Thursday, September 11, 2008

This is not a political blog . . .

Obama, McCain, Palin, Biden, Paul, Nader, the guy, the other guy?

I don't have a set topic to my blog because I write for me. But this is not a political blog. I read my share of tech blogs, or sites that aggregate tech blogs and I'm growing increasingly tired of the hysteria surrounding this election.

That you vote and who you vote for is important, and I will be standing in line at my precinct and voting along with you. But if all you have to offer your pet cause is filling in a circle on your ballot, you have failed.


The President of the United States has very little ability to bring about positive change, no matter which party is elected or what kind of change you want.
Short of "Ending The War", something you and I have little control over unless we're actually fighting in it, everything else is within your power to impact.


Are you concerned about...

...the homeless? Give time to a shelter, or a soup kitchen. Take a look in your closet, remove some nice clothes that you don't wear often, specifically those that would serve as "interview" clothes and check to see if a city near you has a program or charity that focuses on finding jobs for the homeless. Often they need nice clothes for interviews. Take the rest, bag it and give it to the Salvation Army or another suitable charity.

...the Economy or Forclosures? You probably have someone in your neighborhood who could use a helping hand. You have two hands, what are you doing with them? In your own life, you could start paying off your house, eliminating your debt, and shoring up your savings. Quit borrowing the American dream and start paying for it.

...Abortion (as in, the prevention of), Racial Equality, the proliferation of Drugs, Gun Violence? Get involved in a group that mentors young girls and boys, perhaps in an area that is less comfortable to drive through than the place you live. Children who are kept "off the streets" are less likely to get pregnant young, do drugs, and will succeed in education. Don't give me the exceptions, there's always exceptions, that's an excuse. If you attend church, get involved. If your church doesn't have a place for you to get involved, find another church.

...Uganda? Invisible Children.

...Africa and the Third World? Try Kiva. Do this with your children.

...Healthcare? Donate to cancer research. Sign up for the Bone Marrow Registry. Donate Blood. Look around your city and find a private, non-profit hospital or healthcare related charity. Give.
Volunteer at a local Free Clinic. Even if you're not a doctor, pharmacist, or Dentist, sometimes they need building improvements, receptionists or just people to sit and help manage the flow of traffic.

...Supporting the Troops? There are many charities that give care packages, plane tickets, phone cards and other things to support the troops.
Don't forget about their families. If you know someone who has a son or daughter serving, thank them. Talk to them. They are all proud of their sons and/or daughters, but don't think they're not scared out of their minds.
There are charities supporting the families of the fallen, supporting the families of the deployed, supporting the injured and disabled and supporting the currently deployed. Give.

...Public Schools? Get involved in your PTA, if your school doesn't have one, inquire about starting one. Contact your son or daughter's teachers. Attend school board meetings. Private or home school your kids.

...Violent Video Games? Take a look at your own family's collection, then start asking your kids parents. Inform them of what you consider acceptable, if they give you trouble, don't allow your child to spend time over there. You'll find that most parents are surprised at the question but will react reasonably a lot of the time.

...Violence or Objectionable material on Television? Monitor or Turn It Off. There are stations I don't allow into my house, and I've never found any reason to write letters to the FCC.

...High Taxes and Government Evils? Hire a tax professional to do your taxes. A tax pro can find more legal deductions than you. That's less money going to what you perceive as Government Evil. Non-political charitable donations are often tax deductible, so get extra bang for your buck by giving to a charity that will spend your money precisely the way you want them to.

...Freedom of Speech and DRM? (This has to be a political one), support the EFF. They're fighting the cause on several legal fronts. Stop buying music that is utilizes DRM. Stop running operating systems that are riddled with DRM. Help others do the same. Don't patronize sites that stream or allow the purchase of movies that employ DRM.

...Religious Freedom? Start serving at your church, mosque, synagogue, or wherever you are affiliated in a place that focuses on building people up, not tearing things down. Serve abroad in countries that lack religious freedoms. Private or Home school your kids if you're unhappy with religious teaching at public schools.

...The Environment, energy independence, making our enemies rich through Oil, or the high price of gas? When you buy your next car, replace your SUV with something fuel efficient, replace your appliances with more efficient models. Turn your computer off sometimes, or let it hibernate, and buy a more efficient power supply/CPU. Install CFL or LED lighting. Be less wasteful: fix things that are broken instead of replacing them (yes, that's a contradiction to my previous statement, but it all depends on what you're trying to save). Shop second hand, and donate that which you are replacing. Use Freecycle. Install a geo-thermal system, or wind/solar power if those are options for you.

OK, I'm finished . . .


So go out and vote for the guy or the other guy. And when the guy or the other guy wins, be happy or upset about it, but don't waste your time protesting, rioting or writing blog posts complaining or praising the winner. Quit talking about what they're doing or not doing and go do it yourself.

I know there are about 40 visits a day to this blog, and I have no idea how many of them actually read anything, but please note that I will remove any comment that mentions or alludes to any political candidate for any office (though, I won't be doing that all day today). I don't care to spread anyone's propaganda. And considering I have not one blog post with one comment, I don't expect it to be a lot of work :o). And this post was not meant to give you the impression that your humble author does any or all of these things.

If, on the other hand, you have other non-political ways to make the world a better place, such as a charity or activity that's worth time and money, by all means share it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Before you return that item . . .

I purchase a ridiculous amount of computer and Consumer Electronics products online. Because many of the products I purchase are niche items, I often have no choice but to go online for them, and where I can purchase retail, I can almost always find it cheaper online. Quite often I can find refurbs or Open Box versions of what I'm looking for at a pretty huge savings.

Of course, retail has one grand advantage. If the item is DOA, you can drive it back to the store and get a new one. And let me tell you, with Open Box items the DOA rate is very high.

Why not just return the broken product to the retailer?


Most CE or Computer vendors require you to foot the return shipping bill (those that don't factor it into the price of the product and therefore are places I don't shop). The argument is that a Brick and Mortar retailer won't refund the fuel cost that it took you to drive the product back, so they don't refund the shipping cost for you to get the product to them.
On that same logic, some online retailers won't even refund the shipping you paid to receive the dead item, leaving you only to tax and product price paid.

So this brings us to last Friday when my trusty 24" Acer monitor just died. After fussing with it for a bit, I was able to get it to *mostly* work in Analog mode. So I headed over to newegg and purchased a replacement. I wanted a specific NEC monitor, and I found that they had an Open Box version for $200 less than the Retail version. I figured, I have all of the cables, and I can download the manual, so if it's missing accessories (as is very common with OB items), it won't matter.

Unfortunately, it arrived with all of its parts and pieces, manuals, and everything and most of it was sealed except for the DVI-D and Power cable. Open Box items are almost always customer returns, and I've found that when you get one with "everything" in nearly perfect condition that generally means there was a defect with the product. When I looked in the box, I saw the story of a guy plugging in his fancy new NEC monitor, discovering that the thing didn't work at all, and returning it immediately.
The story was probably right. As I powered the monitor up on DVI, I discovered there was no picture. On Analog I got a picture with one bright stuck green pixel in the center of the screen and a corresponding bright yellow vertical line. Nuts.

Shipping this item back to NewEgg.com was going to cost about $30 and I'd be only given a cash refund. I needed a monitor, not a refund.

I don't want to be unfair to NewEgg. I knew the rules going in. NewEgg goes out of their way, even sending you an ominous warning prior to checkout that stops just short of saying "Open Box Items will Kill You!" So, sure, they could have tested the Open Box item a little bit, but it was clearly let the buyer beware.

If you aren't returning it because you "didn't like it", call the manufacturer first


I don't know why this wasn't obvious to me. I've found that even the worst manufacturers go to greater lengths for products that are within that "Return Window".
They do this for a few reasons. Preventing a return keeps your retailer happy. Items that have high return rates stop being stocked. They don't want their product to get that reputation. But the biggest reason is that when you return something, they aren't given the opportunity to keep you as a customer. Chances are good that you'll buy a competitors product because of your bad experience and you will be less inclined to purchase that brand in the future. So they've lost a sale, they've got an angry retailer and they may have lost a customer for life.

As such, NEC has a simple policy: if you purchased it within the last 30 days, they foot the return bill.
NEC also goes a step further that I wish all manufacturers did. They will ship you the replacement before receiving the damaged unit as long as you have a major credit card that can take a hold transaction (as in, not a Debit type Credit Card). This practice is referred to as Cross Shipping and for some reason it's incredibly rare.
I was pleased to find out that at least as of today, they allow Cross Shipping for the entire warranty period (the language is not written in the warranty itself).
Lastly, they ship your replacement FedEx 2-day by default. I'll admit that I've never seen that before. I have paid for expedited warranty service, some companies even over charge for the expedited shipping.

Having now worked with their warranty department, I can tell you that despite receiving a broken item, I will be more likely to purchase an NEC product in the future. Sure, the product was defective and that wasn't a good situation. But there's no way to produce 100% perfect products. How they handle things when everything goes wrong is very important.

Adding it all up: Return vs. Repair


So lets add up what this would have cost me if I had returned the product to NewEgg:
- $30 at least to ship it to them DHL Ground Insured. They'd get it in 5 business days. I'd receive my refund somewhere near the receipt time, so lets say 7 business days total.
- Assuming I don't have the money on hand to purchase the replacement immediately (I do, but it's not something I *want* to do), I'm looking at another 5-7 business days to receive the replacement and another $30 to get it shipped.
I saved $200 by purchasing an Open Box item, and because I got a dead one, I'm going to assume that all of the Open Box items of that model are probably similarly dead because I have no way of knowing and I'm not going to risk it. I'm probably also not going to buy an NEC because I have no way of knowing if this display has quality problems. Maybe a large batch was dead from the manufacturer? I'm not going to risk it. A competitive product of nearly identical specs doesn't exist, so I'm going to buy a better one for about a hundred more than the full Retail price of the NEC.
Total Cost: $360, and specifically $160 more than I would have paid for the display if I had simply bought the non-Retail version in the first place. And lets not forget the 2-3 weeks twiddling my thumbs waiting for the replacement.

The alternative "Repair route", cost me only in time. I dropped the broken item off, and will receive the replacement in two days. I had to spend about 20 minutes on the phone with tech support (probably less), while they had me run through the basic troubleshooting. I still save the $200 by buying Open Box.
Total cost: 0 (or -$200 if you consider that I got to keep the savings from the Open Box). And 2 days waiting for my replacement.

And then there's the added benefits


Most large vendors don't give you back what you've sent in. Sometimes the place your "Warranty Repaired" item is sent from and the place you sent your item in for warranty repair aren't even in the same state.
They usually do salvage the broken item for parts and repair the component that is damaged, but that item gets sent back to someone else with a new serial number or sold as Refurbished.
As a result, the thing that you receive from them has gone through a reasonable Q/A process probably very recently.
In 20+ years of taking advantage of warranties on products, I have never received a second DOA. I'm not saying it can't happen, but it hasn't happened to me.
And if the unit really does have a high failure rate, you may end up getting an upgrade. It may be the same model, but it might be a newer revision of that model that doesn't have the problems of the original.

I'm also not saying that all manufacturers are going to be as reasonable as NEC was. One of the reasons I picked them was because they still had a 3-year warranty on this display. I also chose a display that is targeted at professional, not home users. This often guarantees better customer service.