Month: September 2012

Things that Can Kill You in Shanghai

The air – it’s terrible.

The pollution is visible most days and resembles a noxious, detectable sewer smell in the city.

Many people get the ‘Shanghai burn’ within the first few weeks of visiting or living there – an allergic reaction coming with a hybrid sore throat, runny nose, and drainage.

The water – tap water is high in both light and heavy pollutants, depending on which part of the city you are in. Even filters on the tap are ineffective.  Bottled water is the only way to go.

The food – street vendor food for the ex-pat, whose digestive system hasn’t acclimated, can be downright dangerous.

Not counting poisonous wild cards like the ‘gutter oil’ scandal that was reported earlier in 2012, when vendors were caught literally scraping the garbage slough of oily residue off the street and mixing it with other low quality cooking oil and then re-selling it to food & beverage merchants who used it for food preparation.

Scooters on the sidewalk – they are quiet, since most are battery powered, and thus it is easy to be walking along and all of a sudden have one speed by you on one side or the other.  If you had accidentally turned to look at a store window display or whatever, they would knock you 20 yards.

Cars and other vehicles that run red lights – traffic laws are treated like suggestions. Pedestrians at intersections are on their own and second-class citizens.  It’s every man for him/herself.

The trash – I walk down city sidewalks in busy, upscale areas all of the time where there are large panes of broken glass, unprotected power tools, nails, tacks, razors, open manhole covers, sharp-edged steel, and more

Celebrations – during the 2012 Chinese New Year’s celebration, ‘only’ about 150 people were killed as a result of fireworks in Shanghai alone, as compared to 2011 when more died during this annual largest holiday season.

Low hanging air conditioners, signs, entrances – they are everywhere, inside, outside, and primely positioned for delivering a wicked head injury.

The dark – scooters and cars, already dangerous during the day, often don’t use their headlights at night, making them even more lethal. Especially, since streetlights are uncommon.

Drinking – I’ve had colleagues say China is an alcohol-based business culture.  Based on personal experience, I believe it.  ‘Nuff said.

Not guns – the only people that have them in China are the police, the military …and, of course, criminals.

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I’m Done with Dell

I’m done with Dell.

For the foreseeable future, at least – which I grant, can be fleeting in the hyperdrive world of tech – I’m not planning to buy another Dell product.

I’m sure that my many MacColleagues (and Sony and HP and…) are probably saying to themselves “duh, what took you so long?”

But, you have to understand: I live in Austin, Texas and as far as I’m concerned, Dell is a hometown company, as worthy of my local patronage as Austin Java Company or Alamo Drafthouse.

Thus, for decades now, I’ve remained loyal to Dell, buying Dell products – especially PCs – over and over again. After all, Austin has benefitted tremendously from the corporate success of Dell, as well as from the generosity of countless Dell employees.

From Michael Dell on down, the company’s employees have literally given tens of millions of dollars to organizations and people around the Greater Austin area.  Along the way, I’ve been fortunate to work with many “Dell-ionaires” in philanthropy and community work, through United Way, Austin Social Ventures Partners, Knowbility, Austin Community Foundation, and many other groups.

But, I digress.   You know the saying “hate the sin, but love the sinner?” Well, for me and Dell consumer goods, it’s come to this: hate the products, but love the company.

It’s taken a long time to get here. Let me recount just a few of the milestones (patience-thinning transgressions?) I’ve weathered along the way:

There was the PCs Limited – that was Dell’s name back then – desktop computer that was delivered to my door in 1987. It was so noisy, clunky, and buggy that I took advantage of the 30-day, money-back guarantee and returned it.

(Good on you Dell, for making that offer back then – see… you were always a “services” company, even if Michael resisted using that word, until first IBM and then HP started kicking your butt.)

Then, there was my first, true Dell laptop in the early ’90s. But, of course, there was the matter of those giant, black, brick-like batteries that you had to wiggle to hit the contacts so your PC would power-up, when they weren’t simply over-heating or failing-out of charge.

(That set Dell back a bit. Again, credit the hometown crew for bringing in Mort Topfer and a host of others to fix the supply chain and come roaring back with an unprecedented run for the remainder of the decade.)

Then, came the big expansion to consumer products in the late 90s early 2000s. High end TVs, projectors, MP3 players, etc.

I tried one of those MP3 players. Actually bought it as a Christmas gift for my daughter.

You know… the ones with the internal hard drive, instead of flash memory? (Thought I was trading her up from the hand-me-down Rio that I had given her.)

After 2 months, it failed and never worked again. We bought iPods and never looked back.

Things settled a bit by the mid-2000s, at a somewhat steady (predictable?) level of quality.  Inspirons possessed just enough features, and the price was right enough, that I and many others counted on them as a workhorse, corporate laptop. You could even get Windows XP factory pre-installed on them, even when that pathetic Windows ME and other awful, pre-Win 7 variants were being hawked.

It was great. Until my display adapter went out. And then, my hard drive. The first time. By the second time the drive went out, it was time to junk it.

But instead, I took it to the guys at Discount Electronics and asked them to refurb it with a new drive and keyboard.  They did and – to give credit where it’s due – I’ll admit it’s still being used as a print server and occasional desperation PC, when we have a guest or someone in the household has to service their primary machine.

So, against my better judgment, but on the strength of the Inspiron’s refusal to die, I decided I would take a shot at buying another Dell laptop earlier this year.

Mind you, by this time, I was on my 4th iPhone, 2nd iPad, 5th iPod, also having purchased Mac computers for all 3 of our children and a few other random Apple products in our nuclear family.

All of my colleagues were (and are) on Macs at work. They even bought me a MacBook Air. But, having Windows and Microsoft Office products hard-wired into my brain at this point, there was a personal productivity issue at risk from my continuing struggle with the Mac OS (or, so I convinced myself).

So, I persuaded my colleagues that the new Dell Latitude XPS – the “MacBook Air killer” – would be superior choice for me. I’d show them; things were different.  Shoot, Dell was different.  They even had these fancy kiosks with energetic, hair-gelled sales dudes in them at Barton Creek mall. (Even though they didn’t have the model of Latitude that I wanted, in stock, at said kiosk.)

But Dell wasn’t different. At least when it came to consumer products.  The Latitude has been a sad, latest chapter in a book of disappointments.  It’s heavy, noisy, slow, and genetically prone to over-heating. It’s filled with useless bloatware.

But, worst of all, the laptop’s outer case has broken to pieces from normal, non-rugged, every-day use. It’s so bad, I scratch my wrists on it every day; the base of my palms have callouses from the jagged edges.

Even though I’ve learned to hover my hands over the keyboard, I still snag and tear my shirt and coat sleeves on it. (Don’t worry – I’m composing this post on my iPad.)

The factory AC adapter began buzzing and crackling almost immediately, finally failing completely after 7 months use. (Good on you again, Dell, for ovenighting me a replacement adapter promptly, after I complained on Twitter, on the eve of my year in China.)

Yet, why Dell hasn’t changed in my experience with its products, it is different in another way. Dell has finally shed any regard for consumer products.

I’m glad. It’s purer and truer to the Dell I actually experience.  One with relentless process innovation. One with global infrastructure assets that enable it to serve its fellow Fortune 500 companies, on down. And one that runs a business model on good-enough solutions and service, not great products.

So, I’m done with Dell. At least for now.

As for giving the Mac a second chance, however, I gotta tell you – I have high hopes for the Microsoft Surface. Unlike Dell’s consumer/SOHO products, I can’t quite give up on Microsoft’s yet.  With the Surface due this month, I’m looking forward to being among the first in line. I’ll let you know how it goes!