A Tale of 3 Returns

I purchased 3 items from Amazon UK, all requiring exchanges or returns during their warranty period. This is not a reflection on Amazon, but rather of the manufacturers of the products. Two of the items were earphones, and the third was a Brita water filter that needed it’s meter replaced.

The first earphone, purchased for Reva was made by a Chinese company called SoundMagic. About 7 months in, one channel stopped working. We didn’t think of doing anything with it, until my Phillips buds stopped working about 2 months later. At this point, I checked the warranty information on the SoundMagic website which said to contact the seller directly with proof of purchase. Very convenient, I thought, because who keeps receipts for a £24.99 pair of earphones. But thanks to Amazon and GMail, I had the receipt. I checked the Phillips website, which said to contact their own support, which was of course a 0845 number.

First stop: The Amazon website to try and get replacement SoundMagic buds. On the customer service page was an option to have Amazon call you. I put in my number and a few second later my phone rang. The representative, who sounded like she may have been in Asia, listened patiently to my complaint and offered to send a replacement earphone using one-day shipping for no charge. The only caveat? I had the send back the earphones that ware no longer working. They would even send me a pre-paid label for this. No problem, process the exchange I told the representative. 24 hours later, I had a brand new pair of earphones, but Reva had to go a little out of her way to find a place to drop of the return.

I called Phillips customer service next, and the representative sincerely apologised for the trouble I was facing. After taking the model number for my earphones (for which I originally paid £17.99) and putting me on hold for a few minutes, he came back and offered to replace my broken buds with a plastic model that cost £8.99. Now way, I said, I want something of at least equal value and had in-ear buds. A few more minutes later, he came back and offered a pair that was very similar to mine, but also had iPhone controls. Great, an upgrade…I’ll take it. All I had to do was upload a copy of my receipt. No problem, Amazon had a copy. A few days later, the replacement had been mailed to me. And no need to send back the original, now broken pair.

2 for 2, pretty successful, no? I figured I must try and get the Brita water filter’s meter replaced as well. I checked the Brita website, and was very surprised to find that simply signing up for an account and by putting in the serial number of my existing meter, I could request a replacement. I did so, and got an email saying I’d have a replacement within 10 working days. Nearly 3 weeks later, I still hadn’t received it. I replied to the Brita email asking where my meter was. About 48 hours later, customer service responded saying they’d sent me another one, and that it could take up to 10 working days to arrive. *sigh*. But a few days later the meter had arrived. 3 for 3! Fresh, pure water to go with my upgraded earbuds. And lo, 3 days later the original meter arrived as well. It had taken almost a month, but now I had 2 meters.

My conclusion: it is totally worth the effort to save receipts and be aware of warranties/guarantees offered even for less expensive products. It may take some effort and there may be a few days (or even weeks) where you don’t have use of your product, but eventually you’ll get a replacement for free. I saved over £65 by knowing where I purchased my products, what the warranties were, and doing a little research on how to take advantage of it.

Why I wish India hadn’t won the 2011 Cricket World Cup

Edit: This is a long post, it rambles, but eventually gets to my point. It started out as a post about why the World Cup victory is bitter-sweet to me, so it has a lot of my personal history with cricket. To get to my reasons, skip to the last 2 paragraphs.

In the 2 weeks since the madness of April 2nd there have been countless articles & blog posts written, thousands of tribute vides created, many gifts distributed and god-only-knows-how-many emails circulated about India winning the 2011 Cricket World Cup. Dhoni has been hailed a Midas, Yuvraj as the comeback-kid, and Sachin the saviour of a nation and the person who carried the burden of a billion people until the Cup could be won back after a 28 year gap. Journalists have used the opportunity to write about how the win, the first by a country hosting the World Cup, represents India breaking the shackles of foreign dominance. It is a symbol of the confidence of a country bursting through and taking the bull by the horns.

The night of the victory was special for me (as it was for every Indian). I hugged numerous strangers and a smile was plastered on my face. I’ve been a cricket fan (and sometime cricketer) since I was 10. A vague memory lingers in my head of watching the imposing Imran Khan lift the cup in 1992. 1996 is much clearer to me. My friends and I took to filling out the win/loss brackets in between classes playing hand cricket when teachers weren’t looking. I’m certain I wasn’t the only one embarrassed by Vinod Kambli’s tears after the semi-final in Kolkata. Sri Lanka deserved to win, however. The 1999 edition was perfectly timed – during the summer vacation between my 10th and 11th grades. Sachin’s 140 against Zimbabwe after his father passing away, Rahul Dravid scoring the most runs despite India not reaching the semi-finals and Lance Klusner’s appetite for big sixes are the highs in a tournament that was otherwise largely forgettable for Indian. 2003 was exciting though; I was away from home for the first time and watching and playing cricket with new friends. Trudging through over a foot of snowdrift at 2 am to get to where I’d paid $100, along with 6 others to install a dish so we could receive the broadcast marks the pinnacle in my desperation to see India win. And they almost went all the way. The thrashing they gave England in the group stages, having Zimbabwe and Kenya qualify through to the Super Sixes and finally having to beat Kenya in the semi-final, made me feel like this could be the year. But then Ricky Ponting happened. I wont even go into the 2007 edition, it was that miserable.

In the 19 years since I’ve been watching cricket, I’ve also been one of very few people I know that truly enjoy Test cricket. I watch any game India plays in, all 5 days if possible. And if England, Australia, or South Africa are involved against anyone else I’ll usually watch that game too. I also fancy myself a cricketer of sorts. My first coach believed I’d be a decent seam bowler given my lanky build (at the age of 13). But I quickly found myself more interested in the art of wicket keeping. But given the opportunity I loved having a bat up the order as well. Yes, for a bits and pieces player I didn’t do too badly. I ended the president of the Drexel Cricket Club and even captained the University club team to a memorable tournament victory when the regular captain was unavailable. Tennis ball cricket was a frequent pastime in the American summer as well.

So what is this story about? Yes, I’ve waited a long time for India to win the 50-over Cricket World Cup. Yes, Yuvraj Singh has proved he’s capable of a renaissance, MS Dhoni has appeared out of nowhere to first, be the #1 batsman in ODI cricket, then lead the Indian team to the #1 test rank in the world, and then win both the 20-20 and ODI cricket world cup. But for a fan like me, is it really what should’ve happened for the good of cricket?

I’ve been vocal (when asked, of course) that ODI cricket needs to be put to rest. Despite all its quirks as a sport, I don’t believe that cricket can sustain 3 formats at the international level, especially with only 7 or 8 teams capable of competing at the highest caliber. T20 cricket has been great for the sport. It has lead to innovative stroke play, attacking bowling and cunning captaincy. It has enabled the discovery of players who may never have been given opportunities otherwise (courtesy the IPL). And finally, it has elevated cricket to a truly professional sport. Players who would only ever have played domestic cricket and not earned a sustainable income, now have the opportunity to make a true living just off the T20 format.

Many believe that the success of the 50-over World Cup in India shows that the format is healthy and can survive many more years. The ICC has, in fact, already begun preparations for the 2015 and 2019 editions (to be held in Australia and England, respectively). Sachin will certainly no longer be playing. MS Dhoni & Yuvraj Singh, both 29 years of age, may no longer be playing. That’s not my concern though. My concern is for the longest format of the sport. Will Test cricket still be a viable option in 2019? With our short attention spans, will anyone really care of a game that lasts 5 days? And if fans don’t demand it, broadcasters will now show it. And without broadcasters, there will be no advertisers. And there will be no Test cricket. (When was the last time you saw Table Tennis on TV outside of the Olympics?)

Yes, as much as I enjoyed the 2011 victory (strangers in Trafalgar Square will testify to that), and enjoyed watching every other edition of the cup despite India’s (often lackluster) performances, I believe that it doesn’t bode well for the future of Test cricket. Outside of India, England, Australia and maybe South Africa the sport has become vulnerable. Even in India it is impossible to fill a stadium for a 5 day game unless it is a weekend and there is the possibility of seeing Sachin score a century. And unless Test cricket survives, we will begin to lose what made cricket special in the first place. Maybe the future greats will emerge in the T20 format, but count me amongst the skeptical. The best ODI players have also been the best players in the longer version of the game. No one really remembers Michael Bevan or Ajay Jadeja. They remember Gary Sobers, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh, and Inzamam-ul-Haq. Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath, Muralitharan, and Anil Kumble are the names that come to mind when one thinks of modern bowling legends. Images of Yusuf Pathan, Mike Hussey, or Paul Valathy will never adorn the dressing room at Lords.

Yes, at the risk of angering 1.2 billion Indians, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it may have been better for the future of cricket as a sport if India has crashed out of the 2011 World Cup early on. We may now never see the next Sachin Tendulkar take guard against the next Shane Warne and that is a loss of immeasurable proportions.

False Advertising in the UK Mobile & Broadband Market

It has always irked me that the carriers in UK Mobile market claimed “unlimited” data when their products are far from unlimited (usually a 500 Mb monthly cap). Something ought to be done about the unfair advertising, or more and more people are going to be facing slowed data throughputs at the end of their 30 day cycle. Now that I’ve been shopping around for broadband, I’ve noticed this false advertising also affects broadband in the UK. While it is true that the increased competition offers lower prices and more features in terms of broadband availability, they all tend to generally advertise “unlimited” plans, while the small print talks about a data cap (generally 5 – 10 GB), after which the provider can slow your available bandwidth.

Lately though, I’ve noticed that some carriers are trying to move away from this (O2 doesn’t seem to have the word “unlimited data” on their home page and it took me a while to find the words “unlimited data an downloads on the Orange website, but find it I did). I attribute this to Three UK promoting it’s One plan, which apparently has “true” all-you-can-eat data. T-Mobile, however takes a different approach on their iPhone page. The wording on this page, under the title “No scary data charges” says, “But we won’t charge you any extra if you go over your limit. And, we’ll always let you browse and email, even if you’ve reached your data limit for streaming videos and downloading files”. Vodafone’s advertising on their website is perhaps the clearest of all – they offer different “web packs” that subscribers can buy, but even the best of those has a paltry 500 MB limit.

Also, why do these companies complicate things with Boosters (T-Mobile), Bolt-Ons (O2), Animal Plans (Orange) and Freebees (Vodafone)? And while I loved the Orange Wednesdays when I used them (2-for-1 cinema tickets), isn’t it just an extra cost that they can pass on to the consumer in terms of lower prices? I wouldn’t stick with Orange for these deals, I moved my number the moment I realised their 3G service was awful.

What prompted this rant? My search for a good broadband provider, now that we’re moving flat’s and need to get our own service. We’ve been using our landlord’s Sky broadband service so far, and while it’s been decent, there are definitely times when I know they’re throttling me down.  And what does Sky’s broadband page say? There are 2 plans, the first with a ridiculously low 2GB monthly data allowance. The second one, while claiming to be “unlimited” has a soft cap of 40GB and is subject to network management policies. And oh, I need to sign a 12 month contract. BT is even worse, with an 18 month contract required and the “unlimited” broadband that is capped, but their T&C don’t mention what the cap is. Forum poster seem to claim it is 100 GB, which is decent, I suppose. I can’t seem to find any information on whether BT Vision usage (IPTV) contributes towards this cap, but it shouldn’t.

Anyway, rant time over and some good news: I was very pleasantly surprised at the very decent BT customer service when I ordered a new phone line at the flat we’re moving to. It was set up fairly quick and when I had to make a change to the activation date, it was done without any fuss at all. I was quite impressed. And with regards to the broadband I finally ended up singing with? BE Broadband – apparently the only UK ISP with no caps or any traffic shaping policy.

Note: Tesco mobile (I’m currently employed by Tesco) adverstises “unlimited” web and data on their pay monthly sim only plans, while the paragraph below that says “fair use policy applies” and states the montly data allowance is 500 Mb (yes, with a lower case “b”, meaning megabits.) *sigh*

Is any mother really superior?

In the last week or so, the tech blogs have been filled with responses to Amy Chua’s article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”.  Strange place to find this article and responses to it, no? I thought so. Maybe techies have a special affinity for their moms :).  Anyway, I found the whole argument and counter argument quite interesting.  I’ve collected all the articles I’ve read on the topic so far and I’m posting links to them here. be warned though, the WSJ links will probably expire soon.

http://is.gd/NVkRCS – The original WSJ article
http://is.gd/M1e75O – A rebuttal on TechCrunch
http://is.gd/GTuvLk – Vivek Wadhwa in BusinessWeek (not a direct rebuttal, but along the lines..)
http://is.gd/EBHtEi – A defence of Western moms in the WSJ
http://is.gd/EDeHCP – Probably my favourite riposte

My own thoughts on the topic? Every mother does her honest best for her children. What the child achieves at end of the day is a combination of luck and hard work (or nature and nurture). If a combination of the right incentives are present, it doesn’t really matter if the mother of a child is Chinese, American, Indian, or British. The child will be successful, regardless.

Choosing a new phone

I had been having a little trouble with my iPhone 3GS.  The software was fine, it was running iOS4.0 (jailbroken and unlocked). It used to be an AT&T locked iPhone, so to use it in the UK, I had to keep it unlocked.  The hardware was fine too, save the headphone minijack.  If I was walking and listening to something (which I’ve been doing a lot, lately) one channel would often cut out.  It was bothersome, but nothing I couldn’t live with for a bit.  Then on a telephone interview or two (with me using the included iPhone earphones/mic), interviewers mentioned they couldn’t hear me very well.  I didn’t quite put two-and-two together until I spent the entire day repeating everything I said on the phone one Friday two weeks ago, when I was working with a consultant to rewrite my CV.

That did it for me.  Realising that possible work opportunities depended on recruiters and employers being able to hear and understand me on the phone, I started looking for a new phone.  With the release on Windows Phone 7 around the corner, I stopped in at an O2 store to check out the phone in action.  They had the HTC HD7 on display which I could play with.

The hardware:  The phone looks and feels really nice.  It has a solidity to it that I’ve come to expect for HTC devices.  The 4.3 inch screen is a beauty, but just a little to large for me.

The software:  This was my first time playing with Windows Phone 7, and I must say, I’m impressed.  The UI has a fluidity to it that trumps anything else I’ve used.  One of the key things I look for in the UI/OS is how long a first time user takes to figure things out.  And as a first time user, I was very comfortable navigating in and out of the various apps in under 5 minutes.   I was pleasantly impressed by Internet Explorer on the phone (I was really dreading it, after being used to Safari on the iPhone).   Cricinfo.com loaded flawlessly.

The things holding me back from getting a WP7 device is that I couldn’t get one unlocked or “sim-free” yet.  Also if I purchased the devices contract-free in the UK, they are still locked to the career.  Other things holding me back are the lack of copy & paste, a native Mac client for syncing, and the relative lack of multi-tasking for third party apps.  Some of this has been fixed already and others I’m certain will be fixed very soon.  Also I don’t yet own an XBOX 360, so I’m not tied to the Microsoft platform in anyway.

 

I also looked at several Android phones (unlocked of course).  The phones that I was considering were the HTC Desire, Desire Z, Desire HD (all £400 and above) or the Wildfire (around £200).  My rationale here was that I would probably want the iPhone 5 when it arrived in the middle of 2011, so a temporary Android device would let me get a taste of the platform.

But given my lack of a job, I wasn’t about to plonk down some serious cash on a phone yet.  So I listed my iPhone on London Craigslist, which isn’t very popular here, one morning for £250.  And lo, I got a serious offer that evening.  I wasn’t quite ready to sell, since I had listed it just to see if any fish took the bair.  But as Reva said, if I’m being offered £250, from a serious buyer, I should take it.  It would only be harder to sell later on.  I sold it that night, and reverted to using my ageing Sony Ericsson w880i while I scoured the Internet and high-street stores for an Android device I wanted.

What complicated matters even more was rumours of a “Nexus Two” to be released shortly.  I figured if I was getting a phone to experience the platform, it should be able to update to the latest OS as soon as possible, à la Nexus One.  I waited a few days and the tech blogs didn’t really heat up with the possibility of the Nexus Two with Gingerbread anytime soon.  If I could buy a Nexus One for around £300, that would be perfect, I thought to myself.  Randomly one morning, I looked on Gumtree (UK’s Criagslist) for a Nexus One in decent shape.  I found a very friendly lady selling a brand new, still in the box, Nexus one and she was willing to part with it for £300.

So for only £50 pounds more than I sold the iPhone for, I’m currently rocking a Nexus One running Froyo.  Not bad, eh?  Yes, the model itself is more than a year old, but it is likely to be one of the first phones to get new upgrades of the OS.  This was my top criteria for any Android model I got, anyway.  Given that the Galaxy S devices are still running 2.1 (Eclair) when 2.3 (Gingerbread) is around the corner, is pathetic.

So I’ve been enjoying this phone for about a week now, and it certainly fails the earlier test I mentioned (a novice to the platform being able to use it in under 5 minutes).  But I love the configurability.  I’ve not rooted it, and I don’t plan to at the moment.  I’ve got most of the apps I normally use for free from the Android Market, including a few games to keep me occupied.  I like that I don’t need a computer to get it up and running, or really to do anything on it, including downloading podcasts and music.  The phone came with Android 2.1 installed, and I spent a day or two pinging the servers to get the OTA update without luck.  Finally, I manually updated it to 2.2  I hope 2.3 isn’t such an issue, but I’m not sure if this has to do with the fact that the Froyo rollout for Nexus One is over or that I’m running it on Orange.  Additionally, I had to manually set the Orange APN for the UK to get 3G service (something I didn’t have to do with the unlocked iPhone).  The screen is not great, but the camera is better than the 3GS.  The keyboard is definitely a downer, but I like the audio input, which actually works very well in a quiet environment.  And I still can’t figure out how to get Swype on it.  Battery life seems decent, but I’ve not put it through any heavy usage yet.  I’ve also been killing of background tasks fairly often.  And the real bummer? The native GMail client doesn’t support copy/paste from a non-editable text field.

Overall, one week into using the device I’m happy.  I plan to keep using this till next Summer at which time I may upgrade to the new iPhone if it is compelling enough.

Update: And here we go, the Nexus S has been spotted.  No release date tho.  It does look like a front facing camera in that picture. http://www.engadget.com/2010/11/11/this-is-the-nexus-s/

The Haircut

This past weekend, luck put me on my way to Philadelphia on a Saturday.  As soon as I realized that Max’s would still be open I called for an appointment and he had an opening at 5:00 PM.  Maxamillion’s Gentlemen’s Quarters is a barber shop in the Rittenhouse area of Philadelphia.  I stumbled upon his shop a little over a year ago, while walking around the area.  I have been to several men’s saloons, unisex saloons and hair “chop-shops” but nothing like Max’s.  A large window overlooking Chestnut street, mahogany and oak mirrors and chairs, jazz & blues music playing in the background, the lingering smell of aftershave, a shoe-shine boy, and photographs on the wall of the famous people’s hair that have been cut at this establishment.

Max is a imposing, black man in what seems like his early 50’s.  Always a smile and a wave for everyone that walks by the window, he’s always dressed impeccably, be it his white barber coat or a denim jacket from the 80s.  His shoes are polished so that the gleaming light reflects of them.  His hair and beard are always perfectly trimmed.

Is it any wonder that the best haircut’s I’ve ever received have been from Max? He pays attention to every line with the shaver, every trim with the scissors and every draw of the comb.  When I leave Max’s 30 minutes after I sit in the barber’s chair, I look better and feel better.  It’s a true men’s salon, not like the namby-pamby establishments that surround it.  A man should only get his hair cut by another man, and preferably by a black man.  They know style.  Now I just hope that I’ll have a head of hair long enough to keep enjoying these fantastic haircuts.