Friday, November 18, 2016

Boo On These Bad Websites and Marketing Emails

I defend my email inbox fervently.  I started doing this when I realized how much time I was spending by reviewing and deleting marketing emails that were useless or unwanted.

I have completely filtered out a very few people and companies that refuse to honor proper email etiquette.  However, I don't like filtering out emails completely.  I won't see important emails relating to my services or account, for instance.  It's a nuclear solution that I would prefer not to  use.  Companies should realize this and respect customers' requests, and send only emails that really are important. 

Companies should spend make sure that their emails don't annoy their customers -- obviously, if a customer gets an email and wishes to unsubscribe, it should be easy, not hard.  Below are some marketing emails that I've received in the past month that illustrate BAD email practices.  Shame on these companies.

First up are the banks with which I have a relationship.  I have unsubscribed out of all their useless, time-wasting emails --  yet I am still get them.  These are not important emails, yet the banks and companies send them regardless of my email preferences, stating that these are important communications.  Really?

Here's an example from Comcast.  Their excuse in sending me this unwanted email (I've unsubscribed from all marketing emails from them) is that "This is a service-related email. Comcast will occasionally send you service-related emails to inform you of service upgrades or new benefits. " There's no way to unsubscribe from this email.  It supposedly is a "service upgrade or new benefit."

Frankly, that's bullshit.  This is a marketing email that is not of importance to their customers, and it wastes their time.  Comcast is disregarding their customer's preferences and blasting out this email hoping to make their customers sign up for electronic statements.  This email is solely to save Comcast money, so they don't have to send you paper bills.  It's deceptive -- they call it "Eco-billing" trying to make it sound environmentally friendly.  Shame on you, Comcast.  Not only are you sending me emails despite my requesting to not be bothered by your marketing emails -- but you are exploiting an environmental message to further your own agenda.

Another mistake that companies make is not realizing that customers often have multiple email addresses, some of which are aliases.  For example, one diving company keeps sending emails to one of my email addresses, which is an alias.  I can't log on and unsubscribe using that email address -- it exists purely to forward emails to another email address.  Therefore, when this diving company sends me its breathless marketing emails, and I try to unsubscribe -- I can't.  This diving company sent emails to four or five of the emails that I have or had in the past (and which forward to my main email address these days).  I had to go onto the web, use a browser (normally I use Thunderbird, an excellent email program), log into five email accounts, unsubscribe from there (so the diving company sees that the unsubscribe email is coming from the right place), and then log out.  Very annoying.  Most companies who hire professionals to do their marketing allow me to unsubscribe with just one click.

I got this email today, perhaps one of the worst examples of a bad email.  I had to filter emails from this company out completely, because I am absolutely unable to unsubscribe. The email I received had an "unsubscribe" button, but when I clicked on it, I was taken to the company's home page, which required me to log in!  I have no account with this company -- I had simply hired a painter, who then used this company to send me these incredibly annoying emails.

BAD Thumbtack! 

How is a customer supposed to be able to unsubscribe?  You provided the "unsubscribe" link in your email, but it doesn't do anything!

Add caption
Clicking on "Unsubscribe" in the above email took me to the Thumbtack login page -- not a page telling me that I had been unsubscribed.  I have no choice to unsubscribe whatsoever. 


As a last example, Hyatt kept sending me marketing emails.  I went to my email preferences three times to unsubscribe from all emails from Hyatt, and each time, Hyatt  would send me another marketing email the next week.  It was ridiculous.  I finally wrote them to complain.  

They wrote back.  I'm glad that they wrote back, but their answer and behavior sure shows that they just "don't get it."  

Here's what they wrote: 
We understand the inconvenience caused over the recent e-mails that have been sent. You may opt out from promotional information e-mails from Hyatt and for your convenience we have already deactivated the option of receiving promotional emails on your Gold Passport account number G51086042J. However, since we are undergoing program changes, we would like to communicate the changes to our members so that they are aware about it and can reap maximum benefits of the program.

So, I took the trouble to unsubscribe from their marketing emails (I was getting two or three per week, way too many emails!).  Looking back, I got Hyatt emails November 1, 3, and 7 -- far too many.  

The reason Hyatt feels that they can ignore my email preferences and continue to blast me with emails is given above: "since we are undergoing program changes, we would like to communicate the changes to our members so that they are aware about it and can reap maximum benefits of the program."  Ridiculous.  If a customer unsubscribes from your spam emails -- leave him or her alone! 

Here are just a few of the emails sent to me by Hyatt in the past two weeks.  
 I received this on November 7:


And this one on November 3...

And this one on November 1: 

Hey Hyatt -- your marketing department is sending out way too many emails, and not honoring unsubscribe requests!   

Oh, I almost forgot the best part of my Hyatt experience.  After deluging me with emails to the point where I had to write to complain, they sent me a final message (before I filtered them), asking me to fill out a survey!  Hyatt just does not get it.  


I am not a rabid anti-email person.  I like getting, and I request, marketing emails from companies that truly respect my privacy and respect email etiquette.  These companies show their respect for email etiquette by their actions, not just their words. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Miscellaneous Thoughts, Tips, and Recommendations:

First, some humor:
Things that don't make sense (WTF?):
a.  Pandora seems like the most annoying music service ever dreamed up  Because it is not allowed to play a song that is specifically requested, it will play every song EXCEPT the one you want to hear.  WTF? 

b.  I have a friend named Tom.  He is a brilliant guy, who earned a PhD in linguistics, knows all kinds of computer stuff, and has osme of the least common sense that I know.  One of the things that he bragged about, the last time I saw him, was that he was one of the first people to sign up for  As a result, they gave him a free lifetime membership.  Hey -- does this not show little faith in your product?  WTF? 

c.  If you call a restaurant and order take-out, then you pay once you get there and your food is ready.  Why, then, are you forced to pay in advance if you order takeout at a restaurant in person?  This puts the customer at a real disadvantage.  The restaurant can take all the time it wants, because it already has the customer's money.  I've had this happen to me several times now.  I've ordered takeout in person at a restaurant, been forced to pay upfront, and then sat around for 40 minutes waiting for the food that was promised in 20 minutes.  Now, if I am in this situation, I sit in my car or call from the sidewalk outside the restaurant, and order using my phone.  It solves the problem.  If the order takes too long, I can always leave.  I've never had to do this, but I also don't see why I should have to pay upfront when ordering in person.  

1.  Ship USPS First Class with Tracking:
Let's say you wish to ship something via USPS First Class Mail (which is a great service!).  As an individual, you can't get tracking of First Class Mail packages by going to the post office or putting stamps on the package.  You also can't ship packages over 13 ounces via First Class Mail. 

If you use Paypal, however, you can send packages up to 15 oz via First Class Mail, and those packages provide tracking.  I love shipping packages using USPS since I just put the package in my mailbox. 

Here's a link to use to ship USPS using Paypal, even for non-Ebay transactions:

2.  Buying replacement bulbs for old flashlights, and saving 10,000%! 
I have an old underwater flashlight that I now use for getting my dogs out of the backyard at night, and the bulb blew out.  Here's what the user guide said:

"In an emergency, use a common PR-size bulb approximating 10V in place of the high-intensitybulb #0042.58.  Any standard PR base bulb for batteries can be used." 

Online, the replacement bulb for the light was over $11 plus shipping.  That was far more than I wanted to pay for an old flashlight to be repaired. 

I went to Bulbtown online and called them.  Here's what I learned. 

The "standard PR base bulb" was the very common P13.5S base (flange is 13.5mm).  Bulbtown has videos for their PR bulbs showing the measurements which are useful and easy to understand. 

Bulbtown had various PR-type bulbs.  They all had the same physical dimensions, but they differed in their voltage rating. 

I ordered the following bulbs, all of which were about 10 cents each:

PR16: rated at 12.5volts.  Bulbtown stated that this would be a bit dim. 
PR20: rated at 8.63V.  Bulbtown stated that this would be brighter.  The customer service representative there stated that it is fine to have 8-C cells (12V) powering a bulb rated 8.63V. 

The rep recommended Krypton bulbs for my flashlight.  I ordered:
KPR12 - 12V
KPR18 - 7.2V

When I got the bulbs, I put the halogen PR20 in the flashlight, and it worked fine.  I have not tried the others. 

I hope that this post saves you some money the next time you need to replace a bulb in a flashlight.  Ten cents for a bulb!  Shipping did add $8, and I was disappointed in how long it took Bulbtown to get the items to me.  They waited a week for some reason, then blamed a hurricane for the second week that it took to get to me.  I looked up the timeline, however, and they had my order for a full week before the hurricane hit.  The order ended up taking about 20 days to reach me from the time I placed the order. 

3.  Tower Inflatable Standup Paddleboards are AWESOME: 
I love my Tower inflatable standup paddleboard.  It weighs only about 30 pounds and is very heavy duty.  It's made from material that is similar to what is used in inflatable boats.  I have an Avon inflatable boat in my garage that is over 30 years old, and it still works fine. I used it for diving in the mid and late 1980s around Monterey, San Diego, and in Baja -- and the material is just fine.  The paddleboard should be around for a long time also. 

I liked the first Tower so much that I bought a second one.  Here's a link to what I bought:

Tower Paddle Boards Adventurer Inflatable 9'10" SUP Package
Price is $699 on the Tower site, but less on Amazon. 

Tower's customer support is awesome.  I took my paddleboards to camp at a river with low water levels, joining some old friends with kids.  They all had plastic kayaks, which weighed much more and took two people to carry.  My Tower SUP was much lighter, by contrast, and made it down most of the river, even in water less than six inches deep.  I did take out the back fin, and the SUP did get stuck in some very shallow areas where the kayaks were able to float past. 

I (well, my friend Doug) had to hack through a metal screw fitting that held the back fin in place on the paddleboard.  I ended up misplacing the back fin, and I needed a new fin screw also.  I wrote Tower, described the situation -- and they generously sent me a new back fin and screw.  The new screw is plastic, so it won't corrode like the old metal one.  I am a happy camper and a fan of Tower Paddle Boards

Moose, our chocolate lab, likes the SUP particularly well and could hardly be persuaded to get off -- even with the temptation of a thrown tennis ball, which normally gets him to do ANYTHING. 

Oh, I almost forgot the most important point to this post.  The great thing about the Tower SUPs is that you can deflate them for travel, and inflate them once you get to your destination.  Tower supplies a hand pump, but I would discourage anyone from using the hand pump to inflate a SUP.  I tried using their hand pump to pump up a Tower SUP in my basement, over a period of several days.  It was exhausting, and I never got there.  I had to give up!

I then did quite a bit of research.  The first thing to know is that a $15 foot pump from Target or Walmart will NOT do the job.  These pumps are designed to inflate plastic inner tubes and other toys, to about 2 pounds per square inch (psi).  Tower SUPs need to be inflated so that they are very rigid, which is a bit over 10 psi. 

Most consumer hand and foot pumps, and electrical pumps, are designed to fill up toys to about 2 psi max (plastic Intex inner tubes, air mattresses, etc).  I went to West Marine and bought a professional foot pump that is used to pump up inflatable boats.  This pump works great; it takes about five minutes to pump up a Tower SUP to rigidity.  It cost about $70. 

There were some electrical pumps that might work -- but NOT the Coleman ones from Target.  Any pump must be able to pump up to 10 psi. 

Here are some pumps I found that will likely work to inflate a Tower SUP.  I have only tried the foot pump:

WEST MARINE: Bravo Foot Pumps: I believe that I bought the heavy-duty one for $69.  The PSI rating of these pumps is not in the specifications on the website, unfortunately -- but I did get mine from West Marine, and it is yellow and gray -- and works great.

Sevylor 12 Volt 15 PSI SUP and Water Sport Pump:
The listing states: High-pressure pump inflates up to 15 psi for rigid SUP boards

There's an adapter that allows the use of portable air compressors that can go to very high PSIs, as much as 150 psi.  I use one of these portable air compressors to pump up my car tires.  This adapter valve allows one of these pumps to fill your SUP.   However, I imagine that you have to be super careful to watch that you don't overinflate your SUP, and I also imagine that these portable air compressors won't put out enough air and may overheat before the job is done. 

Slingshot SUP High Pressure Inflator Valve: about $25

Here's a good post on pumps for SUPs:

4.  Tip on Charging a Garmin Using a Car Charger and Regular USB Cable Rather Than the Official Garmin Charger: 
 If you have a Garmin nuvi (car navigation unit) and have tried to charge it with a standard mini USB cable, it may not work.  I tried this a few times in my car with a car charger, and at my office off a wall charger.  The Garmin would go into a "connected to computer" mode and would not go into its regular driving mode.  I discovered that the charger must put out 2 amps -- the same as a charger for an iPad.  Most car and wall chargers put out only 500 milliamps, not enough.  Find a USB charger that puts out 2A, and this will charge the Garmin as well as let it operate normally while charging. 

5. is a great site to get a newspaper or magazine subscription:
I have always had trouble trying to figure out how to do things related to my Wall Street Journal subscription.  Their account website is horrific, terrible, impossible to use. 

I gave up in frustration and subscribed (getting a great deal in the process) at

This website and their customer service is awesome!  They offer subscriptions to all kinds of magazines and newspapers, and give great deals.  Most subscriptions are for the general public. 

When we went on vacation in July, we simply called studentmags, spoke to a nice,  helpful customer service representative, and VOILA!  she was able to look up our WSJ account number and suspend delivery while we were on vacation.  She even extended our subscription for the days that we were gone.  That's the kind of customer service that is rare to find these days.  www.studentmags is AWESOME! 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Payment Services: Paypal Sucks, Square is Getting Better

Paypal sucks.  I have written about this before, but I have had two new experiences that have made me try to find other ways to transfer money and accept payments from customers.  There are few alternatives to Paypal out there.  There's also a lot of misinformation out there.  In the results from a Google search, most posts about competing payment services are outdated. 

So here's my big tip for the day: if you are a seller of goods or services, or have a need to collect a payment from someone -- try Square.  I've been using Square for a few years now, and they've been great. 
Square has a new feature so those of us who run small or home offices can collect money without having to ask for credit card information.  In the past, this was a problem.  If you were like me, you had clients all over the world that would like to pay you using a credit card.  Paypal would not work for them for many reasons (plus, Paypal really, really sucks  -- read below and in my previous blog post).  If you used Square, then you had to ask for the client's credit card information, address, and other information -- then pull out your iPad or iPhone, and laboriously enter the information in the Square app on your iPhone.  The app was confusing.  The clients did not feel comfortable giving out their credit card numbers.  I generally only used Square a couple of times per year. 

Square has improved greatly.  I recently sold a lens to a photographer in Washington DC.  She told me to send her an invoice -- using Square.  I researched how to do this, and discovered that I could create an invoice using Square using my desktop browser.  Finally, I could use my Mac rather than my iPad!  I sent her an invoice from Square to her email address, and that was it!  I did not need to get her credit card information, or even her physical address (but of course I did ship her lens to her address).  She paid the invoice to Square, and Square put the cash (minus their 2.9% plus 30 cent fee) in my bank account the next business day.  Wow -- simple, efficient, and awesome.  Kudos to Square!

When Paypal hosed me recently, I spent hours researching other payment services.  I even tried Google Wallet.  In short, do not waste your time on other services, other than Square!  Paypal is the only established peer-to-peer payment service out there these days, unfortunately.  It's the only established player in this space, and people feel comfortable with it.  As one website writes:  There’s not a single payment service out there that offers the international reach, merchant services and overall ease that PayPal does.

Here's what I discovered:

Venmo: I signed up for an account, and then I discovered that Paypal has bought Venmo.  One down.  I am trying to find an alternative to Paypal!

Amazon Payments: It appears that this service is no longer is a peer-to-peer service. I believe that this is set up so folks selling on Amazon can set this up to accept payments on their websites.  It is not the right peer-to-peer funds transfer service that I was looking for. 

Google Checkout:
from the web: Google Checkout was discontinued on November 20, 2013.  The company offers a new solution for certain payments called Google Wallet.

Google Payments: was there even a Google Payments, or is that a figment of my imagination?  There must be, since Google's emails to me (see below) mention Google Payments several times.  Yet, doing a Google Search today (October 23, 2016), I can't find a single mention of Google Payments.  It's eerie to think that something like Google Payments can be just wiped out by Google. 

Google Wallet: I signed up for an account with Google Wallet.  Google Wallet used to be part of Android Pay, but now it's different.  Here's what said about it:
"...The slimmed-down Android app (Google Wallet) is now more focused on mobile payments between individuals rather than businesses. In other words, it's a direct competitor to our Editors' Choice Venmo. It works, but it's a shame Google Wallet had to strip out so many features to find its current focus."

Here are some notes I collected about Google Wallet:
"Send money to anyone in the US using an email address or phone number. It's fast, easy, and free to send directly from your debit card, bank account, or Wallet Balance. You can do all this in the Google Wallet app, or, if you’re on desktop, you can also send and request money in Gmail.

"When you receive money, you can quickly cash out to your bank account using your debit card, and get access to your money within minutes.

"You can send money to or request money from anyone in the US with an email address or phone number through the Google Wallet app, on Gmail, or at"

I personally found all of Google's choices confusing. Google Checkout?  Gone.  Google Payments?  Wiped out without a trace.  Google Wallet is indeed still around (and I tried it, leading to the type of corporate snafu that I try to avoid assiduously).  It apparently has gone through several remakes; Android Pay was spun off from Google Wallet.  Whatever. 

I found that Google Wallet was not a very good service, to say the least.  Their representatives gave me misinformation, and the process was handled poorly.  I give more details below. 

Paypal Really, Really Sucks: 
Before we get to Google Payments or Wallet or Checkout or whatever -- I would like to offer some more experiences (all bad) on Paypal.  In short, Paypal really, really sucks.  I wrote about them in a previous blog post, but these are new discoveries of how bad Paypal sucks. 

First, anyone who is concerned about computer security should use a VPN on open Wi-Fi networks.  I use Torguard's VPN and discuss it in a separate post.  It's very easy to set up.  I signed up to Torguard (it costs $60 per year but is often discounted), downloaded their VPN software, and open their app when I need to.  That app routes all my data through one of their servers.  Your data should be encrypted as it goes through their servers from your laptop, and it is thus supposedly protected from prying eyes that may have hacked an open Wi-Fi network like Starbucks or an airport. 

Obviously, if using a public wifi hotspot, I'd want to access my Paypal account through a VPN, for the best security.  Why in the hell would Paypal not allow this? 

I logged into Paypal from an airport, through my VPN network, and Paypal would not let me enter my account.  They later froze my account and would not let me transfer funds in or out until I supplied identifying information.  I was out of the country for a month and had no access to the funds in my account.  When I returned, I tried verifying my information, and it was impossible to do -- Paypal refused to accept my phone number and would not believe that I was the owner of the account.  I gave up -- the last thing I want to do is talk to Paypal's useless customer service people.  The account was a secondary, personal account so I only had about $60 in there.  After several months, Paypal sent me a message saying essentially that I could no longer use the account, but I could transfer the funds out of there.  I read in a post that Paypal's terms of agreement compels Paypal to release your funds after 180 days. 

This is simply ridiculous.  Folks who use a VPN to protect their data, like their username and passwords, are not allowed to log into Paypal?  If I am in a Starbucks or at an airport using a public Wi-Fi service, then Paypal is forcing me to use a lower-security method to log into my Paypal account.  Paypal disallows me from using a VPN, which protects my data when using a public Wi-Fi hotspot. 

Wait, here's another way Paypal sucks. 
I've been selling old gear on Ebay and accepting Paypal for several years now.  Suddenly in one month, I coincidentally got two customers, who had bought items from me, stating that their "purchase was not authorized", which resulted in a "chargeback."  A chargeback is a situation where a customer disputes a charge with their credit card company rather than directly through Paypal, or maybe it is both the former and the latter.  Regardless, if a seller gets a chargeback claim, Paypal screws the seller. 

Here's a scenario from a forum:


 If anyone has ever filed a charge back on your Paypal account, and the chargeback was won by the buyer, you had BETTER go check your Paypal account, they keep the fees they charged and take that amount from you along with the amount you were originally given. I don’t believe it is an oversight.   for example,I sold an $1185.00 item,paypal paid me $1150.33 and took thier fee of $34.67,but when the chargeback was found in the buyers favor,they took $1185.00 from MY paypal account,and CONVENIENTLY forgot to refund me the $34.67.  Oversight? or Class actionable?   How many millions of chargebacks have they done this with? 

end quote

Any seller who loses a chargeback claim -- and generally you will lose, all the seller has to do is state "item not as described," will then be charged a $20 chargeback fee from Paypal.  From what I understand, Paypal is passing on a chargeback fee from a bank or credit card processor. 

In my situation, a buyer purchased a hard drive off Ebay from me.  I shipped the item and tracked it.  I then left for a trip.  When I came back two weeks later, I discovered that the buyer had refused to accept the package (likely, he changed his mind after buying my item) and had filed a chargeback claim, stating that the purchase was unauthorized.  I was lucky that the buyer actually refused the package -- other Ebay sellers generally have the same thing happen (have to refund any payments, pay chargeback fees, etc.) and the buyer keeps the item (for free). 

Paypal refunded the entire amount to this buyer, and charged me a $20 chargeback fee.  THEY ALSO KEPT THEIR PAYPAL FEE of nearly 3%!  This is simply outrageous. 

As an example with numbers, the above hard drive sold for $100.  I paid $3.90 to ship the item out; the item came back to me.  I had a 20% restocking fee on my Ebay listing to protect against buyers who change their mind without good reason, but Paypal never asked about this policy or considered it.  They simply immediately refunded this buyer the ENTIRE amount that the guy had paid (he was a fraudulent type of buyer; his Ebay user name was paulsamuels1132 or something like that, but his real name was Pranit Sampei).  I was out the cost of shipping, the loss of the item's use for two weeks, and was not able to charge a restocking fee.  On top of this, Paypal charged me a chargeback fee of $20 plus their commission. 

Let's do the math as a seller:
You sell a $100 item. Paypal gets a nearly 3% fee for collecting the money.  You get $97 for the item. 

The buyer pays $100.  You send the item out.  He refuses delivery of the item and files an "unauthorized purchase" claim with Paypal or his credit card.  He gets back his entire $100. 

The seller initially receives $97 of this sale (I am simplifying this).  Paypal retains $3 (its nearly 3% commission for transferring the funds).  When the buyer files a chargeback claim, Paypal gives the buyer the entire $100 back.  Paypal then charges the seller $20 for the chargeback claim. 

Paypal then withdraws $100 from the seller's account.  But wait -- Paypal only ever paid the seller $97 for this transaction.  What happened?  Here's the deal -- Paypal KEEPS ITS COMMISSION/FEES even in a chargeback claim.  It wins either way.  If a seller loses a chargeback claim -- and in my experience a seller almost always loses, regardless of how fraudulent the buyer is -- Paypal still keeps its commission and passes on chargeback fees to the seller.

Paypal's practice in this situation is absolutely unethical.  I am surprised that it has not been hit with a class-action suit about such practices. 

I have not included sellers' losses from shipping fees, or Ebay commissions on sales (which are refunded in full in such situations, as far as I can tell). 

Lastly, Paypal makes it difficult to see what the fees that they charge you.  Chargebacks don't show up in your activity reports.  I've looked and looked. Items relating to chargebacks were impossible to find, anywhere I looked, in all activity, transaction, and report sections.  Again, outrageous. 

My Experience with Google Wallet (or is it Google Payments) Leaves Me $115 Richer!
I tried Google Wallet.  But I will not try them again. 

I went through the process of registering Google Wallet's required details, such as providing my bank account information.  I then made the mistake of SENDING $115 to the buyer rather than ASKING for that amount.  It was a bit too easy to do, and there was no way to cancel the transaction.  Ouch! 

I immediately contacted a Google representative via chat.  He told that
Google would cancel the transaction, and that it was OK if the balance in my bank account was low -- the $115 to be sent would NOT be withdrawn from my account -- the transaction was cancelled.  I therefore, for safety's sake, withdrew funds from my account to the amount of $5 -- after making sure that this would be OK with the Google representative.  However, contrary to what the Google representative said, Google Wallet then withdrew the $115 from my account. 

My bank charged me an overdraft fee and told me that I should put a stop payment on the account.

I disputed the charge, and I put a stop payment for any payments to Google. Google then wrote me:

"From: Google Payments
Date: 6/15/16, 2:47 AM
To: norbertwu
Google     Safe & Secure

Hello Norbert Wu,

For your security, we've disabled your Google Payments account so no one else can use it.

You requested that an unrecognized charge to your bank be returned to your Checking  • • •  = ddd account linked to your Google Payments account.

To help our investigation and to unlock your account, sign in to and verify your information. Otherwise your account will stay locked.

Google Support Team
Google Wallet     you have received this mandatory email service announcement to update you about important changes to your Google Payments account.
Learn More | Help Center | Privacy Notice | How to recognize suspicious emails
Google Payment Corp., P.O. Box 1568, Mountain View, CA 94042   "     

I wrote Google, explaining the situation:

" Dear Google:
    A few days ago, I tried to request money using Google Payments for the first time.  I mistakenly SENT $115 instead of requesting it.  I immediately contacted Google via chat and the Google rep cancelled the transaction.  It shows as cancelled in my order history.  The Google rep confirmed that if my balance in my bank account was around $5, the $115 to be sent would NOT be withdrawn from my account -- the transaction was cancelled.  I therefore, for safety's sake, withdrew funds from my account to the amount of $5.  Contrary to what the Google representative said, Google Payments then withdrew the $115 from my account. 

    My bank charged me a fee and told me that I should put a stop payment on the account.

    They have disputed this $115 charge and now I received the following message from Google:

    "Hello Norbert Wu,

    For your security, we've disabled your Google Payments account so no one else can use it.

    You requested that an unrecognized charge to your bank be returned to your Checking  • • • ddd account linked to your Google Payments account.

    To help our investigation and to unlock your account, sign in to and verify your information. Otherwise your account will stay locked.

    Google Support Team"

    This is all very frustrating.  I assume that the Google rep gave me the wrong information, and that Google Payments will be issuing a credit to my bank account (or would have, had I not disputed). 

    I am sure that the above will play out.... however an app developer has refunded me $14 and I have not seen it in my transaction history as of yesterday.  And I can't get to my account now. 

    Also, how do I get a copy of my chat?  Is this something that I can with a click or do I have to cut and paste the text of the chat? 
Signed, Norbert Wu

 Steve Laydon at Google wrote me back:
  On Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 10:18 AM, wrote:


        Hi Norbert,

        Thanks for contacting Google. Since we weren't able to complete our conversation via chat, I wanted to follow up over email.

        I'm sorry to say that our specialist has determined that this account must stay closed due to violations of our Terms of Service. (Per the Google Payments Terms of Service, Google Payments Corp. reserves the right to change, suspend or discontinue any aspect of the Services at any time, including availability of the Services or any Service feature, without notice and without liability.) I'm afraid that my team can't discuss the specific circumstances of this or any account closure.

        Your previously pending transactions have been canceled. Authorization confirmations for these transactions may still appear on the transaction summary for the payment method you used, but your account hasn't been charged. Such authorizations should be removed within 10 business days (14 days), depending on your bank's schedule.

        If you have any more questions, please reply to this email. I'm happy to help!


        Steve Laydon
        The Google Support Team
        Google     Google Help Center
        © Google Inc., 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043 USA     Google+ Twitter
So that was it.  Classic big corporation snafu, where their own representatives give misinformation, and the customer is then stuck with a bad situation requiring hours of chat and written correspondence to fix.  In this case, my bank refunded the $115 that Google wrongly withdrew from my account (and the overdraft fees), and Google refunded the payment also.  So I am $115 ahead! 

Hey Google, if you want to review this account, then be my guest.  I have $115 waiting here for you if you want it.  But if you do contact me, then I might say this:
I'm sorry to say that I've determined that I want my account to stay closed due to Google's crappy customer service and misinformation. I'm afraid that I do not wish to discuss the specific circumstances of this or any account closure, or how Google Payments wasted my time.  Thanks for the $115!  It barely covers one/twelfth of my time spent on this. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Using Smartphones Overseas: Google Fi Works Great!

Using a smartphone overseas has gotten a lot easier. 

In the past few years, I've kept a Google Nexus 4 smartphone (Android) in my workshop, ready to go with me on any trip overseas.  Once I arrived at my destination, where I'd spend a couple of weeks to a month, I'd head to the airport's phone store, where the store staff would give or sell me a SIM card.  This SIM card would let me use my Nexus 4 phone on GSM networks.  It is a quad-band GSM phone, unlocked.  In simpler terms, this phone works on just about all cell phone operator's networks throughout the world, but on the slower 3G networks.  In the US, GSM operators are AT&T and T-Mobile.  Verizon and Sprint phones were CDMA, not GSM, meaning their phones would generally not work overseas. 

Most overseas operators use GSM technology.  With an unlocked GSM smartphone like the Nexus 4, I could put any operator's GSM SIM card in my phone, pay for data and voice/text package, and within a few minutes (thanks to the expert staff), my phone would be ready to go.  I could get email on the phone, make calls, and browse the Internet.  I could even use the phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. 

(An unlocked phone is not tied to a particular carrier.  A phone that is locked will ONLY work on AT&T's network, for instance, unless AT&T gives you a code to allow you to unlock your phone). 

The above has worked for me for the past few years.  Nearly all good Android phones, like Motorola’s Moto G and Google's Nexus phones (made according to Google specifications by companies like LG and Asus) are unlocked and are quad-band.  Newer phones are able to run on the faster 4G LTE network -- but I won't discuss this here. 

The one thing that I'd like to get across with the above is that anyone traveling to South Africa, Papua New Guinea, or the UK (all places I've recently spent weeks and months in) can bring a quad-band, unlocked smartphone, buy a SIM card, buy a data/calling package in that country, and be set.  I've gotten emails on a boat sailing in the farthest reaches of Papua New Guinea -- amazing. 

On my recent trip to South Africa, I brought my trusty old Nexus 4 phone.  However, I also brought a Google Fi phone.  Anyone who travels internationally a lot should consider buying a phone that works with the Google Fi plans. 

Google Fi phones are designed to work in 130 countries around the world.  I bought a Google Fi phone (a Nexus 5X phone) to use in South Africa.  It worked great.  I landed in Dubai and London during my flights, turned on the phone, and was able to use the phone in all three countries almost immediately. 

Google Fi phones are world phones, meaning you can use them all over the world, in over 130 countries.  You just turn on the phone and it generally starts working.  You can use your Google Fi phone in the US, then go to China and use it without any hassle, and other countries like Taiwan and South Africa, England, etc.  Someone can call you on this Google Fi phone (a US number) and it will ring you in China.  It is a full-featured Android phone. 

In the US Google Fi phones use both the Sprint and T-Mobile network.

Here are the rates and countries that Google Fi phones will work in:

The rates are extremely reasonable.  Each month you pay $20 for voice and texts in the US.  If you use data, you are billed only for the data that you use, at $10 per Gb.  Calls to and from China are $0.20 per minute; for instance.  When I used this phone in South Africa, calls were $0.06 per minute. 

It took quite a bit of experimentation to figure out how to use these phones to call within South Africa and back to the US.  Here's what I figured out:

1.  Nexus 4 phone with local Vodacom SIM card.  The key to using a phone to make calls internationally is to realize where the SIM card in your phone has originated.  With a local SIM card in my Android phone, I needed to dial phone numbers like I was using a local South African (SA) cell phone.  For some reason I needed to dial the country code (27) first, then the number in South Africa.  I stupidly bought a data-only package at the Johannesburg Airport (JNB) when I arrived, so I had to use Google Hangouts Dialer to make phone calls.  Here's what I did. 

For instance, there's a hotel near Johannesburg Airport.  The website lists its phone as "Phone: +27 11 394 5555" (not the real number).  Another hotel, near Kruger National Park, had its phone number listed as "011 27 087 550 5555." 

To reach these numbers in South Africa using my Nexus 4 phone, I needed to dial (using Google Hangouts Dialer):  "27 11 394 5555" or "27 87 550 5555."  I did not dial any "0's" at the beginning of the numbers. 

My friend Andy had my Google Fi phone at times.  This was a US number in the form 831-789-5555.  For me to call him using my Nexus 4 (with a local SA SIM card), I had to dial "00 (the SA code to call internationally) then the US country code, and then the US phone number, e.g. "00 1 831-789-5555."

Note that if I am using a US landline to call a SA number, then I need to dial "011" in the US to indicate that I am calling overseas, then the country code of 27, then the phone number.  Because my Nexus 4 had a local SA SIM card, to call the US, I needed to first dial the international code of "00" and then the US area code and number. 

2.  Google Fi Nexus 5X phone. 
The Google Fi phone was activated in the US.  It had a US phone number.  Whether I used the phone dialing app or Google Hangouts Dialer, I did the same thing. 

To call a number in South Africa, I had to realize that my Google Fi phone was US-based.  Therefore, to call a hotel with the number "+27 11 394 5555", I had to dial "011-27 11 394 5555".  In other words, I called by dialing the international US code of 011, then the country code for SA of 27, then the SA phone number.  I normally did not dial any initial "0's" in any phone number. 

My Nexus 4 phone with the local SA SIM card had the phone number of 079 082 8403.  To call this phone using my Google Fi phone, I dialed 011 27 79 082 8403. 

Calling a US number, like home, using my Google Fi phone was simple.  I just dialed the area code and phone number!  I was able to do this, again, because the Google Fi phone "thinks" it is based in the US.  

I hope that the above helps travelers trying to figure out how to call within a country or back home when traveling internationally.  The key is to figure out where your phone was activated and where your phone thinks is "home." 

Renting a Car Overseas: What To Do About Insurance?

Here's my attempt at clarifying what you should buy, in terms of insurance, when you rent a car overseas. 

I recently traveled to Mexico and just returned from a trip to South Africa.  For both of these trips, I needed to rent a car.  When I looked online at the prices to rent a car from Cozumel Airport in Mexico, I was surprised to see prices for a ten-day rental ranging from $500 to only $50. 

The rental rate of $50 was obviously too good to be true.  Even though I had rented a car in Mexico before, it had been a while, so I did some research.  Sure enough, the really cheap rate to rent a car in Mexico comes with some very expensive "required" insurance. 

Please be advised that these are notes that I've come up when doing research on this topic, but I am not a lawyer, nor does this blog post constitute legal advice in any way, shape, or form.  You should consult a lawyer or other expert before renting a car or buying insurance rather than relying on the information given here. 

Renting a car in the US and Canada:
If you rent a car within the US and Canada, you are generally covered by your auto insurer in the US -- if you have an auto policy for your own car in the US.  This policy generally will cover you for collision damage insurance (CDW, also sometimes called loss damage waiver or LDW) if you rent a car in the US or Canada.  CDW covers you in case your rental car suffers physical damage, from collisions with other cars, objects, and even animals. 

Your auto insurance company often will also cover you in the US and Canada for liability insurance.  I'll describe liability insurance later. 

Because you are covered for collision damage (as opposed to liability), you generally can decline any insurance offered by the rental car company.  I myself always decline, knowing that I am already covered for collision and liability by both my auto insurer and my credit card company. 

In the US, whenever I rent a car, I know that I am covered by my credit card benefits for collision insurance (but not liability insurance!).  Here's what one website says:

"Most top-tier travel rewards cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card, are Visa Signature cards. These cards are a certain class of product within the Visa family and come with benefits simply for being Visa Signature cards. While there are additional perks, specifically in the case the of the Sapphire Preferred, such as the Primary Auto Rental CDW, simply by being a Visa card there are benefits."

In other words, Visa Signature is a line of premium credit cards that gives premium benefits.  One of these benefits is primary collision coverage for auto rentals -- as opposed to secondary coverage.  I'll explain this further below. 

I have an airline-affiliated Mastercard that offers similar benefits as the Visa Signature cards.  This Mastercard is in their line called "World Elite Mastercard."  With Mastercard, however, you can't be sure that all cards of the same line offer the same benefit.  For example, my Mastercard offers primary car rental coverage (collision) but some Mastercards in the same line (World Elite) do not. 

As an example of this coverage, my credit card's benefits booklet states the following:

"Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
Decline the rental company's collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your ... Mastercard. Coverage is primary and is provided for theft and collision damage for most cars in the U.S. and abroad."

American Express cardholders can buy Amex's product, called Premium Car Rental Protection.  I've heard and read that if you get into an accident and have opted in for this coverage, they take great care of you.  I am not sure that Mastercard's benefits program will take the same great care of you. 

From a forum:
...this coverage is primary--it pays collision and comp (but not liability) damages before your regular auto insurance does. In theory, your insurance carrier wouldn't ever have to know about a claim...


Once you opt-in to the product, your Amex card is automatically charged a flat $24.95 each time you rent ($17.95 for California residents).


I use the Amex Premium Car Rental Insurance at $19.95 per rental.

In summary, whenever I rent a car in the US and Canada, I decline the collision and liability insurance offered by the rental car company.  I am pretty sure that I am covered for collision insurance by my credit card; and for liability insurance by my auto insurer.  But only in the US and Canada. 

Primary versus Secondary Insurance:
The above premium credit cards offer primary coverage.  This means that your credit card benefits administrator will take care of any damage to your rental car first, before your auto insurer.  It appears that these credit card coverages will take care of all costs related to a collision, and there's no deductible.  You're therefore, theoretically, completely taken care of in case of an accident (only for collision and damage, NOT for liability).  Some credit card policies may also have a deductible.

This is great -- because if you don't have credit card coverage for damage to a car, then you will have to call your insurance company.  Relying on your own insurance company likely means that you'll have to pay your deductible, and filing a claim might drive up your insurance premiums.

Most non-premium credit cards offer what is known as "secondary" coverage, which  means that it will only pay out after your personal auto insurance policy has been exhausted (assuming you have such a policy).  Therefore, you'll still have to file a claim with your insurance company, and the credit card will only pick up your deductible.

The folks at have a great explanation of CDW, LDW, and primary verus secondary coverage at:

Renting a car overseas:
If you rent a car outside of the US and Canada, use a credit card that offers collision insurance, and decline the car rental company's insurance, then you are covered for collision damage either primarily or secondarily -- just like the examples above when renting a car in the US and Canada. 

From other websites:
"Most major credit card companies automatically provide this [CDW] coverage to their cardholders if they waive the rental company's coverage and use their credit card to reserve a car and pay for the rental.

Generally, credit card programs do cover you when renting a car overseas, but not in every country. Visa excludes coverage in Israel, Jamaica and Ireland. American Express and MasterCard exclude Australia, New Zealand and Italy too."

In planning to rent a car for my South Africa trip, I was told by my Mastercard credit card benefits administrator that I should decline any CDW offered by the rental car company.  By doing so, the credit card will offer primary CDW coverage.  Many credit card companies offer only secondary CDW coverage.  If I am forced to purchased CDW coverage by the overseas rental car agency, then the credit card offers secondary CDW coverage -- and it will cover the cost of any deductible ("excess").  This is great! 

Some credit card coverages will NOT insure you at all -- unlike my credit card -- if you don't decline CDW offered by the rental card company.  Check with your credit card benefits administrator to be sure about the rules. 

Here's one thing to watch out for, from a forum:

"I know that most credit cards will pay for the collision damage to the car,
up to a certain limit, but be careful of exclusions.... Some have exclusions
such as collision coverage will only extend if on a paved road, etc. "

Liability Insurance Overseas:
Note that credit card companies' insurance do not cover liability insurance, even the Amex premium policy -- whether in the US or overseas.

If you rent a car outside of the US and Canada, your auto insurer in the US generally does not provide any coverage, be it collision or liability, for your rental car. 

Here's what insurance agent Teresa Carr, of Johnson-Carr Insurance/Farmer's Insurance in Lacey, Washington State wrote:

"...your auto insurance will only cover you in the United States, its territories and in Canada.  ...If you have a policy in California (umbrella) then you have international coverage under the umbrella...[Umbrella policies]... are a BARGAIN for what they cover, under $200 per year for a million in coverage...However, there is a retained limit with that.....meaning you are on the hook for the first 250K, then your umbrella kicks in."

A second insurance agent told me:

"Although your underlying auto policies will not cover any cars rented outside of the US and its territories, your umbrella policy WILL extend the $1,000,000 [or whatever your coverage is] of LIABILITY ONLY to PERSONAL PASSENGER VEHICLES rented on a personal basis anywhere in the world.  For the umbrella liability to flow to the rented car, you should rent the car in your name, and be using it for your personal transportation...Regarding the possibility of damage to the car... the umbrella will not cover this..."

BOLD: So, when you rent a car overseas, it seems that you SHOULD purchase liability insurance.  In South Africa, this is called TPL.  This is required when you rent a car in Mexico also. 

It seems that if you have an umbrella policy, then your auto insurer may cover you when renting a car internationally -- but the deductible may be a staggering $250,000 or more.  

Here's a summary:
1.  In the US and Canada, decline collision damage insurance (CDW, also sometimes called loss damage waiver or LDW).  You are likely covered by your credit card (if it is a good one) and your auto insurer for CDW. 

Also, in the US and Canada, decline liability insurance.  Your auto insurance company probably already covers you in the US and Canada for liability insurance.  Your credit card almost certainly does NOT include liability insurance. 

(If renting a car in the US, try to pay for the car rental with a premium credit card, and decline the car rental company's collision and liability insurance. 
Your credit card benefits administrator should cover damage to your rental car with primary or secondary coverage.  Your home and auto insurer should also cover you for both collision and liability if renting in the US -- but it's better if your credit card benefits administrator ends up handling any claims first, so your car insurance premiums don't go up. )

2.  If renting a car overseas, try to pay for the car rental with a premium credit card, and decline the car rental company's collision insurance. 
Your credit card benefits administrator should cover damage to your rental car with primary or secondary coverage (note the countries excluded above). 

Your home and auto insurer will generally NOT cover you for liability insurance overseas, unless you buy an umbrella policy.  In my research, your best strategy is to decline the rental car company's collision insurance (your premium credit card will provide primary coverage for collision); but you should probably purchase the rental car company's liability insurance.  Credit card companies don't provide liability insurance as a benefit; and your auto insurer generally won't provide liability insurance overseas unless you have an umbrella policy -- and that will likely have a huge deductible. 

So what did I do in South Africa?  I checked a few rental car websites.  The prices were reasonable, and all car rentals included, automatically, both collision and liability insurance in the rental price.  I therefore just paid the rental price and got collision and liability insurance that way -- it was extremely difficult to decline these coverages.  So I was covered by paying for it. 

The rental car company also tried to sell me windshield and tire coverage.  I declined these items, which were about $1.50 per day.  I was covered by my credit card company for this insurance. 

I hope that this helps you the next time you rent a car overseas. 

Some notes: South Africa's car rental agencies rent cars that include "free" CDW.  I cannot decline CDW.  What to do? 

Mastercard card benefit services (MCBS) says yes, I am covered in South Africa.  If CDW is REQUIRED, then sign for the minimum, and card benefit services will cover deductible, also loss of use, towing, and administrative fees.  CDW MUST BE REQUIRED.  Also decline all physical stuff to be insured, such as windshields and tires

What about additional drivers?  MCBS: I should rent the car in my name, put my friend as additional driver.  As long as he is an authorized additional driver, benefits will cover him and me in any accident.  I will have to file the paperwork. 

MCBS: No personal liability is covered (so in SA, get the TPL, personal liability).

The only way to be sure whether your U.S. car insurance policy covers overseas rentals is to contact your car insurance company and ask.

A good rule of thumb is to purchase international insurance that provides the same level of coverage as you have at home.

Before you go on your trip, however, don’t make assumptions about the rental car insurance coverage the card provides. Contact your credit card company to get specific details about your coverage. Particularly, make sure to find out:
Whether the policy applies in the country you are traveling to.
If it includes liability, collision, and comprehensive coverage.
The coverage limits.
Whether you need to pay an additional fee for this coverage.

International auto insurance from credit card companies may officially be secondary insurance, which means that it applies after your primary insurance kicks in. However, if your credit card insurance is your only car insurance while you are abroad, it may, in effect, act as your primary insurance.

The first and most expensive piece of an auto insurance policy is the liability coverage. This pays off if you hurt someone while driving and they sue you -- not just for the damage to their car but also for medical costs, loss of wages and possibly emotional distress. The amount of liability insurance you need wouldn't vary based on the car you drive. (That also means there's no need to take the rental company up on its offer of "additional liability protection," assuming you own a car.)

It's not so simple with comprehensive and collision coverage, which pay to replace or repair your vehicle if it's stolen or damaged. Many people who have older cars go without comprehensive and collision coverage to help reduce premiums.

Many people have auto insurance on their regular cars, which acts as the primary insurer in the case of loss or damage.

Mastercard’s insurance coverage varies by the issuing bank. A USAA World MasterCard, for example, provides largely the same benefits as Visa, but caps loss of use reimbursement at $500.

American Express card holders are afforded the opportunity to a pay a one-time fee per rental of $16 to $25 to change their coverage from secondary to primary. You can enroll online or by calling the company.

Keep in mind, although your rented vehicle is protected, you will need AMEX Premium coverage or a separate insurance to cover possible medical expenses and damages you may cause by accident.

Generally, however, the credit cards don't offer free supplementary liability insurance—damage to other vehicles, property, or people—and luxury vehicles are also excluded from protection.

Great fan solves travel problems if too hot on a plane, under mosquito netting, elsewhere

I travel all over the world as a photographer.  I've always run hot-blooded, meaning I am often too hot when other (normal) folks are not. 

It's a problem when I am on a plane or hotel room and it is too hot.  For the past 25 years, I've carried around a portable fan for such situations.  The old fan was a pain, however, to power.  It was a bit too big to hand-carry, so I had to store it in my checked baggage.  I spent hours soldering wires so that it would run off my Ikelite batteries (I love Ikelite!) and more recently, off AC adapters that ran on both 110V and 220V sources.  It was portable, but somewhat heavy, finicky, and large -- and clunky!

This Efluky USB fan is the answer to my dreams!  It is lightweight, compact (a bit bigger than the spread of my hand), and it has an internal battery that lets it run for hours.  I can power it off a USB power pack, by itself, off my laptop, and the list goes on. 

I just came back home from Africa and used this on a bed inside mosquito netting to help me get to sleep on hot nights.  Normally, trying to get to sleep under mosquito netting is a huge problem.  I used this on the flight home when the airplane got too hot also -- perfect!  I've always hated it when the plane suddenly goes from cool to too warm -- because the pilot up front suddenly decides that he wants to make it warm in the plane.  I just put this up to my neck and was able to fall asleep, no problem. 

 This Efluky is awesome.  Get one if you are a "hot" person!  It's on Amazon:

Efluky Mini USB 3 Speeds Rechargeable Portable Table Fan, 4.5-Inch, Black


Friday, August 19, 2016

Nikon: The Definition of Poor Customer Support

I generally love Nikon cameras and lenses.  They continue to come out with innovative products that I can use as a professional photographer.  For instance, I leaving for a trip to South Africa soon, and I discovered that Nikon now offers new and improved lenses for wildlife photography.  Nikon has a new affordable 200-500mm f5.6 lens that is very highly rated.  I ended up buying a used 80-400mm VR lens which is similar to the Canon lens that has the same zoom range. I bought the new Nikon D500 body about a month ago -- it is awesome fast and well built. 

However, Nikon's support of its customers -- both professionals and amateurs -- has always been pretty bad.  I am still in disbelief of the utterly terrible customer service that I received from Nikon in the past two days.  Just unbelievably bad.

Here's the story:

After much research, I decided to buy a Nikon 80-400mm lens, used, from a seller on Amazon.  The seller's listing said " All original Nikon parts and accessories included. US version and comes in the original Nikon gold box." 

The lens arrives promptly, but there is no US warranty card, which all Nikon lenses come with now to prove that they are US-bought and not gray market lenses.  Nikon and other camera manufacturers have spent tons of money on informing the general public, particularly keen photographers, to avoid "gray market" lenses at all costs.  Briefly, "gray market" refers to gear that has been imported by unsanctioned retailers, and was not intended to be sold in the US.  The gear is the same as "US warrantied" gear but is generally cheaper.  Nikon and Canon refuse to repair gray market gear.  If you are a photographer in the US, you should be very careful to only purchase US-warrantied gear from Nikon or Canon.  There's often no way to tell the difference --  you should only buy from authorized retailers.  Only Nikon can tell you if your gear is US-warrantied or not. 

I received the lens on Wednesday night.  On Thursday, I tried calling Nikon.  I am Nikon Professional Services (NPS) member, which supposedly offers pros (you have to certify yourself as a pro every two years and run through some hoops) a bit faster and better service than the general public.  I had a couple of numbers for NPS.  I am sorry to say that the customer service SUCKED. 

It was impossible to get through to a real human being on the NPS lines!  Here's what happens: You call the NPS number, listen to the robot phone tree, then you press 4 for tech support.  When you do that, the robot tells you to hang up and call another number!  You call that number, three times, and each time someone lifts the phone off the receiver and then hangs up.  I know what it sounds like. 

I called another Nikon number, "tech support" for "regular folks."  I explained my question -- I had a used Nikon lens, could supply the serial number, and wanted to know if it was a US-warrantied lens or not.  A Nancy in Pennsylvania kept asking me for my contact information, which was irrelevant.  She wanted to  know my phone number, email address, when I registered the lens purchase, and the list of questions goes on.  The questions were all completely irrelevant to my situation.  This interrogation went on for ten minutes. 

After taking down all this unnecessary information, Nancy finally told me that she could not give me an answer to my (very simple) question. I would have to send the lens into a repair center! 

Once again, I had just purchased a used lens.  No, I had not had time to register the lens, nor would I be able to do so since it did not come with a US warranty card.  I just wanted to know if the lens was a US-warrantied lens, or a gray market lens.  At this point, I have the choice of returning the lens to the seller; or keeping it.  Nikon should be helpful in this situation, not utterly unhelpful. 

Does Nikon's reply make any sense in the real world whatsoever?  Insisting that I send this used, newly purchased lens to their technical repair center is utterly unhelpful and utterly ludicrous. 

Nikon: your customer service sucks!

Their email to me is below.  Read it and laugh.