Netbook vs Smartphone

I believe that a portable computer has utility as a portable only if one is inclined to carry it (and thereby use it), else it is an expensive desktop replacement.

A netbook is supposed to be an ultra low cost computer primarily for Internet activities and as such has minimal specs and is compact and lightweight.

I prefer an iPhone since it is there with me, even if I did not plan to carry a netbook, camera or maps. A netbook needs booting up, is not convenient and looks weird to use while walking, whereas I don’t hesitate to use the iPhone to lookup yellow pages, train timetables or walking/driving directions.

The features a gadget has are important only to a degree, beyond that it is the utility derived from it on an ongoing basis. That is where I find the iPhone to be the most valuable.

Internet Movie Rentals – Part 1

I believe that Internet bandwidth is precious. It need not be conserved as it is not likely to “run out”, but nonetheless used sensibly. It is very liberating to be always connected with no per-minute charges and seemingly unlimited data transfer allowances. It is icing on the cake to have a theoretical 10Mbps or faster connection with burst download speeds of 1MBps.

I did not grow up with all-you-can-eat Internet. I started using the Internet at the age of 25. I initially had UNIX shell account dial-up access, followed by dial-up TCP/IP access the following year. These were charged by the minute for both the phone call to dial in and Internet connection charges. One has to govern oneself in such situations.

It then naturally seems wasteful to me to use the Internet for downloading movies, or worse, renting movies and TV shows for one-time viewing. If you remember (or know) what telex is and how much it used to cost, you will appreciate the value of sending e-mail (and instant messages) at no cost per message, and thereby realize how precious bandwidth is given that legitimate e-mail takes up no appreciable bandwidth. Given the current state of the Internet, I have grown comfortable with using it for VoIP and video netcasts.

Using Internet bandwidth for renting movies routinely and as one’s primary source for TV shows still seems abusive to me. It is much more bandwidth-friendly to rent the same movie at a similar price from the video store on disc, and get better quality especially with Blu-ray disc. If you don’t have a video store nearby or don’t like getting out in the cold (except to the mailbox), renting by postal mail is much cheaper, usually $2.00 each inclusive of postage both ways on a $20.00 per month plan as you can average 10 movies per month. Buying physical copies of movies similarly gets you better quality and a backup disc, so you won’t need to buy that expensive NAS for storing all those downloaded movies. You could also inadvertently exceed your bandwidth limit and end up paying a lot more.

Mac vs PC

This could very well be the answer you have been looking for.

My first experience with Windows 2.0.3 was not a positive one, but I have used every version since Windows 3.0 was introduced in 1990. I even used Windows ME for 15 minutes and Windows Vista for a few days. I had been a professional PC repair technician for several years, troubleshooting Windows-based computers, so I was intimately familiar with PCs and Windows. I had setup and administered Windows NT Server, Windows 2000 Server and Windows-based server software such as mail, web and FTP servers. In essence I have been a long-time user of Windows operating systems.

I started using an Apple Mac Pro in 2007, less than a year after I bought a new Dell PC with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. Why? I realized that I could no longer depend on PCs with Windows. Yes, I mean both the hardware and the software.

The PC hardware had in its latest iteration become more closely tied to Windows-based drivers resulting in non-functional components or non-optimal operation when running other PC operating systems like Linux or PC-BSD which anyway lack the polished graphical interface of the commercial products.

Windows had become more fragile with the Media Center Edition 2005 update tacked on to a Media Center Edition 2002 disc customized by Dell and poor hardware drivers from Intel. Windows architecture wherein all settings are stored in a central registry rather than in individual human-readable preference files, make it inconvenient and time-consuming to reinstall and reconfigure the operating system and applications.

I was already very close to abandoning Windows due to my annoyance with its activation requirements and the nonsensical licensing restrictions. I find it suffocating to depend on Microsoft to get my otherwise working hardware up and running. Then there is the limit on the number of devices that can simultaneously connect to the computer and the requirement for such devices to have a Microsoft license, whereby syncing one’s iPod with iTunes on a Windows PC constitutes a violation of the terms of the license, in my interpretation. I called Microsoft Canada to confirm my understanding and was informed that the onus to interpret and comply with the terms of the license is on me and if my solicitors or I misinterpret it then doing so would be at my own risk. I asked if I could be referred to the legal department to clarify the matter. I was informed that only the specific person in Microsoft’s Redmond, WA, U.S.A. headquarters who drafted the license agreement would be able to interpret it, and such person might not even be working for Microsoft any longer, so I’m on my own.

What was nonetheless holding me back at the time I bought my last PC from Dell, was that Apple is no less high-handed than Microsoft. Apple does not normally sell parts for its Intel-based Mac desktops. I would be dependent on Apple to release parts to me at their discretion and have to needlessly suffer downtime since I could not neither stock nor readily buy parts, and would have to return and pay return shipping for defective parts!

I picked my poison. I decided that I would rather be hardware-constrained by Apple than software-constrained by Microsoft. After all I can go out and buy a new Mac if my Mac fails and I can’t await repairs, transfer the hard disk and be up and running. I would be paying for new hardware only if I suffer a hardware failure. Buying another copy of Windows to be up and running, on the other hand, is not as appealing. First because software is more “personal” than hardware; it is the software that makes the computer personal, second because the software isn’t really broken and third because I would have to reinstall and reconfigure the operating system and applications from scratch.

Real Estate – Part 3 – Conclusion

This is the conclusion of my three-part article on people I have encountered in the real estate business. I continue my discussion with developers, contractors and property managers.

I have come across some of the worst – the notorious breed of builders and developers. They are like car salespeople but mutated beyond the realm of humanity. They have developed (pun intended) the ability to bypass their conscience to amass wealth by unethical and devious means. They have no qualms about making false allegations and malafide claims to extort others while refusing to acknowledge bona fide claims against themselves.

Contractors can be good or bad. They tend to do business on their own terms, usually forsaking business principles. Estimates and quotes mean nothing to micro businesses; one must pay what they ask for regardless of what has been agreed to, for them to ever do any work for you again. They show up to perform service if and when they please. They do not take kindly to being made aware of their contractual obligations.

Property managers expect to be paid something for nothing. They shirk responsibility if anything goes wrong, and it usually does, because they expect a property to be taken care of just by dispatching contractors over the phone, without being on site to supervise. They care more about their relationships with their contractors (their “friends”) than about doing justice to their clients. Of course then, they will pay whatever a contractor asks for because it is not worth losing a contractor over one client account. They do not understand the concept of work being done right the first time, and in a timely fashion.

My operations manager presented a property management firm with a six-page written report of what the agent assigned to the property had done wrong. The owner did nothing except say that it was “water under the bridge” – based on the agent denying ever having received instructions, the purported lack of which led to the misdoings. When reported to the organization whose logo their tout on their advertising as an endorsement of their ethical standards, the organization favoured the “friend”, in this case the member who pays their ongoing sustenance. The report led to harassing phone calls every few minutes from the owner of the property management firm, calling our operations manager a liar and an extortionist, and threatened to reveal privileged information pertaining to the tenants to each and every tenant and sue us for libel, as a means to get us to withdraw the complaint.

Real Estate – Part 2 – Lawyers (Contd.)

This is part two of my experiences with people in the real estate business. I continue with real-life examples of solicitors.

I have always believed that a solicitor should represent the client’s interest vehemently and above all else. I have come across two solicitors who gave precedence to their “friendship” with an involved party over the client’s interest. I would term such “friendship” a “profitable alliance”, as the “friend” is merely a person with whom they expect to have a longer-term, ongoing profitable relationship as opposed to a one-time client.

In the first case, the solicitor who is also a landlord leasing his own property through this broker “friend” of his, wrote to me,

I have an ongoing relationship with [my friend]. I am not prepared to act in any way which adversely affects that long term relationship. Consequently, I am reluctant to act for you with respect to the request which you made regarding [my friend].

This was a simple matter of the “friend” splitting the legal costs with me since we were to equally share the potential settlement funds; and to which arrangement the “friend” had agreed, and that is exactly how it went down, albeit with another solicitor. But what about my time and costs for the other solicitor to review the case from scratch, having to pay legal fees and explain the case all over again? If such are the ethics of a Queen’s Counsel, it corroborates my belief that a rat by any other name is still a rat.

In the second case, I represented the vendor in a sale and purchase transaction that had closed. My solicitor continued forwarding requests when originating from the purchaser as a favour to my broker who in this case was the “friend”, who in turn was doing this on the behest of the purchaser’s broker who was his “friend”. When it came to my single request of my solicitor, to similarly forward my reply to the purchaser in response to their notice of claim, it met with the response,

Your file is closed. I have 300 other clients to take care of now.

I say if you have 300 or 800 or “whatever the magic number of the day is” clients and my file is closed, why is your valve still open in one direction?

One of my not-too-bitter experiences was with a solicitor who gave precedence to his image over the client’s interest. He did not want to argue my case to an extent that might lower his esteem in the eyes of a judge as he apparently banks on their favour.

Then there are the rude ones, who believe that they are entitled to any amount of money and treat their clients or prospective clients like dirt, because they foster the fallacious belief that they offer superior representation and clients are inferior beings. I once asked a solicitor of a prominent law firm if he would be willing to cap his fee. His response was that there are lawyers out there who would be willing to cap the fee if I am looking to cheap out, but if I want a good defense the fee would be whatever it takes, with a minimum $5,000 retainer and tens of thousands of dollars in trial.

Do these lawyers think we are stupid enough to pay them that much, that too in a civil matter which could be settled (with no risk of an appeal) for much less? They don’t tell you that, because they profit more from a trial.

To be continued…

Real Estate – Part 1 – Introduction

I recently retired from the commercial real estate rental business. It was a disillusioning experience at best. In this three-part article I categorically describe the kinds of people I came across. Let’s start with legal counsel.

Lawyers are usually deal breakers, as are lease coaches. If a client wishes to proceed with an agreement to lease, one would think their counsel would encourage them to disregard minor issues in the greater interest. Not so, because most lawyers and lease coaches only care about making themselves look good, to demonstrate how hard they are working for their client’s dollar by needlessly splitting hairs and nit picking on wordings. Who gains from the fighting? Only legal counsel. It is an entirely different matter if a client regrets having entered into an agreement, because then their counsel would deem it to be an appropriate course of action to find every loophole to get out of the agreement – not that it is ethical, but at least it is in the client’s interest.

Solicitors usually want a slice of the pie in any purchase or sale transaction. Why else would they ask what the value of the transaction is when quoting a fee? Their excuse is that they have to be that much more diligent in a larger transaction. Why would they be less diligent in a smaller transaction? For litigation, solicitors repeat themselves often and whet all correspondence to protect themselves, thus racking up billable hours. They even bill you if they misunderstand the facts, whereby you have to explain the case to them all over again – admitting to a mistake would not be profitable, both in terms of saving face, their job and billable hours.

They are all out to make money. However it gets worse when your solicitor has other interests that take precedence over representing you, that too on your dime.

To be continued…

Profit

Society is increasingly litigious. This comes from believing that another person owes one for whatever reason, and the only way to get what is owed is to be aggressive and snatch it away from that person, rather than ask nicely. The belief itself might be unsubstantiated, let alone the unscrupulous means deployed to get what is supposedly owed.

Contrary to popular belief, a store does not owe a refund or even an exchange for merchandise that one decides to return, unless it is part of the conditions of sale. Just because a store extends a courtesy, it does not make it one’s right in the defense of which one should get obnoxious and argumentative in order to snatch what is not rightfully owed.

People are accustomed to demanding what they consider to be their right, such as their expectations of another person’s duty and obligation to them, while paying no heed to their own duties and obligations to others, because doing so would not be profitable.

So it all comes down to profit. Society has forsaken morals and humanity for profit. How can one expect to lead a fulfilled life while constantly fighting over money through disputes, claims and lawsuits and have no time to live every moment to the fullest?

Good Tenant

A good tenant is far more than a person who pays the rent in full and on time. She is first a good person, and the rent, even if received a week late does not in my books make her a bad tenant.

I have been a landlord or been in a landlord-like position owning commercial real estate for twenty years amongst different cultures. The most important quality I look for in a tenant (and in people in general) is honesty.

Top 5 Tips for Tenants:

1. Be honest – be it admitting being wrong or being a person of your word.

2. Follow the rules — Comply with the landlord’s directions and protocol with respect to tenants and observe due dates. Don’t consider yourself exempt or special — you are not doing the landlord a favour by being a tenant. Willful non-observance will not win you the landlord’s respect.

3. Don’t place undue strain on the landlord’s resources.

4. Be nice and courteous.

5. Focus on your business (part of which is keeping your tenancy in good standing), not on the landlord’s business. Resist doing a financial analysis and trying to micro-manage the operations of the property where you are a tenant.

Most of the advice here are examples of these tips applied to various day-to-day situations.

If your cheque is returned unpaid for whatever reason, first of all apologize and offer to deliver a certified cheque or cashier’s cheque for the rent amount plus cheque return charges due to the landlord within the hour. You may go further and offer to deposit the cheque in the landlord’s bank account. If you ask nicely, you might have the cheque return handling fee reduced from, say $25 to $10 for running the errand to the landlord’s bank, which difference could cover the cheque certification or cashier’s cheque charges.

If you can’t make the rent on the due date, talk to your landlord ahead of time, not on rent day itself. Don’t flirt with him. Apologize for not being able to make the rent on time and ask if you could either issue a post-dated cheque for the date you would have the funds or a current-dated cheque that he could hold until such date. Don’t let the cheque bounce on the promised date.

If you are billed for extraordinary charges that could reasonably be attributed to your tenancy, admit the usage, mistake or negligence and pay the bill by the due date. If you honestly have no clue, review the description in the invoice and consider if unbeknownst to you it could be due to an errant employee, customer, visitor or contractor that you are responsible for. If you are confident beyond all reasonable doubt that you were billed in error and have built your reputation for honesty, discuss the matter with the landlord. Don’t engage the landlord in an unending debate, get offensive, be a nuisance or accuse the landlord of writing nasty letters if you ever hope to get a break.

Don’t complain needlessly. Busted light bulbs might not be the responsibility of the landlord. If your business is open at midnight, even if late hours are customary for your business, you cannot reasonably expect air-conditioning repairs to be carried out outside the stipulated business hours of the property at which you are a tenant. Service might not be available or be billed at higher rates after-hours and on weekends, which would translate to higher occupancy costs where applicable. If it can wait until the next business morning, don’t complain at closing time or on weekends.

You don’t have to quote clauses from the lease or bring lawyers in matters that don’t require them. If your landlord asks you to provide a post-dated cheque and it does not affect you in any way since the money would ultimately be debited to your account on the stipulated day either way, don’t respond with, “You should talk to your lawyer, I read the lease after you called and it does not say I have to do that”. That’s a sure-fire recipe for the landlord to deal with you strictly per the terms of the lease going forward rather than extend mercy. If you would rather not oblige, be honest without being nasty. If asked to clean up after yourself, consider it common courtesy, not something you need to run to the lease to in order to cop out of your responsibility.

The landlord is a service provider like any other. You agree to pay a sum of money over a period of time for the right of usage, like a cell phone contract. Incentives like rent-free months, improvement allowances and discounts provided by the landlord are like getting a free or subsidized cell phone at the onset, on the premise that you will fulfill your obligations under such contract. If you don’t anticipate being able to make the rent comfortably, don’t rent. If you do rent, don’t complain about how all your money goes to pay off the landlord’s mortgage. If you can’t continue paying the rent, you might be able to either pay a lump sum amount to prematurely terminate the lease by mutual consent or find a suitable tenant to take over from you, if you discuss the matter with the landlord.

Honour the terms of your lease for the sake of morality over the fact that it is a legally binding agreement.

Web Design

There was a time Netscape Navigator (Netscape) and Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) were the two dominant web browsers. There were alternate sets of web pages customised to each browser’s specific features and rendering, with a script on the home page to detect the web browser being used and re–direct the user to the browser–specific set of pages.

These big two web browsers added support for features such as frames and tables at different times during their development, and even common features such as table–backgrounds rendered differently in each web browser.  Then there were features such as marquees and ActiveX controls that were specific to IE on Windows.

I used to design two sets of web pages so as to display correctly in at least the Netscape and Microsoft web browsers.

I remember designing for IE initially, because ActiveX had many samples to cut and paste, and the results looked fabulous at that time. I had a single root page at my web site which displayed IE–specific content. I later realised that most of my traffic at that time was from Netscape browsers. I modified the root page using “faulty” HTML code, such that Netscape couldn’t interpret the frames and displayed the no frames version with Java applets, but IE interpreted the frames and displayed IE–specific content with ActiveX controls, table enhancements etc. Then along came the IE 4.0 beta release, at which point the bugs in my pages became apparent — IE4 failed to interpret the frames and I had to modify my “faulty” HTML code which had done the trick all along. With the modified HTML, the frames version came up in both web browsers.

That led me to create alternate web pages implementing IE–specific enhancements. Visitors then had to explicitly click on the link to the IE 3.0/4.0 enhanced page from the page that came up initially. This default page displayed properly in both web browsers since it used only Java applets that were common to both web browsers. I chose to make this web page the default, rather than the IE–enhanced page, for obvious reasons.

I then started losing faith in ActiveX. In retrospect I was right. I joined in the ranks of believers in Java. Microsoft had a proprietary JScript as against JavaScript and its VBScript and Visual Basic are Windows–specific. This cross–platform thing hit me as an afterthought, after all the development efforts with ActiveX — but its worth it because VBScript took away my fear of scripting, and implementing ActiveX controls paved the way for Java applets.

Further, what I keep thinking is that given my attitude, if ever I had to develop in parallel for two browsers, I would have given more attention to one browser over the other based on personal preference, to the extent of developing a lesser web page for the one I did not support. Which is true, I did ignore Netscape/Java totally until I saw which of the two sets of pages recorded more hits.

Developing for IE paid off in the form of alternate pages which were in no way less attractive than the default Netscape pages, and that had me thrilled. Visitors would be equally impressed, irrespective of their web browser. Had I adopted Netscape earlier, I would never have had the motivation to develop for IE, and thus my development would not have yielded me these results. I had two sets of great looking web pages, both developed with equal zest and passion, which is totally unexpected of me.

Now that both the Netscape and Microsoft products have almost identical features, it is really a waste developing two sets of web pages, except that Netscape still does not support ActiveX controls except via a plug-in (that is not free) and Dynamic HTML — unless one is keen on Dynamic HTML. There are Javascript and Java equivalents of ActiveX bells and whistles, so that’s totally avoidable.

To some extent even today, web sites have pages which are specific to IE.

O Beloved

You are someone unseen, unknown
Yet you are always on my mind
You may be afar
But you are very close to my heart
I sleep with your dreams
I rise in your thoughts
Wherever I look I see you smile
I may be alone or in company
I think of you, your thought makes me lonely
Emerge from these beautiful thoughts
This wonderful and romantic night
’Cause I am lonely
Seeking your love only
Every evening your veil covers
My eyes filled with your dreams
Every night your bangles sing to me
Let there be no barriers between you and me
Emotions have stirred my heart
Whispering to me
Is it she?
Now again your thoughts have come to me
Again the flame of love is burning bright
Tell the world not to block the path of love
Say to me that you are my love
And have come to stay in my home and heart
I am incomplete without you
So come and make me complete
For you are the better half of me