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Who am I?

You can look at my home page for more information, but the short answer is that I'm a dilettante who likes thinking about a variety of subjects. I like to think of myself as a systems-level thinker, more concerned with the big picture than with the details. Current interests include politics, community formation, and social interface design. Plus books, of course.

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Thu, 25 Nov 2004

HP sucks
After poking around for a while, I finally settled on the HP DV1000 laptop. It was cheaper, but still had all the functionality I was looking for. And although the Powerbooks are lustworthy, given that all of my current jobs involve Windows programming, I couldn't do it.

So I put in the order at over Saturday morning. Monday afternoon, I get email saying that they were "unable to process my order". I call them up and ask what's going on. They say they need me to call them from my home phone number to confirm that I'm really who I say I am - I think they were concerned that I had listed a shipping address different from the billing address (I was sending it to work so that there would be somebody to sign for it). Of course, they were about to close their hotline when I called, and I was still at work, so I would have to call them in the morning. Argh.

I call them in the morning, ask what's going on, they transfer me to a supervisor, Maria. She said, I guess after checking caller ID, that it's okay for me to order my laptop. Although she did spend some time checking out the shipping address - she actually said "We don't see the company you list at that address" and I had to explain to her that we were subleasing from another company. I asked why they had refused to process my order in the first place, and she just gave me some nonsense about randomly reviewing some orders - to quote their email "We review all orders according to industry standard practices. We randomly select orders for further review for quality purpose and to ensure the integrity of our order processing system." But she does eventually agree that I am who I say I am, and that they might be willing to take the large chunk of money I'm trying to give them.

But now apparently I have to re-submit my order. They can't just say "Okay, we cleared this order, it's okay". Instead, apparently, my original order has the big red "DENIED" stamp on it. So she transfers me back to a sales rep. He starts asking me what I want on the laptop. I'm losing my patience at this point. I tell him I want what I ordered before. Duh. He digs around for a while, trying to find the order. He finally finds it, starts going through each option "Do you want this?" - I growl "Yes". Then he has to have me give him all of my information again, billing, shipping, credit card. I've lost patience now. "Why can't you just copy the information from the old order?" He has no answer.

It gets even better. I'd used a coupon code I'd found on the net to get $25 off. Not a big deal, but, still, $25. Worked fine on Saturday. Didn't work on Tuesday. I told him that was not my fault, and since it had worked on Saturday, and he could see that it had worked because the order went in with that $25 discount, I was owed that money. He told me he couldn't do anything about it, but he'd try to talk to a supervisor. I let it go because I was running late for work at this point.

But wait, there's more. He starts giving me the final total, and it's still too high, even taking the $25 into account. I realize that he's charging me for shipping. I tell him that's wrong, that all laptops are shipping free. He tells me he thinks I'm right, but "the system" isn't doing that right now. I reiterate that I got free shipping on Saturday, and I demand to get it again, considering that the screwup was on their part, not mine. He again pleads that he has no control, but he'll get it looked into. I'm furious at this point, but I have a meeting to get to at work, so I let it go.

I ask him if he could at least expedite the shipping from the normal ground 5-7 days to 2-day shipping given the inconvenience that he's caused me. He, of course, says no, he doesn't have authority to do that. I just give up at this point.

By the end of this process, I'd wasted over an hour on the phone, the laptop I wanted will be delayed a few days because of their screwup, and it looks like they are charging me over $100 extra from what I was originally charged between the lost coupon code and the shipping screwup. I waited to see what showed up on my credit card to give them the opportunity to get it right, but they screwed it up, so I'm going to call them again in the morning (they're not open today) and yell at them some more about that.

The moral? HP sucks. If I don't get satisfaction tomorrow (at least cancelling the extra charges, and asking for a discount beyond that for my trouble), I'm going to cancel the order and just buy a Thinkpad or a Powerbook. Bastards. I guess some times paying extra is worth the money.

posted at: 10:04 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /rants | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, by Minister Faust
I saw this in the library. The title was just too good to pass up, especially since I'm always fascinated by tales of the trickster, of which the coyote is one of the main avatars. I flipped through the first few pages, liked the tone, and checked it out. I mean, each character is introduced with a D&D-style character sheet, with comments like "Technological Intelligence: +99 A-Team/MacGyver" and "Genre Alignment: SF (general), ST (original series), SW, Marvel, Alan Moore +79". The Genre Alignment listed for each character is actually pretty useful if you follow sci-fi, because it gives you an idea of what they like and what they respond to. Of course, you have to be a pretty big geek to catch all the references.

Overall, the book has a Snow Crash-like feel to it in a lot of ways, with African mythology replacing Sumerian mythology. It has the same sort of breezy action-packed narrative, with a bit of "Um, what the hell" when it delves deeper into the mythology. One of the interesting narrative tricks used is to write in first-person, but switch the character speaking to provide different perspectives. Each character is introduced by the D&D sheet before their first narrative section, and after that, you have to keep track of who's talking by the different authorial voice used. It's artificial, but it gives a bit more insight into what's going on in the other characters' brains.

The other thing I liked about the book was the author's willingness to explain things slowly. Because it's first person, he'll have a character drop a reference to something, and not explain it until 200 pages later when that character is talking to somebody else. It gives you something to look forward to as you're trying to figure out what the heck is going on. It's also interesting because the main character is writing his sections after the book's events have taken place, so he gets to drop in remarks about what's going to happen (early on, you read this sentence, "In a few days' time, when machetes are pointed at me, when an old, old friend betrays me, when a sharpened ice-cream scoop is poised to scrape out my eyes, I'll be wishing I'd never met this woman") to sharpen the anticipation.

Overall a fun read. Not one I'm planning to buy and/or re-read, but pretty entertaining.

posted at: 10:01 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

CEO Barbie
I was talking to my co-worker yesterday, and we picked up on the thread of that conversation we had about management by conversation. In fact, the same thing happened as what I described in that post, except that he was the one doing the asking; he walked over to my cube, and asked me a question. While he was clarifying the question, he realized what he needed to do, and went back to his cube, without me having to contribute anything of substance other than a couple interrogatories. After we commented on the joys of being able to manage without having to know anything, he mentioned that at his previous company, it was a running joke that the CEO only had four questions to ask: "How long will this take?", "How much is it going to cost?", "Can you do it faster?", and "What can go wrong?" The CEO didn't even have to listen to the answers; just asking the questions forced people to figure out their plans.

In light of that, and in light of the teddy bear story I previously related, we were thinking that we should get one of the infamous "Math is hard!" talking Barbies, replace the messages with those four questions, dress her up in a sharp business suit, and sell CEO Barbie. I can see the sales pitch now: "Tired of paying millions of dollars for your latest and greatest CEO candidate? Just hire CEO Barbie for $29.95 + shipping!"

posted at: 09:59 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

The Incredibles as a commentary on gifted education
I liked this New York Times article, deconstructing the Incredibles as a commentary on the debate within education on how to handle gifted children. Read it soon before it becomes for pay (or email me because I downloaded a copy). The article also refers to the short story Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut, which danah boyd posted last month, in case you're interested.

Both the article and the story address the eternal question of gifted education - do we separate out the gifted kids at the cost of telling the other kids they are not special, or do we keep everybody together with the risk of holding the gifted kids back from learning at their own pace? I've covered some of this territory before, but that's why it's an eternal question. I'm not sure I have anything new to say, except to tie it into my post about social rejection and reiterate that things that are available to everyone are not valued.

Education's a tough thing. I was thinking about this recently (partially in response to reading this article recommending against going to Ivy League schools), and pondering the benefits from the top-notch education that I was fortunate enough to receive. It certainly wasn't the classwork; I doubt I could remember ten percent of what I learned at MIT at this point. Part of it is confidence; even though I don't remember the specifics of equations any more, I remember that I was able to figure it out, and if I could handle the firehose, everything else feels easy in comparison.

I think most of the benefit from going to MIT was the exposure to other really smart, talented people. Despite the feelings of inadequacy, it's good for me to be challenged, to realize I'm not all that, to continue to have grandiose dreams. I'm talented enough that I could skate through this world pretty easily if I chose to; I have already achieved all the material trappings of success that the world demands, from the fancy car to the nice condo to the international travel, which is part of why that post struggles with the question of whether that's enough.

If I were judging myself by the standards of "society", it would be. I have everything that people say they want (well, except a wife). But I hold myself to higher standards, partially because I have friends that achieve extraordinary things, partially because I've been told all my life that I should be doing those extraordinary things as well. Maybe I'm delusional. Maybe I'll find that place to stand and I'll just break the lever. But I'm going to keep trying. Wait til I write up my latest pretentious ideas, developed during a long conversation with Brad and Jill.

Anyway. Gifted kids and education. Hard question. I'll stop now. Well, this post at least. I have a backlog of stuff to talk about. A big backlog.

posted at: 09:58 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /rants/people | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Inversions, by Iain M. Banks
Christy read this and then gave it to me. It didn't do a lot for me. Several of my friends really like Iain Banks, so I keep on trying his work, but very little of it sticks with me. I think I have three or four of his books on my bookshelf, and I honestly couldn't tell you anything about what happens in them without re-reading them, whereas there are books that I read once and grab me and stick in my memory. I mean, it's competently executed, and a tolerable way to pass the time, but that's about it. And since these reviews are my way of recording what struck me about a book, and I don't have anything to say, I'm just using it as an excuse to comment about this weird disparity between the high regard people I know have of Banks and the disconnection I feel from his work. Anyway.

posted at: 09:57 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/scifi | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal