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Tools continued: Be careful when you buy from Amazon

As a follow-up to our last post about tools we use, we’ll offer a cautionary note about buying equipment from Amazon. I’ve had several bad experiences with Amazon and we now only purchase generic items and books from Amazon. We try to buy from the manufacturer, because Amazon often ships fake or counterfeit items; the problem has been widely reported, but Amazon appears not to have done much about it. Slate has written about the plague of cheap knockoffs on Amazon. Buy from Amazon’s third-party sellers at your own peril.

If you do buy from Amazon, try to buy products fulfilled directly by Amazon, since that will at least facilitate the complaint/return process. Avoid third-party sellers, which are more likely to ship fake and/or used stuff with complex or nonexistent return policies. For example, I’m fond of fountain pens and tried to buy a Montegrappa NeroUno Linea Fountain Pen from two separate third-party sellers on Amazon.* The first turned to not actually have the pen; I waited a week for a pen that never arrived, then cancelled and bought from another Amazon third-party seller, but that seller sent an obviously used pen in a damaged box. Like Apple, Montegrappa has elaborate product packaging that is fun to open—and also makes used or damaged products obvious.

That pen went back and I eventually bought one from a reputable online pen seller. Recently, I ordered another item from an Amazon third-party seller; it was obviously counterfeit. I’m still trying to resolve the issue, so I’ll keep details on the down low for now. Significantly, however, Amazon’s front-line customer service people read from scripts when confronted with damaged/wrong/possibly fake items. They’re impenetrable and unhelpful.

Amazon also seems to forbid reviews that include words like “fake” or “counterfeit,” and I couldn’t find any system that Amazon uses to police this practice. But Amazon doesn’t control the whole world yet, and it doesn’t control this blog, so we’re issuing the warning here. We won’t buy any computers, computer parts, or computer accessories from Amazon because of these problems. Many Apple products, for example, that Amazon sells are fakes.

We’re adjusting behavior more generally and now prefer buying from the original manufacturer, if possible.

* Jake likes extra-fine Sailor 1911 pens (the link goes to one of the only American sellers), which are made in Japan, or Sakura Pigma Micron pens, which are also made in Japan (Japan seems to have strong pen game). He also covets a Pad & Quill messenger bag, but because he uses an iMac as a primary computer his bag isn’t that important.

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From the Department of “No Kidding:” Warns of Outages at High Service Period

Those of you who are working feverishly to finish Federal proposals by Monday should stop surfing the Internet and get back to your assignment, because has finally figured out (or admitted) what Seliger + Associates did five years ago. According to the post “High Submission Volume” from the blog, which is written with a voice somewhere between “press release” and “technical bulletin,”

There are 29 Grant Opportunities closing on Monday, April 27, 2009, including a large Recovery Act opportunity for NIH that is expected to receive an unprecedented number of applications. The submissions for these opportunities have already begun and will continue to grow as we move towards April 27.

(emphasis added).

Imagine Amazon announcing that you can’t buy books a week before Christmas, or Stubhub saying that you should wait until after the Superbowl to look for tickets and telling you to use their services when no one else is. Whoever is running probably don’t see the irony of announcing instability when the largest number of people are likely to use the system and that you can depend on the system when using it isn’t important. In his first post about, Isaac wrote:

[T]he real world deadline for submissions is actually two days in advance of the published deadline, since, unless there is a system meltdown, the funding agency is unlikely to give you any slack. So, if the upload gets screwed up, you’re generally screwed as well.

Now even the administrators have effectively acknowledged this. I wonder if RFP writers will eventually start including this caveat. Regardless, I’ll reiterate what I said in the first paragraph: if you’re working against a Monday deadline, stop shirking your duties and get that proposal uploaded!

EDIT: More entertaining news appeared this weekend. is supposed to be the central repository for all grant-related aspects of the federal government. But we’ve now learned that “[… S]elect programs may choose to use alternate systems to process grant applications during this heightened period of demand.” Remember: everything goes through Unless it doesn’t.

In addition, must be getting the Santa Claus calls we’ve been getting, which Isaac discussed at the link, because the front page now says that “ does not provide personal financial assistance. To learn where you may find personal help, check Government Benefits, Student Loans and Small Business Start-up Loans.”