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Sunday, January 10, 2010

It Must Have Been My Lucky Week!

It was an interesting week. It was the first full week of work in 2010. Most of my colleagues were back from their vacations and the office was buzzing with activity once again. There were new spreadsheets to fill out, new presentations to be put together and new documents to be written up and distributed.

I guess I found it all interesting only because it was different from my vacation. Hopefully, my interest will continue for at least the next couple of weeks before the monotony of it all catches up with me. I jumped into my work with more enthusiasm than I had managed to muster in the earlier part of December, and got a couple of items off my to-do list.

A couple of days were spend doing something I find really interesting: the creation of a mathematical model representing some problem I am solving. This is supposed to be my primary job, the reason I was given my job in the first place. Unfortunately, it has become a smaller and smaller part of my job as other responsibilities have encroached on my time.

But, when I get to do it, I get this insane, childish pleasure out of it! I toy around with variables, functional forms, etc., trying to make the formulation as compact and elegant as possible while at the same time, making sure that it represents reality as fully as possible. Unfortunately, the exercise never lasts as long as I would like it to last. But a couple of days of it every now and then is like a draft of arctic air blowing into the Sahara desert at noon!

Work is bound to get boring pretty soon, with no respite in sight. I might as well enjoy it while it is enjoyable, and store away the enjoyment for me to remember and savor when reality provides me nothing worth enjoying!

But this breakout of interesting things to do at work is not why I consider this a somewhat lucky week. The explanation for that is yet to come!

Things are humming along as usual on the home-front. The kids are busy with math work, school work, home work and whatever other work they can fit into their schedules. My wife is back in her usual schedule with her exercise classes, cooking, and what-not.

Right on the heels of my post wondering whether people in the midwest actually like the weather here, the weather decided it had been insulted! So, it decided to show me that it was not as bad as others and I imagine it to be - it is much worse than any of us can ever imagine it could be!

I got my blog off to a good start in the new year with several posts in quick succession. I published a post about calculating pdf's using SQL in Access on Monday. While driving in to work that day, I heard about the opening of the Burj Dubai building in Dubai. After reading and hearing about it, I published a post with my take on the whole building spree in Dubai and resulting mess they find themselves in now. Then came another post on Vedic Mathematics. On Friday, I published a post with some funny pictures of things going wrong, sometimes on a pretty massive scale!

Similar to the post on Tuesday, I heard something on the radio that triggered an urge to publish my thoughts on the so-called "currency reform" undertaken by North Korea late last year. I consider knowledge of basic economics to be an absolute necessity in this globalized, interconnected world, and it is amazing to me how many people around the world don't even know the basics of supply and demand, and other elementary economic concepts. I hope that post will encourage somebody to at least try to understand what economics is all about!

On Thursday, I finally got around to publishing the review of the last of the 4 GPS units I had bought to try out on Black Friday last year. Based on the price and performance of the 4 GPS units, I decided to hold on to the Nextar X3-11 unit (the last one I reviewed), and return the other 3 GPS units.

The Nextar unit was the cheapest of the GPS units by far. And I admit freely that I am a cheapskate who often goes for the cheapest of anything. In this case, the performance of the Nextar GPS was actually at least as good as the other units, so there was really nothing except the brand name that would lure me to any of the other units.

Now, I believe that in the next couple of years, GPS is going to become as common as cell phones. In fact, I believe that pretty much all cell phones are probably going to have GPS functionality in a couple of years. And the capabilities of GPS units are going to increase exponentially. I also believe that any new car (except perhaps a base model Yugo) is going to come with built-in GPS by the year 2013 or so.

Given these beliefs, it stands to reason that there is no point in spending big bucks on GPS right now. All one needs is a stop-gap unit if one needs or wants GPS functionality right now, with the full knowledge that the unit is going to be replaced with something much more capable, powerful, and convenient in a few years. So, I would not feel guilty at all if I had stuck with the cheapest unit of the lot even if it had performed noticeable poorer than the other units. That it had held its own regardless of the price was just icing on the cake!

And now for the explanation of the lucky week part!

I had bought the other three units from Best Buy, so I walked into Best Buy with them and tried to return them. It turns out I had not paid too much attention to the return policy posted in Best Buy. It turns out that Best Buy charges a 15% restocking fee for returns of opened GPS units (in addition to various other types of items). So, when I got to the head of the returns queue, the person asked me whether there was anything wrong with the GPS units I was trying to return. I told her they just did not live up to my expectations. She went through the motions of putting them back in the system before she stopped to inform me that I would be subjected to an approximately $45 restocking fee if I went ahead with the return.

Very luckily for me, she also said she would be able to waive this fee if I bought a different GPS unit from Best Buy in exchange for the items I was returning, rather than just trying to get my money back. It was time for a quick decision. I was not interested in spending $45 for nothing. So, I decided that I would be better off buying something in exchange. At the very least, I would have a brand-new unopened GPS unit in my possession, and I would have 30 more days to ponder what my next step would be.

The way the transaction was performed, the return of the 3 opened GPS units went on one receipt. The purchase of the new GPS that I bought in exchange went on another receipt. I got a refund for the original purchase and a new purchase on my card. If it had all been on one receipt, with my charge just being the difference in price between the old and new units, I might not have considered this my lucky week!

In any case, a few days later, I walked into Best Buy once again, and told them I wanted to return the newly bought (still unopened) GPS. The returns clerk verified that the box was unopened, then proceeded to scan my receipt, scan the box and produce a return receipt that confirmed I was getting a full credit on my credit card with no restocking fees.

Now, I must admit, I was holding my breath the whole time this was happening. It all took only about 30 seconds and I was very relieved that it worked out as I wanted it to. I let my breath out slowly, started breathing normally again, and walked out of the store!

You see, the problem is that retailers nowadays have detailed records of purchases and returns that they did not have before. If you notice, receipts nowadays have barcodes of their own. Thus, not only do retailers know what was bought, they also know what was bought along with what else on the same receipt. Theoretically, they could have tied my old and new receipts together and programmed their computers so that any attempt to return the items on the new receipt would revive the restocking fee that had been waived off the old receipt because of the purchase on the new receipt. Fortunately for me, Best Buy has not yet made that kind of link in their elaborate purchase-tracking system.

Now, you know why I consider this my lucky week. Given that the prices of GPS units are falling constantly, and Best Buy was not even the cheapest source of the GPS unit I bought as a replacement for the 3 I returned, I would have been hard-pressed to get all of my money back through any other means if Best Buy had remembered and revived the $45 restocking fee for the return. Putting it on eBay or Craigslist would have been my only options to attempt to get my money back. Given the commissions eBay charges, I might even be better off swallowing the 15% restocking fee rather than selling it on eBay!

Oh well, lesson learned. I should pay more attention to return policies. I have to make sure there are no special provisions on the particular item or class of item I am buying just to evaluate, with the intention of returning later on.

Now, as always, it is time to get ready for the challenges of a new work week. I am sure there will be more frustrations to face, challenges to overcome, obstacles to bull through, and meetings to bullshit through in the coming days. And as always, I will keep you posted about them!

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