Friday, February 29, 2008

Choice Cable's scam

At the beginning of this month I finally purchased a new plasma TV, for which I forgo - for a while - buying a regular bed.

There is only one cable company operating here - and on most of the island - Choice Cable - a monopolist, whose bad service and bad attitude towards their clients I already had an "opportunity" to experience, since it provides internet connection to the institute I have been working for.

Yet, I wanted TV, so it was ither the cable monopolist or a satellite antenna, and I did not want to be bothered with an antenna. So I called Choice Cable. To my - nice - surprise - the lady who took my call spoke English (was she in India, perhaps?) , gave me all information I wanted and took my order, quoting prices, in detail, $25 for installation, $ 8 or so for a compulsory box, etc. etc. Then they totalled everything nicely - $114.85 including installation - and told me that an installation guy would come next afternoon, between 1 pm and 5 pm. Ok, I agreed.

Next morning, just as I was in a hurry to back my car out on the road to drive to work, a white van blocked my path. It was an installation guy - not at the time agreed, but half a day earlier. It was not a convenient time for me, but, since "on island time" usually means a delay, often a substantial delay, I let him install the cable right then, after he assured me it would not take long.

He was very friendly and seemed very professional. He also had with him a preprinted installation order, which he took out of his pocket and gave to me when he was ready. The installation took much longer than what he estimated it would: he walked on the house roof, went to check something on the electric pole, back on the roof, etc. etc.

It distracted me sufficiently to have a "blond moment" and a "senior moment" rolled into one: I looked briefly at the content of the statement: all the services promised were there and the total was exactly as quoted. So I signed the paper, gave him a check and forgot all about it.

Until a week ago a cable bill arrived. It acknowledged my payment of $114.85 and demanded another $75 + change. It specified that I paid $99 for installation $ 8 for the box and some fee, but not for the first month of services.

I checked with the sheet I got from the installation guy. Sure enough: it listed services, but only in the first column, not in the billing column. Thus I have - so far - been scammed for $74 difference between quoted installation and the one listed on the billing sheet.

If the installation guy had not arrived with the preprinted - scam - billing sheet, I might have been angry that he failed to tell me that the installation for some reason would cost almost four times as much as I was quoted a day before, but would not suspect it being a premeditade scam by Choice Cable. Bait and switch!

I am going to call them and complain. True, I have no proof of what she quoted me, since I did not record a phone conversation. But I can do a bait and switch on them and catch them trying to scam another customer - recording a conversation. And, of course, blast them here - may be it will help other potential victims of Choice Cable to be better prepared, knowing that they deal with scammers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Of closing and opening doors

(photo by Carina)

Yesterday I read an interesting article in the New York Times .
Of people's angst to close any doors: even if any of the closed doors could be reopened any time without any penalty whatsoever, participants in the study kept jumping to doors that were closing, desite the fact that this behavior incurred a penalty.
Moral: try to review your strategy on keeping your options open and if it does not serve you quite as you imagined it would, perhaps rethink it. And for heavens sake close a few doors if you feel a draft!

Now, as every (?) advisor I do not always follow advice, even my own - not always follow the logic of it, behaving somewhat irrationally, like any (?) human being.

So, before I even closed ONE door (one assignment) completely, I already got involved in evaluating getting involved in THREE new ones!
One of them starting (the on site evaluation phase) next week and one already this weekend.

I thought I was tired ( and I still am).

I thought I wanted more leisure: beach, snorkeling, gardening, jungle excursions, Spanish conversations, gallery hopping ... (and I still do).

But, it seems, I still am - most of all - an incorrigible workoholic ( which, nota bene, supposedly is a strictly masculine trait ...oh, really???).

If I weren't, would an adventure into work - new work - always seem more exciting than an adventure into any kind of leisure??? What do I - subconsciously - have against leisure? May be more exercises into shadow writing would help me be more of a beach bum?

Perhaps it's a bit too drafty here at the moment ;-) Perhaps I should try to refrain from opening new doors indiscriminately ;-)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Last week at this assignment

Two weeks ago I felt sick like a dog (a definitively temporary condition) and - after reading a blog of a couple of "nonworking" new Puerto Ricans - I felt bone tired ( probably a bit less temporary condition) of the working part of my retirement, so I decided to end the working part as soon as possible without harming the organization I work for.
I figured out a way and here I am - my last week of working... for a while.

I am finishing reports, writing a task list and a timeline for whoever will try to fullfil any of my duties.

Last week I had a separation angst, I must admit. Despite being tired, I became increasingly worried knowing that a large part of the plans I made for the organisation would not be executed after my departure, because there is nobody here with either the expertise, experience or even time to to execute them, no matter how detailed task list and timelines I write. But I have originally comitted only to three months here and have remained now for over four. I guess we all like to be needed, sometimes. I do, too, but not to a degree that the knowledge of being needed wold turn me into a slave.

But, since I decided to stay on the island of Puerto Rico - whether working or not - at least for a while longer, I offered as a compromise that I might be available part time ad hoc in a crisis.

That offer satisfied my conscience, but whether it will serve the organization, remains to be seen.
Still ... parting is such a SWEET sorrow...

Ok, break is over - let's go back to reports, task lists and timelines.

Come next monday and all I will have to decide will be whether to take a Spanish lesson first, then go swimming and snorkeling, or may be dig some in the garden, then go to the beach to do some yoga.... you know, a normal, non-working retirees daily dilemmas ;-)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tsunami update

The paseo (ocean promenade) in Aguada is being spruced up. I don't know why now, in the middle of high turist season and not before it, but, I guess, better late than never.

There are small (concrete) pavillions being either built or refurbished, planting cleaned and enhanced, etc. etc. ( I will upload some photos, soon)

But one enhancement is not going to please any of the owners of the for rent oceanfront condos and villas: the signs reminding every passersby that they are in a tsunami danger zone are now prominently displayed along the beach!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cuba libre

- a mixture of rum and Coca Cola with ice and mint - is a favorite drink of Puertoricans - or so I have been told.

If it is also a favorite drink of Cubans, there must have been plenty of them emptied all through last evening and night, judging from the enthusiasm of expat Cubans in Little Havana and other places. No matter that Cuba is likely still far ? (let's hope not) from being anywhere near becoming free.

I have been out on a business social yesterday night, mostly among American expats in Rincon, sipping my own Cuba libre and listening to an animated discussion of the possible effects a free Cuba might have on Puerto Rico: on its turism, investments in turism and investments in general.

The consensus seemed to be that Cuba will quickly leave Puerto Rico in the dust, attracting both investments and turism, since it would have an advantage of a large amount of highly educated and experienced managers and leaders and Cubans with money, who can spearhead Cuba's development very rapidly, while Puerto Rico has a misfortune of being "lead' ("mislead" would be a more correct word, I am afraid) by inept politicians at all levels.

Those of the discussion participants who were heavily invested in Puerto Rico seemed in a particularly dour mood. Those with much less to loose and some capital still in their coffers were - after countless Cuba libres - warming up to the idea of forgoing their planned investments here and waiting for free Cuba. Hmmm

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

You are what you spend????

or more fun with statistics.

I do not know if you - like me - treat statistics - or more exactly their various uses - as entertainment?

No? Well, I think you miss a lot of fun.

I recently found a new example of amusing uses of statistics. This time in a New York Times' article with a provocative? explanatory? challenging? (pick your own interpretation) title" You are what you spend".

Two economist from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas claim that they found a better measurement of financial wellbeing of Americans.

According to them we should not focus our attention on incomes and the raising ( to the level of being outrageous! - that's my opinion, not theirs) income gap between have and have nots.
We need to focus on actual spending plus the size of household .... and the picture immediately becomes a lot brighter. Or does it? Really? Without lying with statistics?

Friday, February 8, 2008

My first electric bill in Puerto Rico

Today I received my first electric bill here... and it is a horror story!

I looked at the amount first $60.25.

Hmm, I thought, seems a bit hig, considering that I do not have a/c, rarely use a fan (sea breeze does the job most of the time at least for now), don't cook and installed my new TV only a week ago. I do shower regularly, though, and do laundry about once a week - both washing and drying.

'Is it normal? ' I asked a couple of coworkers. 'No', they shook their heads 'it seems high'.

So I looked at the bill for more detail. First I noticed "dias de consumo" - 10.

What? I am being charged $60.25 for 10 days of very light electricity use??? It's a highway robbery! My coworkers agreed - a highway robbery. None of them pays so much for a month, much less for 10 days and they assume they use more energy than I do!

So I started to study the bill even more in detail: "compra de energia" - purchase of energy (256 kWh x 0.040909 $/kWh) - $ 10.47 + three different 'cargos' (fees, I presume) at respectively $1, $6.18 and $5.67 and finally 'compra de combustible' $36.93!

What on earth is the 'combustible' I am being charged so much for? And why am being charged for it?

Mysterious - I need to talk to my landlord, who should be able to understand that.

As for the 256 kWh - my guess is that the meter has not been read even before the previous tenants - who left unpaid energy bills for $570 - moved out. My landlord read the meter when I moved in - I did not - my bad. I don't even know where it is. I need to check it now and wait for the second bill to see how much I am actually paying for my own energy use... unless someone somehow gets his energy on my meter, but I have no idea how to check for that - other than, perhaps, turn everything off and check if the meter is running or not. Is that how it is done? Or does someone have a better idea?

Oh, brother, the pleasures of living in a society known for its, hmm, inventiveness (?) in avoiding high costs of living here, especially during recession. But whom might I be involuntarily sponsoring - if I am? Former tenants or a current energy thief?
P.S. My second electric bill was still high, but much more acceptable: $ 84 ( apparently the average of what former tenants were supposed to pay monthly) for 32 days of - still rather light - use. Which means in the first one I must have been charged for some of the previous tenants unpaid electricity use. Oh, well.
And having now lived in Puerto Rico for well over a year, I must add that it was by far the highest electric bill in PR. In my current condo, even when I was using air conditioning during the fall, when it was hot and humid inside, my bills averaged around $50 a month. Electric bills in the mountains were lower still.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shadow writing

Today I have attended a workshop in shadow writing. Shadow writing is basically a Jungian concept, a method to facilite a dialogue between the Ego Consciousness and the Unconscious.

It is also used for its therapeutic effect. At the Ann Wigmore institute, where many people attempt a lifestyle change, shadow writing workshop is a new tool to help people connect to the shadow in their past and another to the shadow? of the future. (I have not yet attended the second part of the workshop, so I am not quite sure what exactly it will be - I only know it will deal with the future. )

Our exercise in shadow writing had us instructed to write from the back of our heads, without stopping, crossing over or putting a pen - or pencil - away, once we started writing. We were to write for 12-15 minutes on a topic "I am from" . Totally relaxed, whatever comes to mind and perhaps we would connect with our shadows. Before we started we heard a few examples of what other people wrote, just to give us some ideas to start. Many were about childhoods or roots in general. When I put a pen to the paper I wrote:

" I am from a burgeois villa in a small town in central Poland. I am from a gestapo prison.
I am from being sheltered from the truth too horrible to know, so I don't really know where I am from.

I am from the victims. I am from the opressors.
I am from the life-loving, rebellious Poles with tons of attitude. I am from logical, disciplined, obedient Germans.

I am from the fighters who were told to surrender facing an overwhelming power and did not obey. I am from the fighters, who were ordered to kill and torture and obeyed without a cry.
I am from contradictions.

I am from a patrician villa filled with remnants of old silver and the best damast linnens, where my grandmother taught me how to eat snails, while using breadcrumbs as a substitute.
I am from a stalinist terror and a poverty too grinding for my grandmother to comprehend, or even acknowledge it. I am from eating breadcrumbs pretending they were snails.
I am from duplicity - from a place and time where I could not repeat outside the house what had been said inside it without putting someone in danger of jail, prison, perhaps more torture.

I am from a sunny garden, from the love of my grandma and grandpa. I am from the absence of my father - he was killed when I was a baby. I am from the absence of my mother - she had to leave me with grandparents to study in a big city far away.

My daughter is from the abscence of her father - I divorced him when she was a baby. She is from the absence of me - I had to emigrate without her... "

Here my time was up, and I don't reallly know where I was going with it... Perhaps to a conclusion that if I had a granddaughter I would hope she would live in a place and time where she could be safe from war, terror, hunger and forced abandonment. I don't know.

The therapeutic effect? I did not feel emotional when I was writing, but I almost choked on tears when I was reading what I wrote to my fellow workshop participants.
And I am perceived as a highly rational, no-nonsense type of person, who is always smiling. :-)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Inflation in Puerto Rico or how to lie with statistics

According to newspaper reports Puerto Rico has now been in a recession for almost 2 years and the threat of recession in the USA ( see, among others the January job loss of 17 000 as a predictor in todays New York Times), in addition to purely domestic factors make a speedy recovery highly unlikely.

The recession is hard to hide: even for a casual observer it is visible in the myriads of "for sale" and "for rent" signs not only all over the island, but also all over such a coveted piece of real estate like Old San Juan, where in January 2007 hardly any of those signs could be spotted, while in November and December of the same year it seemed like the wole old town wanted to be sold or rented.

For a casual newspaper reader it is visible in the reports of an unemployment, which for the island as a whole approaches 14%, while in the two hardest hit districts it is already at an alarming level of en economic depression - close to 25%. Imagine - every fourth able bodied person unemployed! It is also visible in reports of more pharmaceutical companies closing their operations in Puerto Rico and moving them elsewhere - or nowhere.

If you are interested in learning more about the economic situation in Puerto Rico I'd like to send you to Banco Popular's very thorough analysis in its bilingual report Economic Progress/Progreso Economico.

Here I only want to mention one funny attempt by Puerto Rican authorities to hide the level of inflation, that accompanies the recession: They simply changed the shopping basket of goods and services used in calculating the Consumer Price Index, which, in turn, is used to assess the level of inflation.

According to the old shopping basket the inflation in Puerto Rico in 2007 exceeded 15%.

But the government waved its magic wand, changed the shopping basket, and voila, the inflation in Puerto Rico now officially is "only" 6%.

And people think that government bureaucrats lack inventiveness and sense of humor. How unfair!