Monthly Archives: August 2005

Everything happens for the best.

Everything happens for the best. In the continuing saga of my life, I have begun to replace things that were stolen in the robbery. To replace the bedspread, made of old sarees, I will have to go to India again. That will happen in late November.

Don’t worry; I haven’t lost my mind or my sense of proportion; I’m not going to India just to buy a bedspread. That would be a Paris Hilton maneuver.

I am actually going to see an “eye camp” at an ashram in Bodh Gaya, the place where Buddha received enlightenment. This eye camp, run by 83-year-old Dwarko Sundrani, one of the last active disciples of Mahatma Ghandi, takes place every November. Doctors from all over the world come to donate their services, operating on rural Indian children who have been born blind due to improper prenatal nutrition.

I had planned to go before the robbery, so now I will look for another bedspread while I am there. Everything I need comes to me, so I am sure I will come home with a beauty.

Like my new tech toy.

Although I haven’t gotten the insurance check yet, I had to replace my PC, so I started casting about for good deals. (Yes, I use a Mac for most of my business and personal life, but not for my financials. The Mac version of Quicken is far inferior to the one I use for my business and does not upload data directly to TurboTax so I can do my taxes in an hour.)

That’s when I learned about refurbished equipment.

Apparently, when someone buys a computer online and sends it back, it is more thoroughly checked than it was before it went out the first time, to see if there is really something wrong with it. Many times, the returned equipment is really fine, or can easily be repaired. But once it’s out of the original box, it must be sold as refurbished. So a refurbished computer might be one that never did have a problem, or one that could be easily fixed by changing out a part.

I found this out when I went to the electronics store in Half Moon Bay, where I’m spending the summer, to replace a wireless router that died a premature death. The owner of the store buys all refurbished equipment and sells it “for cheap” in his store so he can keep his local clientele against the onslaught of the Circuit Cities and Best Buys that are just “over the hill” on Route 92. This is a clever marketing ploy, especially since gas prices up here are $3.00/gal.

But I don’t drive here unless I have to. Despite my recent HP experience, I decided to shop online.

Surfing around on the Dell refurbished equipment site, I found a Dell 9100 desktop system with a huge hard drive, a gigabyte of RAM, and a lot of other fancy stuff. It was no more expensive than one of the sub-$1000 systems Dell is offering for back-to-school (the $299 back-to-school special you hear so much about doesn’t have enough RAM and doesn’t come with a monitor, which can substantially alter the cost. Anything worth having for back-to-school really costs about a grand).

The coolest thing about this Dell, other than that it can work with photos, music and video quickly because of the RAM, is the new Microsoft MediaCenter operating system.

The Media Center operating system, which somehow got released without my knowledge (I guess I’m not on top of these technologies anymore) lets you control your media from across the room, project it on to a different display, or use your computer in its off hours as a TV.

Mine came with a TV tuner, a remote, and a remote sensor.

I installed it in my dining room, where I office while in Half Moon Bay. From the kitchen, I can change it from computer mode to TV mode, set the channel, adjust the volume, and even record programs without paying a monthly fee. It works just like a TV. But it’s better, because I can then burn the recorded program to a DVD and play it anywhere, including the TV in the media room, which also has a DVD player built into it, and the Mac (on airplanes).

The guy who returned this system was a real fool. He’s probably related to my robber.

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About a month ago, I

About a month ago, I was robbed, or more accurately, burgled (robbed is when you are home when the invaders appear, and I was at the dentist). Cruel joke to be burgled when you are already at the dentist�it�s like adding insult to injury.

From what I can tell, a bunch of guys came in through my back alley in early afternoon, opened my back sliding door, entered the house despite the presence of the dogs (one a chow) and started carting things away. They must have brought a can of tuna with them; the chow loves tuna.

The burglars took both my LCD TVs because they were easy to carry and not as heavy as my older TVs, a cell phone that I wasn’t using, my IPOD speakers, my new PC system, and my digital camera — plus some cash I had around the house for emergencies. I guess they considered their needs an emergency.

I must have surprised them in the act by coming home, because when I entered the house my jewelry box was on the stove and my pearls were spread out on my bed, but none of my jewelry was gone. It was almost as though they were sorting to see if any of it was really valuable. If so, they made some pretty bad guesses.

They had also dumped all my clothes out of my drawers, and left my underwear lying on my bedroom floor. Of all the things they did, that was the worst; my underwear was in no condition to be seen in public. If nothing else, the burglary prompted me to buy some new underwear.

When I arrived home and saw that my living room TV was missing, I freaked. I realized immediately what had happened, because my dining room furniture was in disarray; the thieves had run through the dining room with the 50″ LCD on their way out the back door. It�s a tight space.

I called the police, and as I waited for them to arrive, I ran around the house; the list of missing items kept growing.

But as it turns out, they took almost nothing of “value” to me. All my tech toys are fungible and insurable. Beyond the cash, which I would have spent on dinners at Houston’s, the worst loss was a bedspread made of old silk saris that came from India. That was irreplaceable. And unless the burglars had better taste than I give them credit for, they only took the bedspread to wrap the TVs. They also took the down comforter off another bed. Since it was about 114 degrees on the day of the robbery, I doubt they were cold.

Being burgled is not about the material things you lose. I was over losing them in half an hour. It is about the disruption and invasion when you find out someone has been in your home while you have been out, searching through things and helping himself to things you thought were yours privately. It�s about violation of privacy.

It is also about feelings of vulnerability: if I�m not safe in my own home, protected by a chow, where can I be safe? If I can�t control the narrowest of environments, how will I control the outside world?

And it is about trust. The lengths to which I will go to prevent another robbery are similar in perspective to the ones to which we are now asked to go in preventing terrorist attacks. We have to be vigilant. Vigilant in the subway, vigilant at traffic signals, vigilant even in our own homes.

Who was watching my home so they could rob me? Whom can I no longer trust? Quite frankly, I don�t want to know.

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Down the way where the

Down the way where the nights are gay and the sun shines daily on the mountain top/I took a trip on a sailing ship, and when I reached Jamaica I made a stop..�

Yes, I’m in Jamaica, mon. It’s hot and humid, but I love it; there is nothing not to like. No wonder the reggae culture caught on so firmly in north America. Jamaica’s an island, with most of its development along the beaches. There’s that awesome Caribbean blue water, the ocean breezes, the friendliest people I have ever known, and an endless supply of rum.

All the rumors you have ever heard about Jamaica are true. The big expensive homes are owned by the drug dealers. Montego Bay is full of bars, casinos, and adult entertainment. The ordinary people live in open houses not that different from those in Costa Rica or Mexico. Everyone offers the tourists ganja, even at the family-friendly resort at which I’m staying. People openly smoke in the street, even though marijuana is not legal.

They also break the speed limit, and run through stop signs. It seems that there are, indeed, laws in Jamaica, but most are neither enforced nor obeyed. In fact, crime is the one downside of the island republic�s cities.

The most bizarre thing about Jamaica, aside from the fact that I have a wireless network in my room that’s as good as the one I have at home, is that Jamaica has not been ruined by Americans — although it’s a big tourist destination. Somehow, Jamaica changes its visitors more than the visitors change it.

Jamaicans speak English (or so they say), but you can’t understand them. They shorten every word and speak as fast as they can, producing a language of their own called “patois.” If you listen very carefully, you can pick up a few words of every conversation, much as you could if you were in Mexico and knew a little Spanish.

Harry Belafonte made Jamaica famous even before Bob Marley did. But if you go to the crafts market in Montego Bay, the woodcarvers are carving Bob Marley masks, not Harry Belafonte masks. The island�s philosophy is clearly �don�t worry; be happy.�

Jamaica is only about 250 miles from south Florida, but it seems eons away. There�s a strange timelessness about it that is different from any of the other places I�ve been: it�s neither totally behind in infrastructure, as Africa is; nor a land of contrasts, like China or India; instead it seems to have absorbed the best of the 21st century � of course that�s air conditioning, indoor plumbing, computer literacy and the telecom revolution�and allowed the remainder to detour around the island. Very few cars, no pollution, an ability to make much out of little. And no whining. In India people complain about the roads and the phone system. In Africa people complain of corrupt aid programs, poverty, AIDS and their impacts on the country. In Jamaica, the people seem proud of where they live.

Apparently the Jamaican government is afraid of brain drain among the young people, so it has tightened up on issuing visas to the United States. The young people who work at the resort I�m staying at would love to visit our country, but can�t even get tourist visas.

But the fears of the government seem unfounded. Jamaica does not appear to be a country of potential terrorist malcontents. In fact, I�m not so sure people from Jamaica�if allowed — would emigrate en masse in the way that people from Mexico rush to the American dream. Too many of them like it at home.

After all, in Jamaica people are free to fish for swordfish and tilapia, dive for conch, pick almonds, bananas, and coconuts off the trees, and feed themselves simply and healthily. No one seems to go hungry; the food�s all around them. No one has to be rich.

If a young Jamaican did come to America, one winter of inclement weather, air pollution, and tasteless fast food could send him right back home.

� I�m sad to say, I�m on my way, won�t be back for many a day/My heart is down, my head is turning around, I had to leave��

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Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard, roll

Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard, roll over in your graves. Your company is finished. It may take a few years before it actually falls, but like an old tree it is rotten and already dead.

I bought my daughter�s boyfriend a laptop computer for his birthday. He�s a big gamer, and loves music, so I went to HP Shopping and ordered him a laptop specially configured for him. Lots of RAM, CD burner, the works. It didn�t arrive in time for his birthday, July 8, because after I ordered it I found out that its build date wasn�t until July 19.

So we waited and waited for it, and it finally arrived on July 22. We plugged it in, fired it up, and—it died.

We called HP tech support, which is in Bangalore, and I began the process of developing rapport with the guy on the other end. He was sweet and tried to help, and told us to plug it in and charge the battery overnight.

Another day passed. We fired it up again, and as soon as we put a CD in the drive � it died. This time my daughter got on the phone and went through all the levels of tech support. The man in Bangalore took her credit card and promised to ship another power supply, which he said was the problem. He wanted her to ship the old power supply back, and she wasn�t ready to pay for the shipping, so she kept it.

We waited a week. When the new power supply didn�t arrive, I freaked. After all, it was my gift to him. I drove fifty miles to the nearest CompUSA and bought a new one. $79.95 plus gas and time.

And then I plugged it in, and it didn�t fire up at all. Clearly the problem wasn�t the power supply. I don�t fool around with Bangalore. I call the guy who has to answer to the shareholders, because his office always has someone who gets things done for people like me who are fed up.

In Michael Hurd�s office, a very nice woman looked up our case. Clearly HP has very expensive CRM software, because every time I called it was simple for them to look up my name and find out what happened. She was very solicitous, and agreed that the machine should be replaced the next day.

Then she made a big mistake: she re-connected me to HP Shopping to execute the transaction.

It made me wish for Bangalore again. This man was on the east coast, here in the USA.
He gave me a refund on my American Express card, and then it deteriorated from there. Yes, he could sell me a machine, yes he could match the configuration, yes, he could get it there tomorrow, but I would have to pay $50 more. What the hell, I thought. I�ve gone this far. So we began the transaction. By now, I had been on the phone an hour.

I bet I gave him my credit card number three more times. He couldn�t see from screen to screen, so he had to keep asking for it again and again. He asked me three times for my address, and three times for the security number. Then he asked me for the issuing bank, so I reminded him it was an American Express card.

When he asked me for the customer service phone number on the back of the card I lost it. �What do you need that for?� I asked. He didn�t know. I gave it to him finally, worn down, blood boiling, trying to practice my yoga breathing.

He repeated the costs to me one more time. �And then it will be $82 for shipping to get it to you tomorrow,� he said at the end of the recitation. I abandoned my deep breathing. �Wait, you sent me a defective product, I have to pay more to replace it, I have to send it back to you, and you are also charging me for the shipping for the replacement?� I was stunned. This is the worst company policy I have ever experienced.

�Wait while I speak to my supervisor to see if I can get your shipping credited,� he said amiably, placing me on hold. I stayed on hold for ten minutes.

And then I hung up. If a new HP laptop does not arrive on my daughter�s doorstep this morning, I will be going back to CompUSA to buy an ACER. Goodnight Bill, goodnight Dave.

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