Business, Tech, Transport

Keeping Track

Parcel

Image by Harry Strauss from Pixabay

I wrote a number of posts a few years back about parcel deliveries in this country, but I’m pleased to see that now things have improved immensely.

One area that is impressive is how parcels can now be tracked more precisely than ever. I recently bought some sunglasses that fit over my normal glasses and the only ones that suited were located in the United States. I ordered them and the cost in total including shipping was just under £12, for that this item would travel part way across the US, then the Atlantic and finally up the UK to me. Monitoring the tracking the item moved around the postal network until it popped up in Illinois, finally arriving at Chicago before being loaded onto a plane for an overnight flight to London where it met our postal system.

Even more precise is the system used by Amazon for example that allows, via their phone app, notifications of how near the driver is away from you on a map, so you know that they’re five stops away, on a nearby street so you know not to go out or go in the bath, or to dash back to your house when you’ve just nipped out to the corner shop – maybe the app should have a button that says “just tell the driver to hang on two minutes…”

All this of course is made possible by GPS location tracking and handheld scanners that can communicate with the company so they know in real time where the vans are, and on what van your parcel is sitting. One strange aspect to this is another courier whose drivers are not allowed to deliver a parcel too early, though I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, something to do with them giving customers time slots for delivery. In business knowing when a parcel is going to arrive to within a specific one-hour time slot can help schedule work.

I do find myself occasionally saying, when I get a message from the same tracking system to inform me that the parcel’s been delivered, “I know, I received it, it’s in my hand.”  Still useful to know if you’re not home though.

All this tracking and technology has been helpful in these days of social distancing and contactless delivery where the courier doesn’t take a signature but uses the handset’s camera to show it where they left it on the doorstep instead, usually with your feet in the background – “we know you received the parcel, are those or are those not your socks?”

I’m rarely in a hurry for items, I remember the days of “please allow 28 days for delivery” so next day is a luxury, but it’s still interesting to see the data, to see where it’s been and I suppose it’s still exciting when it’s something nice or frivolous rather than functional to see when it’s close to being delivered.

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Tech, Uncategorized

Tracing Lost Tech

MSI laptop computer

MSI laptop computer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve had the ability to track, locate and remotely disable stolen cars and vans for a while but attaching the tracker to your laptop just wasn’t practical but now, thanks to our increasingly connected world it’s becoming possible.

Today it’s inevitable that, unless it’s stripped down for parts, a smartphone, tablet or laptop will connect to the internet somehow and it’s then that modern tech can call home for help.  Smartphones can be equipped with apps – iPhones have the Find my iPhone feature which can be used to track and remotely wipe a stolen, or lost phone – for Android you have apps like Where’s My Droid, Android Lost and Plan B all of which can be used to find and wipe them too.  All of these apps have varying features but they include providing GPS coordinates, alarms, taking photos with the camera, activating the ringer (in case it’s nearby) and preventing apps being changed – in case someone has stolen it and tries to get rid of the tracker.  Plan B is different in that it is installed to the phone after it’s stolen – you download it to your phone via the web access version of the Play store and once installed it sends its location to your Gmail account.  This last one made possible by the cloud integration of devices these days and being able to send to your device rather than loading things onto it.

For laptops you can do similar things with apps like Prey which can track your device via IP addresses, you can view webcam shots to try to identify a culprit or location, you can lock the computer remotely, change wallpaper, display warnings and notices and wipe browser data, which is fine unless the thief has already wiped the computer.

Digital cameras can be located roughly by searching for their serial numbers online.  How this works is that if someone takes a photo with your camera and uploads it to a photo sharing site or anywhere else that preserves the metadata – all the information on which camera and lens took the photo and what settings were used – then you should be able to find it by matching the serial number stored in the photo.  Again it will only provide clues as to who has your gear, the police would have to approach the website hosting the images to get any details of who uploaded them.

Information from all these sources can be provided to the police to investigate, it’s never wise to try to track down the person who has your gear, sometimes it could work out bad for you or you might end up accusing someone who innocently found or bought the thing.

One thing to remember is to mark gear if possible with your phone number – never your home address as this can show a thief that A) you have expensive kit in your house and B) you’re not at home right now, and they know where you live.   On cameras and phones take a picture of a piece of paper with your phone number and possibly a message saying that if they’re reading the message it means that the device has been lost or stolen and asking them to contact you – a thief would delete this of course, if they noticed it.

Another tip is to photograph all your kit, log the serial numbers and store this information securely both online and printed if possible, again this can help to locate, identify and most importantly return your tech to you.

As many people have said though, as the chances of getting the actual device back are often slim, the best use of most of these apps is simply to wipe or disable the device, making it either unusable to the thief, making their life difficult, or at the very least removing your personal data – which could in so many ways be more valuable to them which is another good reminder to set a strong login password on your PC too.

Updated:  I’ve just been sent a link to an entertaining tale of why you shouldn’t steal a hacker’s computer – it’s worth a watch, even if you’re not a techy person and shows how even not having a login password can have it’s uses [YouTube]  Many thanks Alasdair.

[Lifehacker has more advice here]

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