educational

Getting What You Paid For

Stephen Yagielowicz

It's a rainy Monday morning here on the NH Seacoast: I'm on my second cup of coffee, Dawn Elizabeth is watching "Martha Stewart" – and I'm about to tell you another little story; a brief epic about expectations, disappointments, rewards, and satisfaction: Before you decide that my unfolding rant will be a waste of bandwidth, pour yourself another Cup O' Joe, and settle in for a few; you just might learn something!

It all started a few weeks ago; Dawn was on about needing mpegs for her developing pay site, Alec was on about how cool it would be to feature some video clips from InterNext at XBiz, and the guy on the television was on about how being a good consumer "was my patriotic duty." While those who know me can tell you that I need little encouragement when it comes to spending wads of cash, I did recognize the value, and acknowledge the validity of the first two factors conspiring to rid me of a quick $6,000 — even before I considered the financial assistance that I would render to "Santa" in a few more weeks.

Building Blocks
With 15 years of experience as a professional videographer, I have definite ideas about using the right tool for the job, and I am keenly aware that the full sized camcorders that I have used in the past were simply not the way to go; especially when one considers that balancing a BetaCam on my shoulder would be very difficult when grabbing those hot "P.O.V." shots of a sexy amateur porn star working my "naughty bits." Digital Video is the way to go, and the new generation of compact "3-chip" camcorders are up to the task.

A brief conversation with the professionals at B&H Photo / Video in New York City helped me settle on the Canon GL-1. I actually was leaning towards the XL-1, but the smaller GL-1 would fit nicely into an underwater housing, letting me take it on my SCUBA diving trips, and shoot steamy shower scenes with confidence. The GL-1 also features a handy LCD view screen, making those P.O.V. shots much easier, and the smaller size means that I will carry it more often than I would the larger XL-1. But that isn't what I wanted to tell you about today:

Taking It To The Streets
You see, in addition to a new camcorder, I needed a hot new laptop computer that would allow me to download video source footage, edit it, rip mpegs, and upload them to the Web, all while operating away from home, and the desktop computing power therein. Being in the need for a bit of post-Thanksgiving dinner exercise, Dawn and I decided to do some shopping at the mall, and the surrounding stores, including that retail wonderland known as CompUSA - which was running a 2-day sale that included (Glory Be!) laptops!

"A fast laptop, nice display, FireWire and CD-burner equipped, please" I responded to the eager salesman who came over to assist us. While I eyed the Apple PowerBook with its amazing "Cinema Display" I really wanted to remain "Bill G's" boy, and after studying the options from Sony, Compaq, and Toshiba, we settled on a decent little Compaq that I was assured was just the thing to satisfy my needs. The $150 I saved "today only," plus the bonus freebies I received, all pleased Dawn, and a swipe of the plastic later, I was on my way home to play with my new toy.

The Moment of Truth
I've played with an endless variety of computer systems since the late '70's, and I am always apprehensive when first booting a new acquisition (especially one that I paid for). After carefully setting up my new laptop, I hit "the happy button" and was greeted to my first experience with Windows XP and the crystal melodies emitting from the JBL Pro speakers on the front of my shiny new computer (with chrome accents!). A moment later, I noticed it: a "big" green dot in the center of my bright blue screen. The display had a lone burnt pixel.

Many people would not notice, many people would not care; me, I would stare at it incessantly over the 3-year lifespan I expected from this machine. I was pissed: a feeling that grew as I noticed the odd, "marbles in a tin can" noise the 20GB hard drive made (even when I left the box up with no programs running on it, and came back to check after dinner, a half-hour later). And what was this? The FireWire port was plugged, and examining the documentation revealed to me that "not all models come equipped" with the item that inspired my purchase in the first place!

To make matters even worse, when I went into the Windows' Control Panel to verify the lack of FireWire support, I discovered that my laptop was running at 700mhz — 400mhz slower than I expected! Grrrrrrrr. I packed the laptop up, and Dawn and I departed for the 100-mile trip back to CompUSA. I was going to ruin someone's day, and make 'em cry.

The "Industry Standard" My Ass!
I walked up to the smiling customer service rep and said to him: "I'm the most unsatisfied customer you will meet today" and recited the aforementioned defects. Upon completion of my litany, the smiling clerk informed me that the drive sound was normal, the speed discrepancy was due to the use of "speed step" technology, and the burnt pixel was really quite acceptable, since the "Industry Standard" was a 3x3 grid of blown pixels — 9, not 1 was the limit at which they would accept a return. Wrong answer.

"Until the 'floor models' all have bad pixels, the television and print ads too, and the screens bear 'Not all pixels may function properly' disclaimers, then you can stick your 'Industry Standard' up your ass! Beyond all that, I need FireWire, which is not on this machine, despite your sales clerk's assertions!" The debate promptly ended, and I received a better, faster machine, FireWire equipped, for the same price I paid for the previous one. Altogether, I saved $300 off the regular store price, and ended up with the right tool for the job at hand.

The moral of this story is that if you pay for something, then you should get your money's worth. This isn't just about me buying a new laptop, it goes beyond to our own business: If you charge admission to your site, whether through an AVS or as a pay site, be sure to deliver what you promise, because we all deserve to get what we pay for! ~ Stephen

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