Monthly Archives: October 2008

Prohibition?

While at the check-out at Wally-world last night, a notice on the till came to my attention. They will not be selling alcohol for part of November the 4th – next Tuesday. For those outside these fair shores, next Tuesday is election day.

  • You can buy alcohol on Sundays.
  • You can buy alcohol on Christmas Day, Thanksgiving day, Independence day and all of the other public holidays.
  • But you can’t buy alcohol on election day.

Milady tells me that this is to minimize election-day disruption (not to mention the violence and/or drunk-driving that will inevitably follow the announcement of the result). She’s probably right, though those intending to get blotto on election day who are in posession of more than half a brain will simply purchase their stash before the before the ban comes into effect.

It doesn’t affect me, since; a) I don’t drink and b) I don’t get a vote. But it’s nice to know that the powers that be have their priorities straight.

Now Reading: Gridlock and other stories, by Michael McCollum

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Sunday Thoughts

The following thoughts occurred to me while at Church on Sunday. Naturally, the preaching

  • Jesus did not come to Earth to start a religion. This is obvious, but easily forgotten.
  • Separate “Clergy” and “Laity” is something that we invented. We are all supposed to be ministers
  • Faith is not about being comfortable! The author and perfecter of our faith (that’s Jesus, in case you were wondering) was, after all, homeless for the duration of his Earthly ministry, before he died the most agonizing death imaginable.
  • Faith is not about safety, either. Jesus was tortured to death. One of his disciples betrayed him and hung himself, another died in his bed, albeit in exile. The rest died violently and gruesomely. If you want safety, look elsewhere.
  • Only 10% of “ministry” should happen within the walls of a church.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Now Reading: Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill

Dell… Purgatory

From time to time I am asked the question “what brand of computer should I buy?” Until recently, the answer was always the same: “Dell”. Now that has changed. Want to know why? Read on…

I am the Treasurer for my church. Recently the Pastor asked me to purchase a laptop (Wheeeee! Geek heaven!) for the church, to replace the aging Windows 98 PC on which the Church’s books are currently managed.

The good news is that after a little poking around I found out that Dell was offering a very nice deal on a Vostro 1510, a fairly decent laptop that would do the job.

The bad news is that for reasons unexplained, Dell separates their business into several divisions: Home/Small Business/Corporate/Government etc. And certain deals are only available in certain divisions at certain times.

9/23: The first order of business was to try to figure out which of these Divisions deals with Churches. For this I used the chat mechanism on their website. The representative with whom I spoke was slow; perhaps she was dealing with a whole bunch of chat sessions. As if that was bad enough, she kept asking unnecessary questions to “help me with my purchasing decision”, even though I already knew what I wanted. I suspect that she was simply trying to up-sell me to a more expensive model. It took her about twenty minutes to answer my one simple question.

Sick and tired of the chat “feature”, I phoned them instead. I got through to a very helpful lady (whom we shall call Jane), who talked me through the process of setting up an account and extracted the machine I wanted from my cart (since one of the coupons would expire the following day). She mentioned a 60-day business credit arrangement. Since the church is tax-exempt, and e-mailed me some paperwork that I would need to remove the tax from this purchase.

9/24: I completed the form, got the Pastor’s signature on it and faxed it to Dell. Called Jane and left a message on her voicemail. No reply.

9/25: I left Jane another voicemail. Still no reply. Late in the day, I got a call from another Dell person (whom we shall call Carol), who told me that I needed to put the Purchase Order number on the form and re-send it to her, which I did (this time by e-mail). She confirmed receipt immediately.

9/26: Carol confirmed that the tax had been removed from the order. She then asked Jane to move the order along.

9/30: E-mailed Carol to find out what was going on. She says they are waiting for payment by check! Hun?? When I mentioned Jane’s original offer of a Credit arrangement Carol said that she could not handle that, I would have to take it up with Jane. Called Jane and left a voicemail.

10/1: Called Dell Customer Service to arrange Payment. I was finally put through to Jane, who was “Just about to call me”. No payment is necessary at this time. The order is going ahead… finally.

10/8: I checked with Dell’s website, and was mildly surprised to find that the original order was listed as “changed”, and a new order had been placed. This was identical in all but one respect: The sales tax has been added back. That’s right, after jumping through hoops to have it removed, it’s baaaaaack…

I called Dell Customer Service. This turned out to be a mistake; the rep kept saying “the order was changed“, to which I replied “not by me“; lather, rinse and repeat. It was like talking to a wall. Or an idiot in a cube.

I called the Pastor, who said to pay the amount agreed, without the tax, and let them fix their mistake. What a good idea…

10/12: I received an e-mail saying that the item had been shipped – YAY!!!

10/14: The computer was finally delivered. Oooo…. shiny!

Verdict: I am happy with the machine, but not the ordering process.

  • I am very impressed with DHL’s “3-5 day delivery”, which actually delivered in two days (in spite of being misdirected to Wilmington, Ohio).
  • I am also pleased with the fact that Dell have provide reinstallation media and driver CDs as well as a backup partition. Too many laptop manufacturers do not provide reinstallation media, which is a bad thing.
  • Dell’s business is divided up into home, business and corporate/Government divisions. This is entirely arbitrary, and makes things annoying and complicated enough, but when you have a purchase that falls between the cracks (Is a home business a home or business sale? What about a Church? Just getting the answers to these questions can be unnecessarily time-consuming.
  • It should be possible for one of the world’s largest computer manufacturers to build and ship a single laptop computer in less than three weeks, particularly since the only customization done was to add extra memory – something that a semi-competent tech can do in about ten minutes.
  • In the final analysis, it is Dell’s people who let them down. Of those I spoke to, some did not know what they were talking about, others thought that that they were working for the government and did not have to take care of the customer. The rest either didn’t care or were too busy to keep up.

Bottom Line: I still recommend Dell, but only if you do not have to talk to a human being.

Protection Racket

I have been using PDAs of various flavors since 1992, when I became the proud owner of a Psion Series 3. After several upgrades (3a, 3mx, 5mx) I said goodbye to Psion and got a Palm Tungsten T… then a T2…. then a T3, which is what I have at the moment. Also in our house we have a T5 and a TX, along with a couple of Zire 71s that are recently retired and looking for a new home.

You might say that I am something of a Palm aficionado, and you would be right.

One thing that I do know about PDAs is that you never operate one without a screen protector; those gorgeous color screens are far too easy to scratch. In the past I have used various screen protectors, the best of which I purchased from Brando in Hong Kong. Brando’s screen protectors are reputedly the best in the business, but at over $10 for what is essentially a piece of transparent plastic, it is a little on the pricey side. So, when it started to get worn, I looked for a cheaper alternative.

I found one on eBay; one outfit was offering SIX screen protectors for a mere $2.49 + $2 shipping from Germany. Shipping was extremely fast, but that’s where the good news ends. The Screen protectors were badly cut (right-angles instead of rounded corners) and were slightly too large, so they had to be trimmed to fit. Application was difficult as they were very sticky. Once applied, they were like cling film (or “Saran Wrap” if you are excessively brand-loyal). The soft plastic dragged on the stylus and made usage difficult and unpredictable. However, for the price, I cannot complain; you really do get what you pay for.

Unwilling to fork out more than $30 for protectors for all three PDAs, I cast my eye on eBay once again, and this time I discovered an outfit called ScreenPatronus. Based right here in the USA, they sold screen protectors for a plethora of different PDAs and cameras. I did a little research and found no bad reviews.

Each batch of three protectors cost $6.50 + $3.99 shipping – the shipping is a little high for what is effectively a first-class mail envelope, but the overall price is not bad. In addition, they will mix-and-match any three you want, so I ordered one each for T3, T5 and TX.

They arrived in short order, with a small cube of expanded polystyrene inexplicably inserted into the envelope. I later realized that this was so that they could use delivery confirmation, which required a minimum envelope thickness (God and the Post Office alone know why they have such a ridiculous requirement, but there you are). Inside the envelope were the three protectors, individually wrapped and marked. The protectors themselves were mounted on a backing which was slightly bigger than the protector; this had the effect of making the removal of the protector from the backing much easier than most (including the aforementioned Brando) The included instructions were written in clear, concise English – this in itself is a rarity.

So, off to the bathroom I go. No, I’m not taking a dump; to apply the protectors you need lots of light and as dust-free an environment as you can get – running the hot tap for a while generates steam which drops the dust neatly out of the air.

The T5 and TX were a perfect fit and application was as trouble-free as one could wish, as long as you take the usual precautions against dust. The T3 was not as good a fit; the protector was about 3mm smaller than the screen, which made centering it a pain; and when I removed it to re-center, some dust got underneath, which led me a merry chase until I could remove it, and I ended up leaving some undesirable but barely-discernable marks on the underside.

Some screen protectors have a slightly opaque, matte finish, to minimize reflective glare and provide a little friction for a “pen-on-paper” stylus experience, while others are glossy and transparent. These ones fell into the latter category and felt like a glass screen. The screen was also noticeably brighter then before. After using a “soft” screen protector for two months my T3 now feels like a new PDA.

Final verdict: Just as good as the Brandos, less expensive, and made in the USA. They will mix-and-match, which is wonderful if you have more than one PDA. Delightful people to purchase from. T3 fit could be better. Bottom Line: Highly Recommended.

Borders on the Ridiculous

I recently heard about an one-day Coupon from Borders that offered 40% of any one DVD boxed set (note to the American people: There is no such thing as a “Box Set”). Their site showed one DVD set that I was interested in at $33. With 40% off that would be less than twenty bucks, so off I went to the store.

When I got there, the price in the store was $40, not $33. This leads to my first annoyance: The Web Price should be the same as the In-Store Price. Best Buy is famous for this (along with a few other dodges, such as a fake in-store website with a higher price). As a matter of principle I never reward a bait-and-switcher with my business, so I left, after picking up a Border’s Rewards Card.

Setting up the Borders Rewards Card online proved to be more difficult than it should. First you have to set up an account with Borders, then you have to “register” your card to your new account. This I did.

The next time I logged in, the system had forgotten that I had registered my card, and I had to do it all again. This time I obviously did it right, because the system sent me “a rewarding welcome gift” – an e-mail containing a coupon for 20% off any one item (with the obligatory paragraph of exceptions); the bad news is that it is only valid for two weeks. Some “gift”.

The following week I discovered that one survey website which I frequent allowed their points to be redeemed as “Borders Bucks”. These are curious; they are issued in one month and valid in the next – after which they die.

A few days later, on 10/1, I got an e-mail from Borders saying that I had $15 in “Borders Bucks”. I went to the website. The price had gone up from $33 to $37, and the 20% off coupon did not work. The system seemed to think that it had expired, which was odd, since it was not due to expire for another ten days. I was able to find another coupon that worked, used it and the $15 bonus… and got the item for under $20, which is about what it is really worth.

Throughout this entire fiasco, their website was up and down like a fiddler’s elbow, showing messages like:

We’re sorry. This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Service Temporarily Unavailable

The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to maintenance downtime or capacity problems. Please try again later.

Note to Borders:  Fix yer website!

Did I get a good deal? Yes.

Will I shop there again? Probably not. I don’t believe in rewarding incompetence with my hard-earned shekels.

Now Reading: The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge, by Harry Harrison.