Monthly Archives: January 2011

Stern Warnings

I admit almost always before I travel to some other country, I pop over to the U.S. State Department Website to read what our government has to say about the country. Generally, the State Department has solid information on places to avoid, crime and other dangers travelers might face. But some of these travel warnings are downright scary and enough to make a traveler want to stay home with the windows shuttered.

Colombia is my first stop. So tonight I ventured to the State Department Website to read what it has to say about Colombia, once considered one of the most dangerous places in the world, plagued by attacks by narco-terrorists, guerillas and kidnappers. Security in Colombia, even the U.S. State Department admits, has improved in the last few years. But the country is still experiencing its share of crime and bombings from guerillas and the drug cartels. I have heard lots of good things about Colombia lately, from travelers who have spent time there. They talk about the friendliness of the people, and the beauty of the country. Two couchsurfers from Slovakia I hosted were so smitten with Colombia – specifically Medellin – that they were willing to give up their homeland and call Medellin home. That’s quite an endorsement, Medellin!

So as I prepare to leave for Colombia in about two weeks, I’m not sure which Colombia I will find: one still engulfed in a raging war or one where you can travel by road and feel safe. The State Department tells Americans to avoid traveling between cities and rural areas by road and instead take commercial flights. I have talked to dozens of travelers from all over the world who have traversed Colombia by road, no problem. I intend to go by road as well. Stay tuned. You’ll soon know which Colombia shows up.

Categories: Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

Hooked and Netbooked

At this moment there’s a song in my head: “Institutionalized” by the metal/punk band Suicidal Tendencies. In it, lead singer Mike Muir cries out in a helter skelter screamfest that all he wanted was a Pepsi, just a Pepsi – nothing more, nothing less, just a lousy Pepsi. What he gets instead is a lot of crazy talk – in this case from his parents – who quickly label him crazy and go into intervention mode to have him committed. Mike Muir, I know just how you feel.

For the past week, I have been Mike Muir and costumer service representatives at computer giant Hewlett-Packard the off the wall parents. Well, Hewlett-Packard, I’M NOT CRAZY! YOU’RE THE ONE WHO’S CRAZY!

So all I wanted was a netbook computer. Just one lousy computer, nothing more, nothing less. A simple, mini, highly portable and lightweight laptop, which I planned to use on my world trip. After much research, I settled on the HP Pavilion dm1z. Now, I know the dm1z is not a netbook. It’s a small laptop, but for me it was a great alternative – small enough to make it highly portable and yet more power than a netbook. For you geeks, the specs:

HP Pavilion dm1z customizable Notebook PC

  • • Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • • AMD Athlon(TM) II Neo K125 (1.7GHz, 1M L2 cache) + ATI Mobility Radeon(TM) HD 4225 Graphics
  • • FREE Upgrade to 3GB DDR3 System Memory (1 Dimm)
  • • FREE Upgrade to 320GB 7200RPM Hard Drive with HP ProtectSmart Hard Drive Protection
  • • No Additional Office Software
  • • No additional security software
  • • 50% OFF! Two 6 Cell Lithium Ion Batteries
  • • 11.6″ diagonal HD LED BrightView Widescreen Display (1366 x 768)
  • • Webcam with Integrated Digital Microphone
  • • Wireless-N Card
  • • 92% Full-size keyboard
  • • HP Home & Home Office Store in-box envelope

Ordered online. Estimated build date: January 14, 2011. Price tag: $567, which included $39 for two business days shipping.

So you live and learn.

My mistake number 1: Trusting HP to deliver on the date they claim they would deliver. HP said it would have the laptop in my hand by Jan. 18. I reminded them that the 17th was a holiday (MLK Day) but the rep had never heard of the holiday. (Hey, stuff like that happens when you outsource). She said Monday was a business day and it should have no effect on the delivery. Wrong, said another rep two days after the delivery date was missed. She explained that the computer was still being built and she had no idea when they would deliver it. I heard different excuses as to why the computer was delayed. I opted to cancel the purchase. After talking to three or four other reps, passed from department to department, the order was canceled. Or so I thought.

My mistake number 2: Ordering online using Paypal to have the computer delivered to me in Chicago when I live in Miami. So I’m in Chicago for at least three weeks. Call me crazy, but that’s more than enough time to have the computer shipped to me. I am leaving Chicago Jan. 22. HP says it can have the computer to me Jan. 18. I’m good. After the 18th comes and goes and I track the computer online only to see that it’s still in production, I call customer service again. I calmly explain that come Saturday I will leave Chicago, so please cancel the order if you can’t get it to me before then. After being switched to a supervisor, she agrees that since they can’t give me a delivery date, that the order would be canceled. But I get an email minutes later from a Gary Perlich, HP customer service rep, with a different story: they will try to cancel the order, but might not be able to do that, so I will have to accept it and if I choose to return it, I have 21 days. Hey Gary, didn’t I already explain I won’t be in Chicago by the time you guys decide to build and ship the thing? I protest in an email response to Gary. No response. Literally seconds later, comes another email: Your computer has been shipped. Arrival date: five days after I’ve left Chicago. I try to have them send the thing to Miami instead. No can do, rep says. Security reasons, she says. I try again a day later to have it sent to Fedex in Miami. No can do. Continuing to track the laptop online, I notice it is being shipped from Shanghai, China, where it was built and customized. Doesn’t HP build any computers closer to home?

Tracking laptop, it’s now in Anchorage, Alaska, trying to clear customs. Reps at HP today said they would issue an “RTS – Return To Sender” once it lands in Chicago. One of them added: “But there’s no guarantee”.  If all goes as planned, it will be redirected to Fedex’s warehouse in Tennessee and presumably back to China. That’s one traveling boxed laptop. In meantime, netbooks are in short supply across the United States. Have you tried buying one lately? They are hot items. So off to Best Buy downtown Chicago. I called. They just received a new shipment.

UPDATE, November 13, 2013: Right out the box, the computer gave nothing but trouble. Spent much precious time with HP techs trying to get the problems – way too numerous to list here – fixed. First issue: I could not type on the thing because it kept skipping graphs. Then frequent error messages for no apparent reason. Froze continuously. Crashed at will. But the big – and most costly problem? After one year (and only a few days after the warranty expired), it completely crashed. Took it to local computer shop and they determined that the hard drive was dead. I had to buy a new hard drive and pay to have it installed. Lost all my data. Then, a few months later, the computer kept shutting down on its own. Less than a year later, as I wrote in a Microsoft Office document in Switzerland, the computer completely crashed and would not boot up. I tried everything possible to get it to turn on but it would not. I finally removed the hard drive and left the dead shell in Lyon, France. Sorry HP, but your computer matched the ineptitude of your customer service. Unless they’ve shown great improvement, not sure I will ever buy another HP product again. At the minimum, I would expect a brand new computer to last a year!

Categories: Rants and Raves | 3 Comments

Ready For The World

Always happy to be home in New York. Here in Central Park.

My life has been a string of blessings in disguise. Yes, it’s extremely difficult to immediately see good in bad. But I’m a firm believer that everything in this universe happens for a reason.

My latest disguised blessing came almost two years ago when I lost my job.

I was the assistant world editor at the Miami Herald, a respected daily newspaper in the state of Florida in the United States. The Miami Herald is one of those newspapers with a great journalistic tradition of uncovering truth and bringing great stories to readers. Unfortunately like so many newspapers in the United States, it is going through some hard times with the advent of the Internet, where people can get their news and other information for free. So the Herald began a series of layoffs, with hundreds of employees – I among them – losing their jobs. Rather than freaking out about my sudden state of unemployment, I packed up and went to Europe for three months. Europe was part work, part break from it all. It was during that time last summer that I began to think about traveling around the world.

I had thought about a world journey many years before, but never very seriously. After all, I loved my job as a journalist and in America we only get three or four weeks vacation time. How could I quit such a great gig to go bouncing around the world?

Well, no longer tied to an office and a desk, I began to see the possibilities as I entered a new phase of my life as an independent journalist. Now more than ever – in this disastrous global economy – seemed like the perfect time to pull up stakes and go. And so here I am, less than a month away from the start of my journey. I see it as a real opportunity to breach that invisible fence that keeps so many of us from pursuing our dreams. In some way, a job can be a prison – if we allow it to be. We hate being there. We cherish the time we’re not there. We can’t wait to retire – to go on vacation. I say why wait until half your life is over to live your life like to the fullest?

Vita Brevis – Life is Short! Those unseen fences also serve to keep people around the world apart. In my travels, I will live with locals. Eat what they eat. Drink what they drink. Share their joys and their pains. This journey is not a marathon. It’s a journey of discovery. I want to learn from the people I meet. I want to get to know them. I want them to get to know me. I want to make friends with people on every continent. I will couchsurf. It’s one of the best ways I know to meet strangers and leave  them as friends.

These boots are made for serious walking

In planning it, I first thought it would be a one-year trip. That quickly grew to two years with the realization that I simply could not see and do it all in that amount of time. Then as I planned further, it was even clearer that two years was not enough, if I wanted to do this trip my way – slow and easy largely by ground transport, meeting and living with locals along the way. Yes, the tourist sites are on my list, but this journey is largely about connecting with people. And reconnecting with friends across the globe. I am excited about this journey, which begins in Bogota, Colombia, and is scheduled to end in 2013 in New York City. Meet me in Central Park? 🙂

Three years is a long time, people keep telling me. Maybe so. One year at a time is what I say. One year at a time.

Categories: asides | 3 Comments

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