Psy-Man Says: Kogan style

Steve Jobs once said something to the effect that it is the kiss of death to let the accountants run a business. Here’s how that works.

I recently bought a small rechargeable battery unit for charging my i-devices when away from mains power. I bought it from Kogan – an on-line retailer of course, but a fave of a friend of mine. They were cheap and where I saw the device advertised.

Firstly it didn’t ship for about 10 days. When it arrived, there was no User Guide or Manual. Great! I thought – we have finally made it to the post RTFM era. This device must be so easy that even an old fogie can use it (I remember when that expression was “even a child can use it”). Unfortunately it wasn’t. It had two connections, a button and a row of what looked like lights.

Lucky for me there was an included postcard which said Kogan was saving paper and not printing manuals. Instead go to their website and download it. So off to Kogan’s web site I went. However there was no manual or user guide to be found.

Next step – off to the web. Well that threw up lots of results. About 26,900,000 results (in 0.30 seconds) to be exact, according to Google. After some time of skimming through the more promising results I was not able to find my particular device other than on Kogan’s site. It seems that this is one very catchy (and popular) product name which nobody has bothered to patent or trade mark. Obviously it is not made by Apple!

Never mind, there is always the company’s web support service. Kogan have a support page as you would expect so I spent about half an hour forming all the questions I thought I would need answering to provide somewhat the equivalent of the non-existent Manual or User Guide. My minimal list was 6 questions, from memory.

I say from memory because after spending all that time and effort trying to ask a complete but also minimal set of questions, the web form failed to include them in the acknowledgement receipt it sent me. But not to worry, they will be copied into the response I get right?

Wrong! 3 days later my questions are finally answered, but the answers are all I get, not the question being answered. Now a lot can often be inferred about the question from the answer, and this was no exception. It became clear rather quickly that the bulk of the questions I had asked (ie. all but one), which were about charging the unit, had been answered as though I was asking about charging my i-device from the unit. FAIL!

So then I reply asking if they can not only redo the answers for charging the unit but also include the original questions, so as to remove any ambiguity or possibility of error – remember there is no manual or user guide for this device so I need some instructions which will not only be clear now, but remain clear and unambiguous to me when I try to figure out how to use the device in 2-3 years time on our next big holiday.

The next response completely ignores my requests and provides a single statement even more ambiguous than the set of answers I got first time. And still no copy of my questions. Or their answers.

I don’t know about you, but I am not a child of the 21st century. I have 20th century values when it comes to customer service. And matching 20th century triggers on my frustration when it comes to poor customer service. So having figured I’ve spent about $100 of value in frustration and time by now, all over a $39 unit I still can’t use because Kogan decided they wanted to save one sheet of A6 paper, its time to return the unit and cancel the transaction.

Nothing, it seems, is simple. There appears to be no way to do this from the Kogan web site, but as I paid using Paypal, I could register a dispute through them. This also had its challenges.

At the part where you have to write up why you are registering a dispute, I decide to give a lot of info to help Kogan by way of feedback, rather than simply complaining. Of course writing up the above story, even when shortened considerably, takes some effort and time, but I thought it would be worth it to help point Kogan in the right direction.

When done I pressed the “continue” button and after a few seconds I was presented with a new screen saying that my session had timed out because I had taken too long! Of course it did not keep anything I had typed …

However this now gets resolved, the final direct post-sale cost to Kogan would have to be in excess of $100, for the $39 item. And that does not take into account any loss in future sales from me and anyone I can influence.

All because Kogan wanted to save the price of a piece of A6 paper.

I really can’t decide whether it would be better to have my role or Kogan’s played by John Cleese in the sit-com.


All In The Mind

Its funny how things are not always as you imagine. The other day I was going to the pub to meet some friends and parked just down the road expecting the carpark to be full. As I walked across into the carpark I noticed that there was a large group of bikers at the bottom, all resplendent in their dull black leathers, faceless black helmets, patches, bandannas and Harleys.

My immediate reaction was a pause to assess my safety walking across the carpark to the pub. This only lasted a moment as I did not of course wish to attract attention by being seen to be rattled by their presence. About this time one of the bikers broke off and started walking more or less on an intercept path with me.

Now was a time to dig deep if ever there was one. Look calm and relaxed and above all SHOW NO FEAR!

Anyway, as this biker got reasonably close to me, I heard this throaty yell from one of the others, probably the long dirty haired behemoth I had noticed: … “Hey Brian!”

Well, that came as a shock. As it dawned on me that he was not yelling at me but rather his companion, I wondered what self respecting Biker would be called Brian. “Brainless” would be a better moniker than that! Brian somehow just does not rank when it comes to invoking fear and respect.

Anyway, that seemed to diffuse a bit of my anxiety, but then the thought crossed my mind that he was only going to say something like “Go easy on him, he’s such a weedy old runt”. But what followed nearly caused me to laugh out loud.

“Whaaat!” Yells Brian, turning around slowly, with obvious aggrievance in his tone, since he had been diverted from his intent of helping me see the light.

“Can you get me another pie while you’re there!

20-20 Vision

Its not often that events conflate for one’s benefit. However, such has just happened.

You see I got married on exactly the same day as some friends of ours. This happened unawares to us both, even though we did know each other at the time.

Recently our twentieth anniversary loomed so we arranged to go away together to celebrate. As it happened, DenMar Estate in the Hunter Valley was having a midweek special, covering the very day, and had a spare two bedroom villa. You beauty!

For dinner, the owners of DenMar (Marie and Dennis) suggested the nearby Botanica restaurant. All dressed up, we were chauffered by Dennis to Botanica, allowing us the freedom to partake. Botanica turned out to provide a very nice meal, suitable for such an occasion. Afterwards, a call brings Marie to chauffer us safely home again.

The next day we had planned to go cheese and bubbly tasting, followed by a light Tapas style dinner nearby. However Marie reminded us that our package included a lunch / dinner with included bottle of wine per couple and a wine tasting of the Estates own wines. You beauty, again!

So after a morning of cheese tasting and bubbly busting we returned to DenMar mid afternoon for our tasting and meal. What a treat! With each of their wines we were presented with a specially matched, sensational canapé. The wines were very pleasing too, adding to the enjoyment.

Unfortunately we then had to choose just one of the wines to have with our dinner. We settled on the 2009 Pinot Noir while our friends chose the 2010 Cab Sav. What followed was an amazing display of cullinary skill by Marie. We should have realised the canapés were no fluke as they were all picture (and taste) perfect. The dinner was amazing, and the wine just set it off to perfection.

So we were treated to a wonderful second anniversary dinner in our own private restaurant. Thank you Dennis, thank you Marie. It was truly a wonderful break for us, making an anniversary to remember for a long time.


Flaked Salmon

Brandy snap, ice cream and strawberries!

Brandy snap, ice cream and strawberries!

Don’t dis my Ass, Jack!

Flowing from a conversation over a beer the other day, I have had a quick read of the Wikipedia entry for the symbol(s) of the USA Democratic party. It is fascinating, a story of turning weakness into strength, criticism into pride.

Starting at the beginning, what is now called the Democratic party actually called itself the “Republican Party”. They were labelled Democratic by their opposition in an attempt to stigmatise them as purveyors of democracy or mob rule. Over time the party adopted this as their name, with obvious feelings of pride in the label.

Getting back to the symbols, it seems that there has not been an “official” symbol until quite recently, although there have been unofficial ones. Most notably the donkey.

During intense mudslinging in 1828, Andrew Jackson’s critics had labelled him a jackass because of his populist views and his slogan “let the people rule”. Jackson decided to go along with it – even using images of a donkey in his campaign ads.

These are fantastic examples of how to turn criticism to advantage and to me, are strongly linked with the promise of strong democratic institutions.

FYI the link to the Wikipedia page is:

Crossing Over

[modified from the original, published Sep 24th, 2012]

Well we are now on the train from Chambery (France) to Torino (Turin – Italy). A good point is that we have brought on board a bottle of wine and consumed it along with a packet of chips and a crushed chocolate croissant that Julie found in the bottom of her pack. This was apparently the same chocolate croissant that Julie bought yesterday and which mysteriously went missing. Of course I suspected Julie of gaming as that was the second chocolate croissant she had bought and “lost” in a few days.

Another good point is that our seats have a power outlet in them, which we could have used to charge our i-devices if we had known it was there. Our neighbour across the aisle is using his for exactly that.

The bad points are that we got on the train about the last stop before people start getting off, meaning that the luggage accommodation was an issue. Not to mention the mayhem due to so many people apparently being in the wrong seats. Our seat was originally populated by the remains of someone’s lunch. But it is alright now, as about an hour into the trip, the owner has just appeared to reclaim them while I am typing this!

I seem to have forgotten all my Italian. Yesterday I tried to think of how to conjugate regular verbs and it took me about 15 minutes to recall how to do it (no kidding!). Julie’s French has picked up considerably but I think that she is noticing the lack of exposure for such a long time. We have resolved to return to France sometime to give her a further boost along so that she doesn’t loose it after all the effort studying it at uni etc. Since I have been turned to the dark side and now feel a trip to the French countryside might not only be survivable, but actually enjoyable, Julie is more positive about keeping up with her French.

Whatever else one feels in respect of the French, I have to hand it to them for their bread. It is so devourable, even without anything on it. The baguette is a national icon in my books! If you ever wondered why it is made in that silly shape, it is because the French figured out that it gives a near perfect ratio of crust to bread so that the flavour and texture experiences are maximised. It is also easy to hold when walking around!

Judging by the number of cyclists we saw with baguettes sticking out of the top of their packs, it is an icon/institution for everyone else as well. Its a shame about the “jams”. They don’t actually call them that, they call them confitures. The problem is they are all very runny. Sure they taste nice, but that is lost when one is flat out trying to catch the drips and squirts as they emerge from the baguette that is crushed in your mouth as you attack its divine being. It fairly ruins the whole French bread transcendence, as one is so busy trying to keep the confiture reasonably within the confines of one’s own baguette, mouth, hands and table, that the whole experience is diminished to somewhat of a sleazy transaction, best carried out in the privacy of one’s own home with the lights out.

Crossing into Italy brings a whole new experience when it comes to coffee and especially hot chocolate. Picture a bubbling mud pool from Rotorua and make it darker (and of course chocolate flavoured). That becomes your hot chocolate experience in Italy. What a delight. What the French have done for bread, Italy has done for hot chocolate drinks, in spades.

Wonderfully dense Italian Hot Chocolate

Che denso!

Our first attempt at interaction in Italian is a little off. Having just arrived, we are in a taxi going to the airport (don’t ask) and Julie comments “abbastanza umido” (= quite humid) to which the taxi driver replies “about 20 minutes”. His English wasn’t too flash, but that may have been the humidity getting to him! We certainly got to the airport pronto with no further mashups, linguistic or otherwise.

We have now met our tour guide, so all is well with the world again. Our group comprises about 21 walkers including us so there should be a lot of cameraderie. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately after our first experience) there will probably not be too much Italian interaction this week. C’est la vie, or rather, “cosi va la vita”.


France is no picnic!

[modified from the original, published on Sep 16th, 2012]

Well here I am in the land of frogs, drawn here by my wife’s inexplicable love for things French. Especially the food.

This is actually my second “tête-a-tête” with France, but my first time outside of Paris. We are in Dijon, the capital of the Bourgogne. Otherwise known as Burgundy to the English.
I’ve learnt quite a few things already this trip, including that Burgundy is an English word for this region and not a French word at all.

Another thing I have learnt is how the wine appellation system works in Bourgogne. Unfortunately, this does not necessarily help me understand how it works elsewhere in France, as each of the wine regions (I think there are 5) has their own system.
To an old kiwi who remembers the Rainbow Warrior incident, the French have always been associated with an air of (over) self importance, arrogance and general snootiness. My previous trip, to Paris, did nothing to dispel this mindset.

However this trip, admittedly just begun, has given me pause for thought. The people in Dijon have been rather friendly and about as engaging as a non speaker of French could expect.

Even the French grab at naming rights on basic foodstuffs, such as wine, now seems, well, if not actually acceptable, at least understandable. From what we have learnt here, the french wine naming system or appellation control is so fundamentally evolved from their history that it would seem wrong to try to disallow it. Having said that, using the appropriate French name on wines of similar style and which are clearly not made in France and not sold there would seem to be not just suitable, but also paying respect to France’s contribution to our collective wine heritage.

However, that is a battle lost, and I have solace in the knowledge that even the French can’t usurp another regions names. For example the Bourgogne cannot label a wine as Champagne. Their equivalent is called Cremante.

Anyway, while the French and most things French might be no picnic, the food certainly is …

One of our wonderful French picnic lunches. Unfortunately, no “pain” without gain!