Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bought a Dell XPS 8700 Desktop Computer

Beware! Buying a new computer is not the happy, streamlined experience it once was. I've been coaxing my old Dell XPS 420 along for 7 years, or more and finally broke down and got a new system. I shopped my heart out. Compared everything every which way. Watched YouTube videos researched reviews and took my sweet time, instead of just jumping in as soon as the urge struck me.

My old XPS 420 computer ran on the Microsoft Vista operating system it shipped with, which would indicate how long ago I bought the system from Dell. Too many hardware items no longer function, or worse, function intermittently, to indicate here.

Suffice it to say, it was time to retire the old boy.

The new system is a 4th generation Intel Core i7 CPU, running at 3.6 Ghz with 12 Gigs of memory and a 1 Terabyte hard drive. It came with a corded keyboard and mouse, and a Nvidia GTX-745 graphics card with 4 Gigs of RAM! It has 6 USB ports, an HDMI port in addition to it's normal video output, as well as built-in audio, WIFI, integrated LAN and Bluetooth capability. Here's the kicker, it came with Windows 8.1.

Problems With Dell

I ordered it on August 25th and it was supposed to arrive on September 3rd, but by the 3rd, it still hadn't shipped. It arrived on the 8th. This was probably the second indicator that I was in for a bumpy ride with Dell. The first bump was, I found a price online at Best Buy for less than the published price on the Dell website and I chatted with Dell support to ask if they matched the competitor's price. They claimed they did, but it took an hour of back and forth before they complied with a matched price. They rode me pretty hard trying to up-sell all sorts of warranties and protection add-ons but finally relented, so I placed the order. I discovered later, I could have purchased it for less if I had asked about dent and scratch availability.

Problems With Windows 10

So OK, I power the computer up and start transferring and installing to my heart's content. This went swimmingly for two days. Then I chose to take advantage of the free upgrade to Windows 10 opportunity and waited a good hour before that was completed. This was a major mistake.

For whatever reason, Windows 10 set all my files and folders to "Read-Only" and I couldn't save word documents or backup my financial files. I spent another two days adding Administrator privileges to my account and resetting the files and folders to Read/Write, three separate times, but the changes would not stick. Every time I restarted the computer, the files and folders were Read-Only. Thank you, Microsoft and Windows 10!

Having had enough of that, I decided to rollback to Windows 8.1, the OS the machine arrived with, only to find out this was not possible because the "hidden" Administrator account  (I unhid), could not be changed or removed. At this point, I tried twice to let Dell know I wanted to return the computer. They ignored both requests, one by chatting and one by email.

Over the weekend, when I knew they were not available to assist, (they don't assist much anyway), I managed to download their Recovery software to roll back to Windows 8.1. That worked, but I lost everything I had loaded and installed to that point. I didn't care because I thought I was returning it anyway. Well, a new monkey wrench into the works. My old system gave up the ghost and died. I couldn't connect my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse so I had no way of doing anything. I had second thoughts about returning the new system about that time.

After a good night's rest, I realized I could connect an older USB mouse to the old system and recover some of the files. The new corded USB keyboard and mouse would not work on the old system, of course, because it needed drivers for them. The old system is so old, Dell doesn't provide new drivers just like Microsoft doesn't want to support Vista or any other old operating system.

There's More

Now Windows 8.1 won't let me change the Account or Screen Lock photos. They worked fine the first time around, but now it's rocket science to get them changed. In my search for a solution, I found this is a common problem and complaint. Microsoft still hasn't figured out how to produce a flawless operating system all these years later. I was around for Windows 2 and MSDOS so I've seen many different attempts at the operating system game from Microsoft over the past 35 years.

So unless you are a computer guru, you might want to get your system installed and your important data transferred by someone who has more experience than I do. This was not a very pleasant experience.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Loyalty is a Two Way Street

I have noticed negative mutated motives of individuals and institutions as I have matured through the years. Once riveted by the simplicity of the "Golden Rule" whereby we treat others the way we would like to be treated, I have noticed it has melted away and practically vanished from our world of fast-paced work lives and incessant greed for more.

I now understand why our elders used to say "an idol mind is the devil's workshop." Left to our own devices, our "human nature" leads us down the path to no good. Trying to "keep up" is fruitless and so we're tempted to revert to schemes and methods that are unscrupulous.

The grandest relationships are those in which each entity supports, encourages and nurtures the other. They put their own interests second and if both parties use this model, both are very satisfied with the results. Treating each other the way we wish to be treated.

Loyalty works the same way

When we honor and respect the other party and are treated with the same dignity and respect, we both win. Loyalty requires we behave in a manner that complies with the rules upon which our relationship is based. We don't steal from our employer and they reimburse us on time and in full measure. Our employer expects us to perform our jobs to the best of our ability with due diligence and we appreciate the benefits that come along with our employment.

We remain loyal to our partners, our teammates, our colleagues and our friends and expect them to return the favor in kind. At least that's how it's supposed to work. When we find out we have been betrayed by our friends or partners, we are surprised and upset and want to understand what the reasons are for their betrayal. We experience a loss of faith in those individuals or institutions that have returned our loyalty with a betrayal of trust. Usually, we develop a callousness to the spirit of friendship, teamwork, marriage or whatever the case is in a particular broken relationship. The truth is that relationship is broken. Sometimes they can be repaired but too often they cannot.

The relationship of employee and employer has undergone a change in recent history and to its detriment has plagued our society with a dysfunctional work environment. Today it is quite common for employers to expect loyalty from its employees without returning the favor completely. The greed that has seeped in on the part of the employer requires the same diligence on the part of the employee but with few guarantees in return. You might say economics created this devaluation and that is a component of the greed factor. In general, however, it is the lack of respect for the other party that is the root cause of the breakdown in loyalty.

The result is very unfortunate in that now the employer sees no reason to nurture the relationship the way they once did and the employee has an excuse not to. So where once there was a win, win situation we now have a lose, lose. Neither party is loyal to the other and it is evident in the turnover rate and profit margins.

Who musters their best effort for an employer who lays people off if the economy takes a dip? How loyal would you be to a company who fired anyone whose employee evaluation was below a certain value? How many employers are increasing their employee's benefits? Too few to really matter. The trend is in the opposite direction.

Is it possible to trust someone or something you do not believe is loyal to you? No, loyalty is a two-way street. If you expect loyalty, your best bet is to deliver it in kind. Treat your relationships with others the way you want to be treated and remember this when you have expectations about the other person.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

eBay the Saga Continues

I mentioned in a previous blog that eBay has grown and changed as we all do as we get older. My current experience (last 60 days) has been a sobering wake up to the realities of now. The first three miscues were my fault because I wasn't used to the changes. I am a little better informed now, but the miscues continue. One of the basic principles of eBay is leaving feedback on transactions as you progress allowing everyone to gauge their performance. Both buyers and sellers leave feedback and the feedback can be positive, negative or neutral. You can see how many times a user has received feedback for both buying and selling and I truly admire people who have collected thousands of positive feedback responses.

My experience with feedback has not been encouraging. I believe my first negative feedback resulted from my wanting to return an item that did not work correctly when it arrived. The seller understandably was none too keen to accept it back and a minor tussle occurred resulting in my leaving feedback that included the seller's first name. Well, that is a big no-no on eBay. I was reprimanded and reminded we don't do that on eBay and that was the end of that. I had to find a way to make the device work on my own.

Since that time eBay has changed their philosophy on returns and even if the seller does not offer them eBay has a return and refund policy that is fertile ground for abuse.

A case in point, I listed a guitar multi-effects pedal with a buy it now price of $60 and offered free shipping USPS Priority Mail, which in this instance was just under $10. A buyer (who shall remain nameless), bought the item and I carried it to the Post Office, saw a sign that said free Priority Mail boxes, grabbed one and put the pedal in it and attached the mailing label I had purchased through eBay and Pitney Bowes. When I got to the counter I was in a hurry, late for a meeting and became confused when the clerk at the counter tried to tell me I had a problem. The free box was free as long as I purchased $17 worth of postage. I had only purchased a little less than $10. I couldn't understand the clerk and was not offered any alternatives. She took the package and I assumed all was well with the world. Well it wasn't.

I proceeded to my meeting feeling a bit flustered with government employees like I am at the DMV with state employees.  eBay provides a link so you can track the package through the USPS. I watched as it moved through the postal system and was delivered according to the USPS. This is where it starts getting real interesting.

After 4 days, the buyer sent me a message to say he hadn't received the (delivered) package. I respond by giving him the tracking number and suggested he go to the post office to see what the problem was and I told him if there was postage due, to pay it and I would reimburse him. The next message he sent said he went to the post office and was told they had no such tracking number in their system. That could not be true because their system said it was delivered. The next message from the buyer informed me not only had he not received the package but that I was a fraud, didn't use Priority Mail and he wanted a refund. I replied by sending him the tracking information provided by the USPS and a receipt showing the date I sent it by Priority Mail as well as letting eBay know we had a problem. The buyer's next move was to submit a claim with eBay asking for a refund and providing me with negative feedback. Too much negative feedback on eBay will result in being run out of dodge so to speak.

At that point, I thought he still might be telling the truth and not making up a story so he could have his pedal and play it too. I sent him a message and stated I wanted to send him a refund but wanted to find the pedal so I could get it back. I filed a claim with the post office and waited for a week or 10 days and in the meantime, eBay informed me they were sending the buyer a refund and they were not going to charge me for it. That was good news and bad news. I was relieved I wasn't going to be out the pedal and have to forfeit the $50 as well. I complained to eBay and reported the buyer because by now I thought the buyer was the fraud. The USPS informed me my claim was denied because they delivered the package, period. I asked eBay to remove the negative feedback and they said they couldn't do that and I should contact the buyer and ask them to change the feedback. I did and he didn't.

While there is a possibility that I am missing some information I seriously doubt that because I have since had a problem with the USPS saying they couldn't deliver another package because it was undeliverable as addressed. This was a small bubble wrap envelope but it was not lost in the vacuum that is the post office, it eventually got back to me. Why didn't the pedal come back? Simple answer really, it was delivered.

Out of 10 sales transactions on eBay, I had problems with 3 of them and one of those spoiled my feedback rating. I thought I had sold another item because a bidder won but when I had not received payment I sent an invoice (eBay facilitates that too) only to find the buyer changed their mind and wasn't interested any longer. I thought eBay was a step up from Craigslist, but now I'm beginning to wonder.

My conclusion is that most of what happens on eBay is done by computers, processes, responses, reminders, and decisions are made on coded logic, eliminating the human element altogether.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Right and Wrong

Different Points of View

The report of the Boston massacre in 1770 is an example of different views of the same event depending on which side of the street you were on, both figuratively and literally. This event, among others, led to the American revolution in 1776. If you were a British loyalist you saw things in favor of the red coats and if you were not you saw this as abuse of British authority. Five colonists were killed and several others wounded by the eight British soldiers who came to the aid of a sentry being harassed by the Americans. An order to shoot was never given, the soldiers did so after being attacked by the crowd throwing rocks and other objects.

The current news stories of police brutalizing and killing unarmed African Americans comes to mind especially when you consider the typical police justifications for too many of these crimes against the citizens they are supposed to protect. Human nature dictates we take sides unfortunately, often ignoring the facts. This is compounded by the fact people see things differently even when they don't have an axe to grind. Today's technology makes hiding the facts more difficult but even with videos of the event, folks still come to the wrong conclusion. Harkin back to the Rodney King III video of police brutality and that four policemen were originally acquitted in a court of law. 

"Three were acquitted of all charges. The jury acquitted the fourth of assault with a deadly weapon, but failed to reach a verdict on the use of excessive force. The jury deadlocked at 8–4 in favor of acquittal at the state level. The acquittals also led to the federal government's obtaining grand jury indictments for violations of King's civil rights. The trial of the four in a federal district court ended on April 16, 1993, with two of the officers being found guilty and subsequently imprisoned. The other two were acquitted again." - Wikipedia

From a black person's perspective, things look pretty bleak after hundreds of years of slavery, lynching and being treated poorly by society as well as the authorities.

The interesting results of the 1770 incident in Boston are, the defendants were represented by a future President of the United States, John Adams, and all but two soldiers were acquitted and the two were found guilty of manslaughter.

Right and Wrong

The difference between right and wrong isn't as black or white as it used to be. Too many loopholes and dishonest people have blurred the two ― never mind the gray areas. Unfortunately, many people think "rules were made to be broken". Nobody does wrong and admits it. If you ask the prisoner why they are in prison, they will tell you they didn't do it, whatever it is. Human nature forces us to justify our actions and believe we are right.

We inherently trust that people will do the right things. We hope we can walk down the sidewalk minding our own business and not be run over by a passing motorist. We believe we can get on an airplane and arrive safely at our destination without a depressed pilot flying into the side of a mountain with us onboard. It does not occur to us that as law abiding citizens we will be pulled over by the police for a broken tail light and shot in the back five times making a feeble getaway fleeing on foot.

I have great news! There is a difference between right and wrong. Not just a difference in what you believe or I believe. Those beliefs are not what makes something right or wrong. Right is right and wrong is wrong, it's that simple but somehow we humans don't believe it.

If Moses had to receive the ten commandments to teach the Hebrews what was right or wrong it is evident we humans have been getting it incorrect for thousands of years. While he was carving the stone tablets the tribes of Israel were celebrating their freedom from slavery by practicing idolatry, and worse. Someone's higher power had human nature pegged pretty well.

We have inherited a boatload of fixes to remedy this "human nature" problem, from rules, laws, authority, police, religion, boundaries,  gates, fences, obstacles, litigation, legislation, etc.,

I have no illusions that I will have much impact on the problem, after realizing the conundrum, I decided to concentrate on myself. What rules am I breaking? What laws of nature am I not obeying? How can I set a better example? We can improve things a little bit if everybody does the same.


Have you noticed the absence of common courtesy and good manners; caring about others; or treating people the way we'd like to be treated? It's gone missing in our "civilized" society. The stresses of "getting ahead," or "keeping up with the Jones," maintaining our way of life, keeping our jobs, paying the bills, and taking on too much responsibility has wound us up like a tight spring. In focusing all our attention on getting from point A to point B, we have discarded common sense and courtesy when it comes to rules, laws and right and wrong. Taking time to smell the coffee might actually alter the way the world works, or so the naive idealists may believe.

Today, without attaching a winning lottery ticket, getting human beings to change their behavior is a daunting task. I have become a better defensive driver, betting the other motorists will take chances with my life. African Americans expect to be profiled (especially if they are driving an expensive car) and they do not trust people in law enforcement or the judicial system. Their previous bad experiences have taught them to prepare for the worst. Isn't that an awful thing to say about this country?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Psychology of Survivor

I'm a fan of Survivor, a reality TV program that challenges groups of people to "survive" a new environment and to "outlast, outsmart and outplay" each other to win $1M. The show has been around for more than a dozen years with more than 20 episodes on different pacific islands attracting millions of viewers.

The current season starts on some tropical island with the participants grouped by occupation type and includes a white collar, blue collar and a "no collar" tribe.

I am also a fan of psychology and take the time to notice how humans behave.  The recognition between right and wrong is a basic core value that has eroded in our current business culture, if not in our media and general culture as well. These changes couldn't be more apparent in the actions of the three tribes on survivor.

In the opening episode, we find the same challenge presented to two members of each tribe. You can take a smaller sack of beans or take a larger sack of beans with a clue to the location of a "hidden" immunity idol but you will have to deceive the other members of your tribe.

The free-spirited no color couple don't think twice and take the smaller sack back to their camp. The blue color pair does exactly the same, but the white collar couple hatch a story and take the clue with the larger sack of beans. The two execs didn't take long to come to their decision but when they got back to camp, none of the other execs believed a word of their story. When it came time to eliminate one of their members, one of the pairs who deceived the others was the first person voted out of survivor to no one's surprise.


The same core values seem to be slipping in most of us. I notice this whenever I get in my automobile and drive, anywhere. I've observed over the years, as you probably have that truck drivers don't drive the courteous way they used to. I have a great many more cars speeding up on me from behind and it isn't because I'm driving too slow. I try to keep a buffer of  a few car lengths when I can, but I notice this infuriates speeders behind me who whip around me and squeeze in between us.

We have outgrown our infrastructure but haven't slowed our growing population and, as a result, the stresses of our hurried everyday lives allows us to believe we have an excuse to behave the way we do. Our culture has some effect on our basic beliefs, but we are affected by the bombardment of the media too.

Our businesses have allowed themselves to lose a firm grip on their basic values. There was a time when  keeping everybody working was a value they held -- to their credit. In today's business world, everything is justified if the competitor is or is suspected of doing it. One of the ways large corporations navigated the rough waters of the recession was to lay workers off, reducing spending and balancing the books. That is justified by keeping the shareholders happy. The Enron scandal revealed that a business would falsify their accounting records to obscure illegal business activities. 

I don't know what it will take to get folks to learn that the end does not justify the means. Too many decisions are made expeditiously in this fashion.

Drought in California

We're experiencing a drought in the state I live in and it's finally getting the attention it deserves. The public is doing a pretty decent job reducing their water usage, letting their lawns go brown and putting conservation into practice. That is the right thing to do but EBMUD, a bay area water district, has to raise their water rates because everybody is using less! You consume less product and get to pay more for it, makes perfect business sense.

This is not the best way to win hearts and minds but many of us are not surprised by this near-sighted approach. Maybe people who work at some jobs just stop thinking creatively. I studied supply and demand and macro and micro economics in business school but through many years actually working and solving problems I learned the first solution is not always the best.

If it makes the shareholders happy, the end justifies the means.

Final Reward

Our legislators in congress are bogged down in this same psychological paradox. It is apparent they are not motivated to do the best they can to legislate for the people, rather their first motive is to make sure their opposition makes no gains at all. And at the pearly gates you will hear them declare, I wasn't one of them, I tried to do everything I could to do the right thing. They will spend hours spinning their stories this way and that until finally they get their final reward.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Algebra - and eBay

You know, I've taken algebra a half dozen times in my life and one of the many things I learned is, if you don't keep using it and practicing it, you will forget it or, lose it as the saying goes.

This came to mind recently when I tried to sell a few odds and ends on eBay. I've been an eBay buyer and seller since 2005 with a few dozen auctions under my belt. I had not sold anything in quite a few years, however. I discovered something I wanted to do, but it isn't in the budget. What I remembered about listing items on eBay did not come to my rescue when I listed the new items.

My recollection is when listing items my "reserve" price  could be protected. In other words, the sale of my listing would be on the condition my reserve price was met. This time there wasn't any reserve price there was, however, a "Buy It Now" price which I mistakenly assumed was the reserve price. I accepted the sale of a $25.00 item for $5.00 including shipping.

I also sold a Tascam Portastudio 424 cassette recorder (without the AC power adapter and cable) for $100.00. The Portastudio cost $50.00 to ship and I may get some money after eBay makes sure the transactions stay sold - and collects their percentage of the sale.

I listed several other dust gathering things and some of them received no bids. I thought I might be ahead of the game if I just donated these items to the Good Will. I canceled a couple of sales too. I just did not understand the ins and outs of eBay anymore and it could have cost me dearly.

So too, in algebra, if you didn't know what the less than or greater than signs mean, you are going to suffer when test time comes along. In life, the miscues can be expensive regardless of the intention.