So Much Going On…

Welcome to what I consider to be my first real Blog post! If at least a few things have gone as I intended them to, this post will go live on or just before November 15th, 2012, and each subsequent post will then follow in the same manner each and every month to come…not bi-monthly as I originally planned. Trying to meet such a deadline every two weeks would surely have a detrimental effect on my writing if only because the amount of time I could set aside for needed research and fact validation would be cut in half!

Those of you I have talked to in regards to my Blog may also remember that I had first thought to dive right into my initial post with a few sorely needed comments on the upcoming Presidential election and how our general grasp of politics…when compared to years passed…makes it quite difficult for us to easily and correctly gauge the true worth of our candidates.  I do promise to expound upon this important topic long before the next four years have passed us by, but with so much happening and/or promised to happen this November…and not forgetting what October itself had in store for us this year…I suddenly felt that to ignore so much of what this last quarter of 2012 had bestowed on us would be a shame…and in my case at least, would require me to pass up the opportunity to write on a number of relevant considerations…right now and in the coming months, while they’re fresh and on my mind!

To get things started, let me offer a few comments on a recent purchase I made, and how in doing so I not only improved my daily productivity and increased the amount of time I am now able to spend just keeping track of all things good and bad occurring around our world.  And also, for the first time in a very long, long, time, I actually found a retail sales outlet that meets and surpasses my expectations when it comes to customer service and a real willingness to do the very best for their customers!

As those who know me can attest, I’ve always been somewhat of a tech junkie!  I started quite young, selecting highly detailed car and ship models that took months to finish, moved from there into 1/24th slot cars, rewinding motors and inventing ways of making my cars the fastest possible, and teaching myself drafting and technical drawing which took me toward college as an Architecture and Fine Arts major at USC.  Along the way everything from radio to what was high-def recording at the time held my interest as well, and after leaving school, I spent years perfecting photographic methods in both small and large formats, actually reaching the point where I finally wrote and published on AOL a treatise called, “Zone Defense”, which discovered and shared my findings on a system of Black & White 35mm photography that allowed the same kind of accurate tonal rendering that Ansel Adams provided large format photographers in his own, “Zone System”!  But in the end it was computer science that really grabbed me by the short hairs, and I’ve been working in this area since 1974.

My first introduction to computers came in that year while at the University via a one semester class entitled “Fortran & Wat V”.  And I cannot think of anything else I was ever forced to do that I hated as much!  Being made to sit for hours in a large room where the constant sound of thirty or more keypunch machines were all being used at the same time left me deaf for days afterward, and resulted in little more than a few thousand punch cards that did little more than entice an old dot-matrix printer into typing out my name and address.  What a waste of time!  And I vowed never to go near a computer again!
But as I was a techie even then, and a Star Trek techie to boot, I had no choice but to go back day after day.  Because back then, some very talented people had invented a Star Trek simulation that we were able to play against our cross-town rivals on what was the old, original ARPnet!

Looking back now, especially with what computer gaming offers us today, it really wasn’t much of a game at all.  A hash mark grid would appear on our green, glowing CRT’s, with a variety of standard keyboard symbols representing Academy and Klingon ships, phaser fire, and of course the mighty Photon Torpedoes!  And as we moved our fleets around the grid and tried to take out the others ships, a spreadsheet record involving math algorithms none of us really understood counted hits and provided visual feedback by disappearing destroyed vessels.  It wasn’t much, but at the time it was all we had, and that alone made playing the game worthwhile!

In truth, and mainly due to a lack of access, I didn’t use a computer of any kind again until an Insurance brokerage I was working for in 1979 bought a dual monitor Wang machine that provided network access to one of our company’s mainframes.  And other than having real keyboards instead of keypunches it really wasn’t much different than the systems I had worked with 6 years earlier!  But then it happened!  IBM came out with a cheap, ( $7,000 at the time ), PS2 running DOS 5, and allowing us to program in QBasic and use our own applications along with an ever-increasing number of third-party solutions that actually made computer use a fun and beneficial experience.  I found myself hooked almost immediately, going into the office on nights and weekends just to explore its possibilities!

I purchased my own first computer just a few years later…a Tandy 286, which I immediately traded in for a new 386 model with 48 Mb RAM. It ran DOS 6.1, Win 3.0, and OS1 during its lifetime, astounding my friends and I with a graphic-based Jet sim published by Janes.  What could be better than that I asked! And like so many others at the time, I found out!  Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours later I am now writing this on a monster, custom made system which makes the computer that took men to the moon look like an Abacus!  A claim even many watches can make today!

Over the years I have taught myself programming via Delphi, C#, and Java, watched the Internet grow into something bigger than even Bill gates himself could have thought possible, and yes, I admit it, I am an avid computer gamer…playing at the moment, BF3, F1 2011, DCS A-10C Warthog, MechWarrior Online, and modded re-releases of The old Wing Commander franchise.  I’ll be expounding on computer games and why Xbox is best used to stream movies onto my big screen TV in later posts, but right now, and as I mentioned above, I’d like to talk about a recent purchase I made, the company that makes and sells it, and how it and others like it are now once again changing the way we look at and use all the new abilities and technologies that affordable computing have brought to the average man and woman.

In general, computers are great for a variety of reasons, and Bill Gate’s promise to put one in every person’s home has been qualified…relatively speaking of course.  But it wasn’t the tool itself that made his promise a reality.  It was the Internet that has made it possible!  Without this kind of free access to information, computer applications, utilities, games, and to even a greater extent the social activities the internet has championed, the majority of us would be using our computers to collect dust like so many other inventions that required more than casual use to be accepted.  Like the telephone before it, and the telegraph before even that, the Internet and the main tool used for accessing it, ( the computer ), has completely and forever changed the way people communicate and interact with each other.  This Blog is itself a perfect example of how these new abilities have enabled us like never before, and as a consequence…a positive one I think…has brought everyone in the entire world a whole lot closer than it could otherwise ever become!  Something we have sorely needed since the first train tracks were laid down, bringing the people in our own countries together in ways unthought of before their appearance.  In my book, this one creation as spawned by the proliferation of computer availability and access…the Internet…is the greatest achievement mankind has ever made!

But technology never stops for anyone or any reason!  And today, the number and value of microprocessors being sold around the world is already much greater than the number of computers being built to use them.  Today, computing abilities in a vast number of processors built for use in almost everything we work with and use for common purposes is considered a standard.  From cell phones to automobiles, engineers have found more and better ways of incorporating computer power within them so as to make them easier and of much higher value than ever before.  Today, even the average cup of coffee cannot be made without the assistance of these binary wonders!  And by tomorrow, they will be showing up in twice as many products and for many times their original use than ever before!  So no matter what your opinions may be on this subject, I don’t know anyone who can even try to say with any authority that as such, computers have caused mankind any real or justified harm except perhaps the Neo-Luddites!  All in all, and with every vote counted, computers and the ways in which they have enabled mankind can only be seen as a positive addition to our lives.  And as technologies like this become a more influential part of our daily lives, we find more and better ways to make use of it…and to make it even easier than before to find even more ways to encourage that usefulness.  In fact we already have!

As has been well proven over the last couple years, the average person doesn’t really need or expects to need all the abilities that computers potentially offer us.  And those who respond to and manufacture goods for our needs saw this right from the beginning.  The result of this understanding has been the downsizing of computers into a number of products which offer only certain subsets and combinations of new abilities into products that besides being better adjusted to our actual needs has made them a hell of a lot cheaper as well!  Smart phones, new generation laptops and hand held panels, Android programming, and WI-FI have all made it possible for those of us who really don’t need to play around with high level mathematics and graphic rendering to throw the now old fashioned desktop computer away and take our newly enabled selves and the tools making this enablement possible out of our homes, apartments, and workplaces!  Today, the majority of processors are being manufactured for use in devices that we can carry out into the world with us…over the shoulder, in purses, and even pockets…and at the same time, providing us with the same or better enabling abilities than our old machines could ever offer the average man or woman!  Today, we are able to do twice as much at half the price, and as far as I can see, this is a trend not soon to change, making it quite possible that by the time you read this you’ll be doing so not on an I-pad or Kindle as is now popular, but on some unit and by some technology we haven’t even heard of yet!  Yes, technologically speaking, the next 20 years promise to be even more exciting than the last two decades were, and I for one can’t wait to see what science has in store for us!

So as you may have already guessed, the new product I recently purchased is indeed one of these new hand held computing masterpieces!  Right now of course, nothing can completely replace my desktop computer, and the old, immense, wooden desk it sits upon is still and will remain to be my favorite place to be.  So I chose a product which at a relatively low price can offer me just those abilities I absolutely need when I am unable to be at my favorite desk.  After a little research and a lot of pricing comparisons, I like so many others who also require a real desktop computer most of the time, bought a Kindle Fire HD from Amazon.com!  And already it has made it possible for me to spend as much as half the time I would otherwise have to stay at my desk and indoors using it instead of my fully functional desktop!

I now do all my reading and much of my research using the Kindle, with the average cost per book only half what I had been paying for paperbacks, and which in conjunction with an Amazon Prime membership allows me to borrow books from their library instead of buying if I wish!  I watch and or schedule the movies I want to see on it.  I listen to my music collection on it and have free cloud storage as well.  I subscribe and read my magazines with it, including all those back issues I could no longer find, and I can also handle my e-mail, Twitting, and comment posting using it…basically making any and all Internet access available to me where ever I am at the time.  Even when I’m working at my desktop and require documentation to be available while writing programs or playing games, I set it right alongside and use it as a second and completely unobtrusive screen!  In addition, it also allows me to send free text messages to anyone, and have full HD video conferences with anyone using Skype for free as well!  I could go on listing the many ways it has already changed my life and freed up more time than I knew I had, but what’s the point?  For a relatively low price of $199 US, it’s an enabler that nearly anyone can afford to try themselves.  And if it doesn’t do for you what it has done for me, just return it within 30 days for a full refund and try to find something better in that price range.  I doubt you’ll be able to!  For me, it is the best investment I have made in the last five years.  I love it!

Lastly, I’d like to say a little something about Amazon.com itself.  Unlike so many tech manufacturers, Amazon has set up a rather unique sales model.  They sell the Kindle, and many other products as well as I understand, at the cost of its manufacture.  By doing so, they save their customers a lot of money upfront, making their product(s) particularly enticing.  Where they hope to make a profit is by providing their point of sales as one of its abilities, making it more certain that we will use them to supply all the collateral items that make their product(s) great and extremely useful!  Books, magazines, programs, utilities, and anything they wish to sell us, including their very cool and affordable Prime Membership are all then easily available and geared specifically for use with their product(s)!  It’s not a particularly new idea, but it is one I believe we’ll be seeing a lot more of over the next couple years!

Also, as I’m sure you are aware, service in the retail industry is practically non-existent these days. I don’t know if it’s apathy, a lousy work ethic, or that companies themselves simply don’t care anymore because they figure they’ve got us all by the throat!  But I’ll say it out loud even if no one else wants to. People just don’t seem to want to do their jobs in a way that provides concern or quality when it comes to dealing with the customers and clients they are responsible to!  I can cite numerous examples of how we as customers and/or clients get the runaround, are lied to, and in so many other ways, are not cared for the way we used to expect.  It may even be partly our own fault too, because I can cite just as many examples of how customers and/or clients simply give up when they are mistreated or ignored as well!  This has become a common truth no matter how we deal with a company or for what reasons.  But for whatever reason, I find it a very bad trend that won’t be stopped until we ourselves get up off our butts and start complaining so much and so loud that retail and service companies start to listen and to fire people who do not take their jobs and our needs seriously!

These days, and for the most part, I normally buy via the Internet. I’m too busy and/or unable to get out to the stores, and in my area they’re practically non-existent anyway!  So the Internet provides a reasonably safe and quick way of finding exactly what you want, and getting it sometimes even quicker than by going out to shop.  But of course when there’s a problem and one has to deal with a customer service person to solve it, nine times out of ten the solution is as hard to find as a cheap, honest lawyer!  It can be particularly nerve-racking when you have to deal with a CSR who’s normal language isn’t the same as yours, and after 30 minutes of waiting, call backs, and digit entering to get to the correct department he or she simply cannot understand what you’re talking about! And that of course leads to more waiting, more call backs, more digital exercise, and then once you finally think the problem is solved, you get the wrong replacement delivered by an angry UPS driver who likes to practice his football passing with little brown packages!  And it’s not just with products such problems exist either.  In fact these kind of problems are even more daunting when service is not correctly handled!

I once worked for Blue Cross and Blue Shield in one of their claim offices where I was the only male amongst 30 or more women aged 18 to 25.  That might seem like heaven to some, but because I was in charge of making sure they got their work done in a timely manner it was a lot more like the other place!  One of the girls there had a habit of throwing files into the back of her desk drawer when she couldn’t solve or didn’t know how to solve the problem before her, but unfortunately we didn’t realize this until a family was actually kicked out of their home because medical bills they were ultimately responsible for weren’t being paid by the insurance company!  We didn’t even know the bills existed until the girl who kept putting them off and hiding the files had left!  Granted, it was a combination of errors that resulted in this problem, but in the end it turned out to be little more than a CSR not caring about doing her job any better than as required to get her paycheck every two weeks!

Amazon.com has gone to great effort to ensure that their customers are treated like members of their own family!  I had heard this from more than a few people over the last few years, and in fact I live near a man who is a CSR for them, working out of his home by networked computer and responsible for solving customer problems world wide.  I do tend to take the Devil’s Advocate position much of the time, so I really didn’t believe what I was hearing until I was faced with a problem as regards the recent purchase I talked about earlier.  In short, what happened was that I was unaware of the fact that a new Kindle was to be released in just two weeks from the date I ordered mine.  The newer model came with twice the on-board memory, the video capabilities, better Android support, a full HD screen, and was even bigger and at the same price!  But I didn’t see the ad for the new model until mine had been delivered along with a custom leather case, and I had already started using it!  Well I really didn’t think I would get anywhere as it wasn’t a problem they had caused, but I wrote a quick e-mail to Amazon.com anyway and told them I felt cheated that the new version hadn’t been advertised where a potential buyer could easily see it.  Less than an hour later I received a note back from them stating how sorry they were, and giving me return instructions including a full refund so that I could then order the new version!  Unbelievable right? Well wait, there’s even more! I returned the first unit but kept the case thinking it would fit just as well on the new model, and received my full refund including even postage and handling which they told me was because they initiated the problem.  I then received the new model but found it wouldn’t fit into the original case, so I wrote again.  And again within the hour another apology with instructions which then gave me the case for the new model, and a much better one at that, and again refunded me twice more.  Once for the postage and handling as they said it was their fault, and another because the case was sent just one day later than I was advised it would be!  I still cannot believe it, but when I figured it all out, not only did I get the new, better model, but I received the case and a pointer for free, as well as two months of free membership to Amazon Prime instead of the one month I really only deserved!  I even wrote them back and told them I was feeling a bit guilty, and do you know what they said in reply? “Our customers are important to us and we will do whatever we need to do to make them happy for dealing with us!”

Nuff said for now! I hope you’ll come back to read my next post, available by or just before December 15th, 2012…if of course, the world hasn’t ended yet as Mayan prophesy has promised!

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