Monday, March 31, 2008

Visit to Consumerland

I was never fond of listening to music while running. My early attempts to do so in college aptly demonstrated my tendency to follow the rhythms and tempos of what I was listening to -- helpful in dancing, not so much when you're trying to maintain an even pace or a regular cadence on a run. And it wasn't just a problem of making me run too slow or too fast, it could actually mess up the rhythm of my breathing and give me cramps.

No, not helpful at all.

And while I like being able to tune out of my brain, I also enjoy tuning in to the world around me -- the birds, the crunching of gravel or leaves on a trail, wind, water. Not to mention the advantage of hearing the traffic barreling up behind you.

But when I decided to train for a half-marathon a few years ago, and facing the prospect of regular runs of more than an hour (not to mention finally sucking it up and running at the gym), I thought it might be time to reconsider. Thankfully, I found that with the slower tempos of the long runs, I was able to just cruise along without significant trouble, mostly. A few songs would get me going, but overall it didn't mess with my head too much.

At the time, I was using a moderately crappy Rio sport mp3 player with a 512MB card in it. It got the job done, mostly, but on particularly cold days it would decide to hard fail in a fairly unpleasant manner. More recently, I've been borrowing the SOOTTAD's iPod, but it's hers, and it has her tunes and playlists on it (which are excellent, btw) and it's a bit bulkier than I'd prefer to carry or stick in a pocket and, well, it'd rather not keeping sweating all over it, or worse, possibly break it.

All that to say, I finally sucked it up and decided to buy an iPod for myself.

Price and features finally hit the right spot for me. The new iPod shuffles have 2GB of storage and are comfortably under $100. I originally tried to get one on Amazon, which afforded me an additional $5 in saving. (not to mention the *cough*absence of sales tax*cough*) The listing said the average shipping time was 1-3 weeks, but I wasn't in any particular hurry, and I was trying to maximize my value with that WHOLE FIVE DOLLARS OFF.

Just under 3 weeks later, and I notice while checking the status that the current shipping time has now been updated to 1-2 months. I think to myself suckers! good thing I ordered mine 3 weeks ago... until I get the email saying that my deliver date has been pushed back to end of April/mid-May.

Ok... Fine. I'll go to the Apple store.

I'm planning on being in the Natick area over the weekend, so I check online to see if there's a store there, since the only one I'd personally stumbled on in my own travels was the one in the Burlington Mall. For those unfamiliar with Natick, I have numerous acquaintances who tell me that there isn't a national retail chain that *isn't* in Natick. And, lo and behold, I find a listing for a store in Natick that, according to Apple's website, is near some place called the "Natick Connection."

Basically, it's a giant mall. (Actually, it's the old Natick Mall, but I guess having the word "mall" in the name of your mall is just so...Mall-ish.) I'll just say it was kind of overwhelming. I found the parking lot (with "premium" section, several multileveled structures, secondary roads with rotaries, backed up with traffic, a large proportion made up of SUVs) to be kind of a clusterfuck. The mall itself is quite upscale, and clearly benefits from having some thought put into its design -- nice open space with seating, the contours of a walking path through fake, abstracted birch trees, handicap access, "family" bathrooms. But oy. Nice aesthetics, but all I could see was BUY! BUY! BUY! And crowds... the crowds on a random Saturday afternoon. I guess I just don't get out much.

Anyway, I wandered through the mall, getting my bearings. Got to the Apple store, poked around a bit -- probably the first time I've actually spent any real time in one. (Ironically, wearing an Apple hat that the SOOTTAD got me when she was doing work for Apple.) Checked out the new Air (managed to only disconnect the power (connected magnetically) when I picked it up, as opposed to the guy across from me who set off the alarm when he accidentally pulled out the USB connection they use for security) then got to the back of the store to get the iPod. They keep them in a drawer behind the Genius Bar.

I skipped the $40 extended warranty, figuring that the incremental cost of buying a new one would be comparable in price. (there's that disposable world thinking again.) $72.45. I pay by credit card. I hand him the card, he swipes it, he hands it back, asks if I want a receipt (to which I say "yes," though it can be emailed to me -- cool) and then hands it to me.

I feel like I missed a step: there was no signature needed.

This can become more and more common these days. I've been to a number of places that have minimums of either $20 or $50 before you need a signature. Conveniently, I think that's commonly been the deductable if you discover fraudulent charges on your credit card statement. But I was surprised that it wasn't necessary for something over 50 bucks. Are they just taking into account the devaluation of the dollar or something?

I was thinking about it on the drive home -- I guess it's not that crazy given the frequency we pay at the pump with just a swipe, or buy stuff online with just an expiration date and occasionally the extra magic number thing on the back of the card these days. There's a certain level of security and trust that's built into the system now. I'm sure they could track you if you tried to buy a bunch of stuff and then claim it wasn't you -- shipping records, IP addresses, calls monitored for quality assurance, what have you.

But, how do you prove that you *didn't* buy something? Both the SOOTTAD and another friend of ours had that problem when their credit card numbers were stolen. And while they both got the charges reversed, there was still a lot of bullshit with shipping charges for returns or lost stock. (we still have two packages of vitamins that we never ordered.)

And reason that this kind of thing is on my mind? (other than that this stuff is always on my mind to a certain extent.) Well, there's this:

Yarp, my credit card information has been compromised AGAIN. That's twice in 6 months. And of course, now I get to change all my auto-billpays. AGAIN. I kind of want to call Citibank to see if they can tell me who keeps losing their credit card data, so I can STOP USING THEM.

So that's one. The other has to do with our phone service. We switched to Vonage over a year ago. Love it. Emails when there's a voicemail. No extra long distance charges. We moved and all we did was plug the phone adapter into the new network and we were good to go. Awesome.

When we switched over, I cancelled the service with Verizon and that was the last I ever thought about it.

Until last month.

Last month, when I got a statement from my old long distance carrier.

Did I mention that I liked Vonage because there were no long distance charges?

So somehow a call, made through Vonage, someone found it's way to the billing system for a third party company. No problems -- I called the long distance carrier and they reversed the charges. When it happened again this month, they reversed the charges and deleted all the records of my closed account. I also called Vonage this time around, just so they'd have a record of it. Verizon, maybe? Dunno.

But it sure gives me warm fuzzies inside. How 'bout you?

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