Misadventures in phone purchasing

May 26

I have unusual cell phone buying habits for an American. I prefer to buy phones up front, unbranded, from third-party retailers for minimal pre-installed crap. No contract obligations, no “pay it off over your next several bills”, I just get a phone, slap a SIM card in it, and I’m good.

This is partly because my last few phones have been what I call “obscure hipster phones” — little-known models you can’t generally get at your local carrier store. If you go to the Nokia Live theater, they have a display of Nokia phones throughout the years … and not a single one of the Nokias I’ve owned are in the list*.

But as much as I love Nokias, it gets a little tiresome having obscure phones. And since Nokia threw the N9 under the bus in favor of the Windows Lumias, I was faced with a choice between sticking with Nokia and submitting to their hasty change to Windows, or getting an even more obscure hipster phone called Jolla. After much research, I decided to go for option C: get a phone with a widely-supported OS that hasn’t been abandoned by the manufacturer. Namely, the Nexus 4.

I knew T-mobile was selling the Nexus 4, so I called my local store to see if they had some in stock — they did. As soon as I walked in, the customer service guy asked me if I was the person who’d called, and went to grab a 16GB phone from the back. I asked if it was branded and filled with pre-loaded crap. “Nope, this is straight from Google.” Awesome. Then I asked the price. “It’s $49 up front, plus $17 off your next –” No no, how much if I pay for the whole thing right now? “$457”. Does that include tax and fees and whatnot? “Nope.”

… wat. $457? When pretty much everyone who wants a Nexus knows you can get it from Google for a hundred bucks less??

Now, I was willing to pay a markup for the convenience of having the phone right now, instead of having it shipped. And I like giving my money to local shops so at least a little of the money might stay in my community. But I am not paying a whole extra hundred bucks on a $350 phone for no reason.

And just like that, T-mobile lost the easiest sale they would’ve had all month. I knew what I wanted, I was ready to pay for the whole thing right there, they didn’t have to sell me on it or anything. But instead of getting their markup, they got $0**. Good job, beancounters.

Happened to be at Fry’s a little later, and checked their phone racks. If I read their crappy signage right (and let’s face it, at Fry’s that’s a big if) they were selling it for $550. Two hundred dollars over Google’s widely-advertised price. Even Newegg has a $100 markup on it. The cheapest price I found was some random retailer on Amazon — and if I’m looking at Amazon, I might as well buy from Google anyway since I’m not gonna save shipping time.

So in the end, Google got my money. I know situations like mine are rare, and most Americans have no idea of the real cost of their smartphones. But really? Nobody’s even gonna come close to Google’s price? There’s gotta be some weird kind of reseller agreement or something going on, because that’s just straight up weird.

And just for a little icing on the nerd cake, when trying to purchase the phone I found a bug in the Google Play store’s Wallet integration. Because when you do QA for a living, bugs come out of the woodwork at a moment’s notice. I’m like the pied piper of crappy code.

* The E71, N900, and N9.
** Well, besides the money they get from me every month anyway.

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“I think there was something funny in that potato I ate …”

Nov 12

By popular request, and by popular I mean the two people who responded to me on Twitter, here’s a post about the tabletop rpg I’m part of. Better known as #rpgfuckyeah, in our caffeine-fueled midgame tweets.

It’s set in the retro post-apocalyptic world of the Fallout video games, with atmosphere provided by papercraft and an iTunes playlist of period music and radio transmissions (awesomely voice-acted by some Pendant folk). Instead of meeting a mysterious person in a tavern, our little band of adventurers was chosen by (possibly rigged) lots to leave the safety of our vault to find a new supply of food. That’s kind of faded into Macguffin territory during the rest of our exploits.

During the first session we nicknamed our group the League of Extraordinary Assholes, because we discovered that all of us had treated Charisma as a dump stat. The most charismatic member of the group has a completely-average Charisma of 5 out of 10. She’s also the one who started our first fight by telling a guy “I’m going to stab you in the face” and attempting to make good on it.

You can almost hear the hamster wheels.This hasty sketch blatantly traced over a picture of Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove is my character, Joe. Joe is not the brains of the operation. His Intelligence score is 3 out of 10. I’m not a big minmaxer but I threw most of his points into areas that would make him very good at being a giant stupid wall of muscle. In my head he’s voiced by Patrick Warburton (another hint of Kronk), and his height/weight are based on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

So far Joe’s strengths are:

  • knocking on doors and yelling “HELLO?”
  • axeing questions (see cuz he has an axe …)
  • being the height of fashion by wearing the pelt of a dead super cat and a baseball cap he pulled out of the stomach of a scorpion
  • sneaking up to a sleeping guy and then completely failing to cut his head off with an axe, chopping into his own leg in the process
  • standing around looking pretty while other people kill stuff from very far away
  • ingesting every drug we could scrape together to become Super Joe
  • acquiring a devoted ladyfriend

He has a wooden plank with a map scratched onto it by a helpful wandering salesperson. When I update it with in-character knowledge, I write with my left hand and spell stuff the way Joe would. What can I say, I have a little method actor in me.

Playing Joe is fun, although it can be a little challenging. I love playing against type, and it’s great doing stuff in the game I’d never be able to do in real life. If I could Do Voices I’d totally have one for Joe. At the same time, the conflict between my ideas as a player and his ideas as a complete idiot makes it a little hard to get any strategery going on. I come up with all kinds of ideas that Joe would never think of. Sometimes I can reframe them into ideas he would have (“I can’t remember all these places! Can you draw a picture on this plank?”) and sometimes I can just blab it out and let someone else’s character have the idea.

As the squishy pewpew folk in the group have gotten better at pewpewing and acquired better guns, Joe’s job as The Meatshield has gotten a little slow. Maybe it’s about time he considered a career change. I wonder if Radio Wasteland DJ Johnny Franks is hiring …

If’n you wanna see the things we put our poor DM through, synopses are here.

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