2011-11-28

Dell is inept

For the last several weeks, I've been trying to unsuccessfully place an order with Dell.

Let me tell you, that company is inept.

The only reason I'm trying to place an order with them is because I want a powerful desktop replacement laptop, and they have the only one I can find with an 18" screen.

But goodness, it's practically impossible to place an order with them.

Because I live in the Caribbean, I cannot have the order shipped to me in the first place. They don't ship anywhere out of the US. So I have to bug a friend, or use a freight forwarding service.

So, I'm now ordering an expensive laptop shipped (against my preference) to the US, but the card I'm paying with is from outside the US. So my order gets canceled by their verification team.

I contact the verification team, they ask me questions, and they finally say okay, you can try ordering now. Can they reinstate my existing order that they canceled? No. I have to get in touch with their reinstatement department. They have a department for reinstating orders!

I get routed to some automated phone central, get handed over from person to person, spend hours on the phone, and I never can get to the fabled reinstatement department. The agents I talk to keep asking all the same questions all over again and are being useless.

Fine. So I place a new order again. Their website offers the ability to pay in multiple transactions, rather than everything at a time. Great. I'll need that, because my bank imposes a daily spending limit that's below the cost of the laptop.

As soon as I place the order, I find a "chat with agent" link, just to confirm what the limit on my card is, and that I want to pay in two installments. They tell me the first one went through. They'll process the next one tomorrow.

A few hours later, a phone call. An agent from Dell is telling me, in a bad English accent, that my second payment could not be processed. Of course it couldn't be, I reply, one payment was already processed today, the second one is supposed to be processed tomorrow. I am unsure what the status of my order is now.

A Dell manager follows up with me by email. I complain about their poor organization, and request information about the status of my order. He sends a courtesy reply to my comments about Dell, but does not inform me of the status of my order.

I foolishly assume that my order is being processed.

A few days later, I check the status of the order online, and...

Canceled.

In terms of pre-sales support, Dell must be the single most useless company I've ever been in touch with. Every single aspect of placing an order is split into separate departments. The people populating these departments are either powerless, or inept, or both. They speak poor English, and if your order needs the attention of another department, they can't even forward you there. The "managers" are just as useless.

Why Dell even has these people on their payroll, is beyond me. The company is simply unfit to handle any order that does not fit their automated process. The humans they employ have all of the autonomy of a cog in a machine, and are as helpful as a nail.

There are government bureaucracies that function much better than this!

2011-11-15

LOL Slovenia

I just found this gem:

Čas je, da gre politika v stečaj!

Apparently, Slovenia has had an issue with high-profile companies going bankrupt in circumstances that may have involved fraud (but probably involved state favoritism and incompetence). The legal system in Slovenia is incapable of punishing people responsible, so the parliament passed a law which imposes the following blanket punishment:

Everyone who had an ownership or leadership role in a bankrupt company is prohibited from co-owning or leading another company, for 10 years after the end of the previous company's bankruptcy proceedings.

Bankruptcies in Slovenia can take decades, so the effective duration of the punishment may be much longer than 10 years.

Not only that, but people who had an ownership or leadership role in a bankrupt company up to two years before the bankruptcy are also subject to the same prohibition.

Is that ridiculous, or what?

Who on Earth is going to want to run a business in Slovenia?

Suppose a company is in trouble and needs new leadership. Who's going to come to its rescue, risking to lose all of their rights to do business in Slovenia, in case they fail?

Given this new law, the most prudent course of action for anyone who wants to establish a new business is to establish it outside of Slovenia. Slovenia is a tiny country, and it's part of the EU. There are several neighboring countries, only an hour's drive away, where you can found your company in a more sensible jurisdiction. There goes Slovenian tax revenue!

What a joke!

This makes me laugh at the ineptitude of Slovenian politicians, as well as feel fortunate for leaving. A country that makes these kinds of choices is on a road to self-defeat.

2011-11-10

There are no healthy foods - only healthy diets

I'm not a nutritionist. However, for the last 5 years or so, I've successfully based my diet on the following suspicions:
  • Popular nutrition advice is probably misleading and puts exaggerated emphasis on fresh fruit, vegetables, and "natural" ingredients.
  • While some people are highly sensitive to additives, and others to a lesser extent, most people aren't.
  • For most people, what matters in diet is, by far, calorie count. It's no use to be eating a vegetable rich diet if you eat so much you're overweight. Conversely, a restricted calorie diet will lose you weight, even if it consists of sugar and fat. As long as your diet gives you enough vitamins and protein, not being overweight is what matters most for health.
There's no such thing as a healthy food. There are only healthy diets. What matters is how the numbers add up, not the individual things you eat.

In this CNN article, a KSU nutrition professor lost 27 pounds over two months on a diet consisting largely of packaged sugary snacks. He also took a multivitamin pill and drank a protein shake each day, but restricted his total calorie intake. After two months, he lost weight, and his blood pressure and cholesterol levels were better.

As long as it's not poison, and you don't have a specific medical condition, your body can process what you put in your mouth. The trick is not to put too much, and make sure that you're getting vitamins and protein from somewhere, and it won't matter if your diet is based on garden greens or hamburgers.

Our species has been on Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, surviving on all types of diets in all sorts of environments. This wouldn't have been possible if our biology required a steady intake of fresh vegetables to live.

Costa Rica vs. St. Kitts for the fitness-minded IT professional

My wife and I are originally from Europe. We currently live in St. Kitts, and are considering a move to Costa Rica. We're returning from a 5 week trip to Costa Rica, where our intent was to see what daily life would be like for us. Here are our findings.


Health care


St. Kitts: There are foreigners living in St. Kitts, as well as medical and veterinary students from the US. Everyone we talked to has warned us to stay away from the local hospital. A student who visited the hospital reported shoddy hygiene in multiple respects, including a cow walking the corridors. People who need a serious medical procedure, and can afford to, go to Puerto Rico, or the US. If you need to go to the local hospital in an emergency, such as an appendectomy, you can expect worse scarring, and probably a greater chance of complications than in the US.

Costa Rica: Costa Rica is a medical destination for visitors from the US, providing high quality care at lower cost than available in the broken US healthcare system. There is a larger community of expatriates and retirees from the US and Canada, and an international medical center (CIMA) catering to them and to medical tourists.

Score: St. Kitts -10, Costa Rica +10


Language


St. Kitts: The native people speak English, but their accent is so broken that you'll need time to begin to understand. If you ask them to clarify, they'll mostly just say it again, in the same way and the same speed. There are people who speak better English, but after almost 5 years in St. Kitts, it still often takes me 2-3 tries to understand what people are saying.

Costa Rica: The native people speak Spanish. If you don't speak Spanish, it'll be harder to learn than a broken English accent.

Score: St. Kitts -5, Costa Rica -10


Power


St. Kitts: Power is provided by a government monopoly, and the result are frequent power outages. In our 5 years of living there, we experienced:

- A period of several weeks without power for 8 hours every day, because half the power station had burnt down.

- Another period of weeks without power for multiple hours a day, because the power station had been flooded.

- Even in better times, regular power outages lasting 1-2 hours, several times a week. It is fairly frustrating to experience this on a regular basis.

Costa Rica: In our 5 weeks of living there, we experienced one day with a power outage lasting, perhaps, 2 hours.

Score: St. Kitts -10, Costa Rica -3


Internet access


St. Kitts: Believe it or not, St. Kitts might win this one. The problem in St. Kitts is frequent power outages; but if you have a generator, internet access is solid. There are two providers, LIME (phone-based) and The Cable (cable TV based). As of 2011, both currently offer download speeds of up to 6-7 Mbit/s. We have used both, and LIME seems to be more reliable, with fewer interruptions and disconnections. Latency to the US is good.

Costa Rica: Internet access in Costa Rica is through a state monopoly. Our only experience so far has been through a hotel, but the tests I was able to make indicated a 40 ms latency just from the hotel's router to the ISP, and 100 ms more to the US. Ping times to the US were more inconsistent than we experienced in St. Kitts.

Score: St. Kitts +5, Costa Rica -5


Cinemas


St Kitts: A nice, modern multi-screen cinema opened in St. Kitts a few years ago. We welcomed this highly, but unfortunately, the new cinema did not come with a well trained crew. In the first year, we experienced:

- A movie started completely without sound for the first 15 minutes. The sound eventually came on, but we had missed what happened in the first 15 minutes of the movie. No apologies, no refunds.

- One movie had a screaming crying baby in the audience, whose mom refused to take it out. No staff member asked the mom to leave with the baby, either. We left the theater and asked for a refund. We didn't get one.

- Other movies we saw were way too loud. We started going to the cinema with earplugs so we could enjoy a normal volume.

It could be that these issues have been fixed by now; the last movie we saw in St. Kitts had no issues and was enjoyable. However, these early experiences certainly caused us to visit the St. Kitts cinema much less than we would like.

Costa Rica: There are multiple multi-screen cinemas in San Jose. We went to Cinemark in Multiplaza, and to Nova Cinemas not far away. The VIP screens in Nova Cinemas is spectacular! For the same price as a regular movie ticket in the US, you get to see the movie in a luxurious environment with fewer other guests and comfortable, powered recliner seating. Most movies are in English with Spanish subtitles, which aren't a bother, and may help a bit with learning Spanish. The down side is that some movies, animated ones in particular, are available only in dubbed Spanish versions.

Score: St. Kitts +5, Costa Rica +10


Eating out


St. Kitts: There's one excellent restaurant we know of in St. Kitts: Ottley's Plantation. It's pricey, it's out of the way, and they require a credit card to make a reservation. But everything we've had there was amazingly delicious. The service is good, too.

Other than that, though, eating out in St. Kitts is mediocre. The restaurants tend to have great views, but service tends to be atrocious. Waiters shuffle wearily from table to table, and hardly pay attention to your order. Or they are too chummy, and want to talk to you instead of serving you. The food can take forever, and while it tastes decent, the price is high and the experience can be awkward. Therefore, we usually eat at home.

We also love sushi, and St. Kitts has no sushi restaurants. There used to be a kind of sushi on certain nights at the St. Kitts Marriott, but the menu was poor, and it gave us diarrhea.

Costa Rica: Oh my goodness. There are sushi restaurants, and they're so good! White tuna is available, and all the fish are delicious. The Samurai restaurant at Itskazu Plaza has some of the best sushi we've had.

There are tons of other eateries, and most have been highly enjoyable. If we move to Costa Rica, we'll be going out to eat much more.

Score: St. Kitts 0, Costa Rica +10


Groceries


St. Kitts: When we first arrived, the selection of food in St. Kitts groceries was small and variable. If you saw something you liked, you really had to stock up, because when it ran out, it wouldn't be restocked again for a few months. This has improved a lot in recent years. The variety of foods available has grown, and supply has gotten more reliable. The one aspect still suffering is the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables; the availability of these remains poor, and is a lottery when you visit the store. However, St. Kitts has a good supply of foods I like, such as greek yogurts and Lean Cuisine microwave meals.

Costa Rica: Given that Costa Rica has both a Walmart and the largest shopping mall in Central America, we expected more choice. The supply of what's on offer seems reliable - you don't have to stock up on things available at the store. However, I didn't find in Costa Rica's groceries a lot of things that I enjoy in St. Kitts. For example:

- No greek yogurts. I'm talking creamy, high protein, low fat yogurts from brands such as Fage, Oikos, Chobani, Yoplait, or Dannon. Costa Rica has lots of regular yogurts, but those are crap compared to the greek ones. Greek yogurts are readily available in stores in the US, as well as recently in St. Kitts. But not in Costa Rica. Big minus.

- No fat free cheese. Come on. The US has fat free cheese. St. Kitts has fat free cheese. Costa Rica has no fat free cheese. The mind boggles.

- No Lean Cuisines. Or rather: there are some, but in multiple stores, I found no microwave meals that I like, with high protein and low calorie content.

- No Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts. Many Costa Rica stores had Ritter Sport, but none had the Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts. Come on. St. Kitts has that!

That being said, fresh fruits and vegetables in Costa Rica stores are plentiful and readily available.

Score:
- St. Kitts 0 (poor availability of fresh fruits and vegetables)
- Costa Rica -5 (no greek yogurts, fat free cheese, or useful Lean Cuisines)


Protein


St. Kitts: There is no meaningful local supply of protein powder or protein bars. The Marriott has some Nugo bars in the convenience store, and some Steel bars in the spa store, but that's it; and the supply is limited. You will be bringing your protein powder and protein bars from trips to the US. There is a Boost High Protein drink available in Horsfords. I usually buy out the whole supply.

Costa Rica: There are multiple GNC outlets that have protein powders, protein bars, and protein drinks... but.

The protein bars are expensive. A bar that costs $1-$2 in a store like Publix in the US, will cost $3-$9 in GNC in Costa Rica.

The protein drinks are spoiled. I bought a bunch and then returned them, and the people at GNC wouldn't believe me that they're bad. They think it's normal for the solid content in the drink to coagulate, separating out from the water. They think you're just supposed to shake it hard so it mixes again. I did that and tried to drink it, but the taste is atrocious, spoiled, and bitter. I drank a couple ounces and had diarrhea for a day. It wasn't just one drink, either. I tried two from separate GNC outlets, and they were both spoiled in that way. When I returned those I didn't open, the people at GNC put them back on the shelf!

Don't buy protein drinks in GNC in Costa Rica.

Score:
- St. Kitts +3 (there's Boost, but you'll be importing protein powder and protein bars from the US)
- Costa Rica 0 (there's protein powders, but protein drinks are spoiled, and you'll be importing protein bars from the US)


Connections


St. Kitts: Last but not least, travel. If your destination is anything other than Miami, traveling to and from St. Kitts is rather inconvenient. American Airlines has regular direct flights to Miami, but the timing is such that regardless of which way you're going, you won't make most connections the same day. This makes travel to or from most parts of the US rather inconvenient. In addition, ticket price is somewhat high. The airport in St. Kitts doesn't have many stores and facilities, and isn't fully air conditioned.

Costa Rica: Connections with the US seem excellent. There are direct flights to multiple transport hubs, including Dallas and Miami by American Airlines, Los Angeles by United, and others. There are multiple flights every day, so it's much easier to make a connection. The airport is modern and has ample shops and eateries.

Score: St. Kitts -5, Costa Rica +10


Weather, natural disasters, crime


In these respects, St. Kitts and Costa Rica fare similarly.

St. Kitts can be too humid and hot, while Costa Rica can be too rainy.

St. Kitts is prone to hurricanes and may be at risk of earthquake or volcanic eruption. Costa Rica has more earthquakes - we experienced several small ones during our 5 weeks of stay - and also a potential volcano.

St. Kitts has robberies and a high number of murders per capita, while Costa Rica has robberies and an increasing number of murders in San Jose. In both countries, the places where foreigners live are safer and nicer.


Bottom line


St. Kitts scores -17, while Costa Rica scores +17 on things we care about.

St. Kitts could improve a lot by having good health care and reliable power. These improvements alone would improve its score substantially, and make it bearable for us to live there.

In Costa Rica, my biggest disappointment is the lack of high protein or fat free food, and unimpressive quality of internet access. I would expect more from a country of 4.6 million with a healthy expatriate community. However, its higher scores in other categories make it an attractive choice for us at this time.

2011-11-05

Diamonds are a marketing campaign

This article is fascinating for showing how much larger than the stones themselves the diamond product is. The stones aren't the product at all. The product is public opinion about diamonds. The suppliers create public opinion through product placement and advertising, and control price both by controlling supply, and by marketing diamonds in such a way as to discourage resale, which has the potential of upsetting the price in a big way.

That is the diamond product. The stones themselves are inconsequential.

The article is from 1982. It doesn't seem like a whole lot has changed since then; but it would be fascinating to read of later developments in the story.