Thursday, April 26, 2007

Painfully poor, yet typical, customer service

We all know there's nothing unique about this customer service call - why do we tolerate our time being wasted like this?

A couple years ago I remember Dell bragging about the fact that they were building their computer factories here in the U.S. – but what they didn't mention was how they offshored their customer service similar to this HP tech support call.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Real Value of Money

A couple weeks ago I sold old coins and bills to a collector. I don't know a thing about money collecting and I thought the oversized US dollar bill from the 1920s would fetch more money than any of the 1¢ coins – after all, the dollar bill started off 100x the value of a penny and it was backed by silver.

It turns out that coins made of precious metals are bought by investors and kept in vaults as they await the next run up like we saw in gold and silver in 1979 – the investors don't even bother melting down the coins. A penny, made of silver, clearly has more intrinsic value than a $1 bill back by silver.

From precious metal to paper and, now, to electrons, money has literally lost its value.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rich Lives

How much richer are our lives compared to kings and queens of the past centuries? Think about it - we have access to things they never could have dreamed about.

Friday, April 13, 2007

You Can't Eat Money

In the United States, we can't live without money. Even your typical homeless person on the street panhandles for money so they can buy food (among other things). Other than oxygen, which comes free with every breath we take (unless you're scuba diving), we Americans have to buy what we need to survive.

So, naturally, many Americans think that money could solve the problems found in some of the poorest countries in the world. But the truth is that you can't eat money (never mind drink it). Although money is the best way Americans can help in cases like the 2004 tsunami, since the logistics of shipping food is too difficult, it's not enough to fix the problem.

The core problem we're trying to solve with our funds is to build capacity in these poor, developing, countries. Poor means absolute poor which is easy to spot because these people are skinny. In my travels through out East African villages I quickly noticed that I could usually spot the village chief since he was the person with the most body fat.

How do we aid these countries to help build capacity so the locals can have potable water and food? Unfortunately, the problem can't be solved simply by writing a check. Ignoring the problem and doing nothing is even worse; leading to failed states such as Afghanistan and Somalia.

In the 1980s, as Americans, we thought that nothing could be worse for Afghanistan than Communist rule by the Soviet Union. Yet, as bad as that seemed, the failed state left behind when the Soviets pulled out gave Al Qaeda a perfect, lawless, training ground to launch an attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, followed by other attacks such as the Khobar Towers (American barracks in Saudi Arabia) in 1996, simultaneous attacks on the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the USS Cole attack in 2000, simultaneous World Trade Center & Pentagon attacks in 2001, and the simultaneous attacks against the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala, Kenya coordinated with a shoulder fired missile attack against an Israeli airliner about 20 kilometers away in Mombasa.

My point is that all these attacks were made possible by a single failed state ignored by the first world and we can't just give them money to solve their problems.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Online Cheat Sheet

My mother finally got online and has her first e-mail address. Undoubtedly, she'll have technical problems - where to begin?
"Mom, this is your login and password for the computer..."
"Mom, this is your login and password for your e-mail..."
"Mom, this is your login and password for your ISP..."
"Mom, this is your password for the wireless base station..."

Next comes customer service...

Luckily, Apple has a great Mac cheat sheet - I wish I thought of this simple solution: