possible. Things that were in consideration were tughtness of grouping, misalignment of bar lines, measures that were too big, bad page turns, etc.
posted by plinth at 12:40 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


DHL has been great for me. The driver actually calls ahead to see if I'm around. If I'm out, and he can manage his schedule, he'll actually pick me up later on in the day. FedEx is next on my list, nothing like that level of personalized service, but at least the drivers are very helpful with the difficult packages. Now UPS has never been bad, from a service perspective, but holy crap are their brokerage fees just the most disgusting extortion ever. FedEx is supposed to be just as bad, but DHL fees are very reasonable.
(has everybody seen my Amerifriend post? :P)
posted by Chuckles at 12:49 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


plinth, that sounds very interesting. Is there a paper (or -- dare I hope -- an implementation) that's publicly accessible?
posted by phliar at 12:51 PM on July 24, 2013


After explaining that, he reframed it in music where instead of pleasantness points, you got ugly points and you had to make the trip such that it was the least ugly trip possible. Things that were in consideration were tughtness of grouping, misalignment of bar lines, measures that were too big, bad page turns, etc.

This is basically TeX for music.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:52 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


UPS is fucking evil.
* They have lost packages.
* They have smashed the contents of packages to bits.
* I have had to "fake sick" for an entire day of work to literally CAMP OUTSIDE MY FRONT DOOR IN WINTER to make damn sure they actually handed me a package, because
* They don't like to actually knock, or leave packages, or even leave the irritating notes any more, apparently, because they didn't bother last time.
* Last time I was forced to use UPS, they just delivered my package to the local post office and didn't bother to tell me about this at all.
* During this last UPS debacle, I had to pay $40 for a "membership" just to have the privilege of telling them where to leave a package, instead of them doing the fake-drop-and-dash shit. Which paid off not at all since oh, btw, they left it with USPS.
* EVEN WITH A "MEMBERSHIP," you still have to pay them EXTRA YET AGAIN if you need to make any delivery changes.

Seriously, this company is so utterly terrible, and yet they last and last! And they are the most frequently used! And yet I go through a week of hell every time I am forced to order something from somewhere that will only ship UPS, and then UPS refuses to actually deliver it!

Also, it's 2013. Most people do not have a little housewife at home who has nothing to do all day but sign for packages. Most of their clientele is probably not at home when they come (hence why they don't even bother to pretend that they'll deliver, I guess). Why are they still pulling this crap?
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:57 PM on July 24, 2013


These are all part of the multitude of reasons I love the USPS over all the private carriers. Sure, they're not perfect, but they have consistently been a damn sight better than the competition, at least for me and my wife.
posted by grubi at 2:13 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


phliar: I think LilyPond works that way, though I'm not 100% sure.
posted by thegears at 4:54 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


jenfullmoon: UPS is fucking evil.

So I worked (very) briefly for UPS and the thing about it is that drivers have a huge deal of autonomy and authority without a ton of oversight, and they often keep the same route for ages. So if you get one that doesn't follow the rules and somehow gets away with it, people there are likely to get crappy service for ages.
posted by thegears at 4:57 PM on July 24, 2013


thegears: "they often keep the same route for ages."

Yeah my current UPS guy is so nice, he always puts boxes in a plastic bag if it looks even a little like rain, he makes sure to tuck boxes away out of sight on the porch, he never throws, he waits a reasonable amount of time for me to answer the door. He even stopped ringing the doorbell in the afternoon when I had infants and made sure to tap lightly instead. I didn't ask him to, he just noticed I had infants. He's been on the route for a few years now and he knows all the families and dogs. I hate it at Christmas time when they bring on extra drivers and I get some yahoo who doesn't stack my packages neatly and say hi to my kids.

My FedEx guy is terrible, though, he just FLINGS stuff. And pushes big boxes up against the door so the door won't open. It's like he's in favor of fire hazards. GRAR.

(Totally agree about the profound evil of DHL. UGH.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:17 PM on July 24, 2013


phliar: I think LilyPond works that way, though I'm not 100% sure.
LilyPond works by installing a ton of specific packages that wound your OS. (my experience)

I looked for the paper - no luck.
posted by plinth at 5:29 PM on July 24, 2013


A six-city tour has only 720 possible paths, while a 20-city tour has—by Cook’s quick calculations on his Mac—more than 100 quadrillion possible paths.

An impressive amount of non-sequitur and misdirection for a brief explanation of combinatorial explosion. It may be possible to do the same with less length, but I don't have the processing power to check.
posted by 23 at 7:56 PM on July 24, 2013


Our current apartment building is so large that UPS isn't generally a problem, but the previous place? YO FUCKER I TOOK THE DAY OFF FROM WORK TO WAIT FOR YOU BECAUSE I NEED THAT DELIVERY FOR THE INTERNATIONAL TRIP I'M ABOUT TO LEAVE ON AND NO YOU FUCKING DID NOT RING THE DOORBELL I KNOW BECAUSE I HAVEN'T EVEN CLOSED THE BATHROOM DOOR TODAY FOR FEAR OF NOT HEARING YOU ARRIVE.

Ahem. I have no love lost for UPS.
posted by Lexica at 8:01 PM on July 24, 2013


This is chump change compared to my previous job! My title was "Router" my job was to figure out how to use 368 school buses over 1,124 square miles (279 sq miles of water) to get 37,000 kids to 42 different schools within a three hour window. Repeat for the afternoon to get them all home again.

Constrains:
Grade pre-k require car seats
Bus must arrive within 10 minute window, everyday, every time
Can not mix school levels on same bus; elementary could not ride with high school, etc
Grade school kids bus stop must be within 520 feet of their home
Kids could not cross highways (two lane, one each way) unless in high school
Max amount of time kid could be on bus, one hour

It was like doing a huge suduku puzzle every day! I loved that job, I was severely underpaid for what I did, hence the past tense usage.
posted by JujuB at 10:06 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I called DHL to complained I was informed that was against policy and thus could not have happened.

I once was just kind of casually observing to a friendly airline employee at check-in that a baggage handler had slammed my luggage down on the cart when he was moving it from the skybridge to the back of the plane, and the employee next to her proceeded to argue with me as if I were making the entire thing up, when I had sat, watching through the window as he did it, (which, btw, had shattered my ipad screen, something I hadn't realized at the time, or I wouldn't have complained so casually about it).

"Our employees don't treat luggage that way."

"I'm sorry, but I watched him do it with my own eyes."

"We train them not to do that."

"Well it happened."

"I know people like to imagine that we manhandle their luggage."

"Lady, I sat in my seat and watched him take my luggage from the skybridge and slam it down. I didn't imagine anything."

Eventually, the other employee I had actually been talking to basically told her find something else to do, and then sympathized with me, which is really all I was looking for.
posted by empath at 1:23 AM on July 25, 2013


A six-city tour has only 720 possible paths, while a 20-city tour has—by Cook’s quick calculations on his Mac—more than 100 quadrillion possible paths.

An impressive amount of non-sequitur and misdirection for a brief explanation of combinatorial explosion. It may be possible to do the same with less length, but I don't have the processing power to check.


Yeah, basically the 'quick calculation' is typing '20!' into google.
posted by empath at 1:28 AM on July 25, 2013


Actually my favorite part was that they were sure to let you know he had a Mac.
posted by 23 at 2:33 AM on July 25, 2013


a baggage handler had slammed my luggage down on the cart

That reminded me of this video of an air freight worker who so obviously hates his job.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:12 PM on July 25, 2013


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