Friday, September 01, 2017

Swapping eBay for Swappa

As with many times in the past I upgraded my mobile phone, and I sought to sell my older model. I erased the phone, cleaned it up, took some pictures, and with eBay's assistance quickly listed the phone. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there's a new minimum guaranteed price feature if a couple required tweaks were applied to the listing. Great I thought to myself the phone was going to sell for even more than I suspected it was going to.

Alright, a week later the eBay listing closese above the minimum. Wait for the buyer to pay. Wait for the buyer to pay. Wait for the buyer to pay. Begin dispute process. Several more days pass, and the listing and fees are nullified by eBay. Agreed that the buyer was bogus, no fees, and relisted, so we're back on our way to selling the phone again.

Several days into the second listing for the phone I am solicited by a buyer via eBay's messaging. The buyer was traveling abroad from their native Netherlands. Send the user an invoice, and they would pay via Paypal directly; oh, and I am supposed to preemptively take down the eBay listing. Take the scammy bait, and I send off a paypal invoice. I get a pretty good looking Paypal payment spoof email, and the address I am supposed to mail the phone is in Nigeria. Log into my Pay Pal account, and there's no balance; clearly this is a scam. I look up all the eBay/Paypal spoof and scam reporting addresses and forward all the correspondences.

Ok, I let the second eBay auction listing go to its natural conclusion. Get a couple questions within the last few minutes by a buyer, and that buyer wins the auction. An hour goes by, two hours go by, a day, and eventually enough time passed without payment to file my third action of trying to sell this phone. Again, the buyer turned out to be a bust, and the item gets relisted for a third time.

Fast forward, there's a winner of the third auction, and this time there's an invoice followed by a successful legit Paypal payment! Great, my money is in escrow, so I go over to UPS, and I send off the phone to Florida. Phone is received by the supposed buyer, and a couple days later the Paypal dispute email comes in -- the buyer's account was reportedly illegitamently used to purchase the phone on eBay. I felt comfortable from the outset because selling through eBay and collecting through Paypal I was covered by Paypal's Seller Protection. Paypal ultimately ruled in favor of the buyer's account and repays the buyer, and I am unaffected by this decision because I sent the phone off in good faith as described and covered by Paypal's protection.

The summary for selling this phone is three auctions, four scams, I'm paid, some rando got my wiped iPhone 6, Paypal bought my phone, and eBay lost a customer. All this took five weeks duration and lots of time dealing with a shitty purchasing ecosystem.

In contrast, after that sale was completely done and past, I needed to purchase another new phone, and I went to Swappa. I looked over the available offerings, and the phones were priced well in a marketplace setting. I purchased a phone, and within a week it arrived in the listed condition. That was easy, and the purchase too was covered by Paypal's protection.

TL;DR I will be going to Swappa in the future for my cell phone exchange needs. eBay is broken.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Such Great Heights

I belive in endowing community services and providing more people the mental space and freedom to be educated. I firmly believe everyone on the planet ought to have stress free access to fully funded education; furthermore, they should be able to pursue the most advanced degree they desire to achieve. Throughout my life I will aspire to accomplish this mission.

My education has been world class by all standards. At the Taft School, which I proudly and fondly remember, I was inspired by the mission "Non ut sibi ministretur sed ut ministret (Not to be served but to serve)." I have served my myself, my family, and my community. By being whole of self and mind, I have been able to contribute actively and outward.

Many years back when I was considering undergraduate studies programs I became enamored with a school called the Webb Institute. It carries the name of William H Webb, who fully endowed the school. Any student driven enough, talented enough, and fortunate enough to attend will receive a 100% tuition-free experience. This is a world-class institution. I was not passionate enough or competitive enough, performance-wise, to reasonably complete with the best of the best that attend this fine institution. Their focus is on naval architecture and marine engineering, and undoubtedly some of the finest vessels to ever traverse the worlds waters are conceived of by Webb Institute graduates.

Upon recently learning Harris Rosen's story I am also inspired. My desire to reach further and do more has been reinvigorated. Despite some setbacks early in his career, he has been a very successfully entrepreneur and hotelier. In recent years he has emphasized his philanthropy, which includes providing broad access to families needing assistance both money and time-wise to attend school.

It can be disheartening when you fail to mesh with those surrounding you professionally; Harris Rosen had similar struggles early on, and those challenges resonate with me. I see my challenges in the past as fruitful learning opportunities to dissect, to wrestle in that uncomfortable space, but also as firm ground to spring forth and achieve new heights. I am a lucky person to have had so much rich quality education, to have a healthy and happy family, and vigor to create a brighter spot in a seemingly encroaching world. Harris Rosen has risen above his personal challenges, and he has given so much to those around him.

My friends over at Flocabulary worked on a beautiful PSA piece along with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation on the global time poverty struggles. It highlights such a critical issue facing our world that there are stresses forcing in on families everywhere. Let that sit with you a minute. How high on the Maastricht hierarchy of needs are you and yours?

I believe in hiring others to help out our family and expand the time that we have to be more productive and to be more restful. A recent survey found those buying services, which free up time, can make you happier. This is not a conflicted position because there are both people needing work, our ability to pay, and freeing us up to complete other activities.

Should it be this way? I don't think so; I think everyone should not only be able to be as educated as they would like to, but they should be able to spend their time anyway they want to as well. I think there's a very bright spot in the future to introduce many more robots into society. Human intellect is key to realizing and fulfilling the potential that creating robots would mean for humanity. Essential tasks and services could be swiftly and more correctly handled by robots freeing up vast swaths of humanity to pursue other educational, productive, creative and recreational activities.

Willam H Webb and Harris Rosen are heroes to me. They and their legacies are helping create the world I want to see. Think about your community a moment and consider whether your neighbors have the resources they need to subsist, to see themselves and their children advance to the degree we all know is possible. If there is a disparity there, I ask that you consider their needs and consider whether you have the ability to change their future. Do you have a dime or an hour to spare to advance their/our destiny to such great heights?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

There is a "me" in Costa Rica

We quickly set in pretty swimmingly (literally every day and many days multiple times daily) when we first arrived. Willa was in a local camp here, CREAR, which runs during the mid-year school break, and she began her school the following Monday in mid-July. We sorted through our long term rental situation, and Marla and I each then took a couple weeks of Spanish classes, more in fact for Marla who is still continuing. Our language school Intercultura provides world class education with a deliberate focus on Costa Rican history and culture. Completing each class it has become progressively easier to have a richer experience here in Sámara. I took a couple cooking classes, which is an offering at school's kitchen each week, and I learned how to make yuca tortas and picadillo.

There are the occasional shrieks in the morning like when a crab was in the house the other day. We have worked on an ant encroachment into the house a couple times. Dislodging about a dozen wasps nests arounds the eaves took some efforts by our landlord the other week. While taking out our green waste the other day, which included some head to tail fish bodies Willa and I drew the attention of a racoon; the bandit started trailing about 10 feet behind us; thankfully, tossing the food waste into the horse field beside our house, the usual target, sent the racoon racing to get to the fishy remains first. Occasionally, a golf ball sized beetle will slam itself into the sliding door at night. We may have been reading and the slam jolts us back to the surface of our immediate surroundings.

This blog post for one was paused recently while I was writing poolside comfortably in the afternoon shade. Marla was reading and Willa watching a great new show, Tumble Leaf. There I was enjoying a nice quiet moment, and a yellow tailed wasp (they're the more aggressive lot compared with their all black brethren), and it started giving me a full body scan like a disgruntled TSA agent. I stood up, and the scan persisted seemingly even closer than before. Well, I was having none of it, and inside I went. One thing I most certainly do not want to experience here is how badly my body will react to a yellow wasp sting.

At our new house things went a bit south with the pool after an algae bloom kicked up. Ten days and many visits from the guys tending to the pool later it's back to looking crystal clear. Separately, it took a handful of visits from the landlord to work out all the kinks of the new house squeaks here, clogged drain there, missed times to connect on issues, and so forth. Everyone has been extremely helpful and able to do much with every contact we have had.

Dropping Willa off at school the other day I observed the metal shop immediately adjacent kicking out welding sparks. I became concerned because kids just like us adults have a very difficult time looking away from the allure of the blue glow. Much like yesterday's total eclipse starring right at it is an opthamologist's nightmare. After suggesting a couple ideas to the school a few friends and I are working on creating a "screen" to shield the kids' eyes. This was a necessary distraction from getting to my sabbatical business. We're far along now and will hopefully wrap it up in the next couple days.

All this is to say that I somewhat anticipated sabbatical to be a bit more readily apparent with vast swaths of free time to work on me projects. There are a few areas of study that I need to make a plan for, and then carve out and execute on that time squarely among the needs presented in renting a house abroad, parenting an energetic fournado, and all the daily life maintenance needs. That said my long wait for Game of Thrones season 6 is over. I signed up for HBO Now yesterday and binged through the first six episodes. I'm ready for Sunday's epic finale.

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Fournado is Real

About a month back I thought... Willa is vacillating between having an amazing time and struggling to adjust. It's hot, there are lots of bugs, and so much is different than she's used to. That said she's had huge breakthroughs in the pool in early July, and that is her happy place. We're getting fruit smoothies everywhere we go, and we're trying to be sure and address her needs constructively; although, sometimes we've just needed to put our foot down and tell her she's being a diva and suck it up. It's been a very interesting chapter in the process.

Today, along with a parent friend, I went to school and sunk some lemongrass plants in the play yard. There are tons of mosquitos, and Willa, nearly as much the target as I am, is still coming home with bites regularly. One potential remedy is to plant lemongrass, which mosquitos apparently don't like so much, and try to keep them at bay. 

Willa has been my planting helper all along back in Brooklyn and wherever the occasion arises. I'm at school and helping get this planting underway, and she has glommed onto my leg, and there is no letting go. We're moving from spot to spot, and Willa is constantly underfoot. "I want to help you with [this]... I want to help you with [that]" 

We sink one plant, and then we're working on the next plant, and I explain one of her classmates is to have a turn putting a plant in the ground, and at the risk of destroying the plant Willa will not let go of it. I do let go impressing a big mud stain across the front of her dress. It's hot, she's muddy, she's a crying mess, and I cannot get the plant out of her clutching hands. Prying the plant away from her we have to step aside to talk and calm down. Now we're both out of sorts, and I punish her by taking away pool time this afternoon. We have had to lose pool time or TV show time on a few occasions because of run-ins like these. 

Trying to leave school after the planting successfully completed she was a hot mess and would not let go. She explained she was tired and had to go home; well, this is an often refrain should either Marla or I see her at a school function anytime between drop off and pick up: "I'm tired", "I'm sick", "I don't want to be here." The teachers are super cool and helpful, and they often step in to lure Willa away bringing her attention elsewhere.

This is probably just four more than I am being a bad parent. I am not as quiet as feel like I should be. The heat doesn't help keep my temper down. My A-type and things needing to be repeated time and again and resulting in snotty bubbling emotional messes is not an easy place for either of us to end up. It's not nice once you arrive there; it's not easy to diffuse, and it's not so easy to just stand up and carry on. Willa's former teacher shared an excellent list of  32 Tantrum-Tamer Phrases to Use With 3 and 4 Year-Olds in Meltdown Mode. Marla and I talk about these situations when we've calmed toward the end of the day and gird ourselves for another eventful encounter in the near future. It's constant, and I want to help Willa grow, understand and appreciate along the way. She's teaching me when I see myself losing my cool (in more way than one), and that's forcing me to redouble my efforts to be my best self for both of us.

How do I know it's all going to turn out alright? I wasn't there, but the other day Marla and Willa are walking to school in the morning. Willa points out a bird to Marla and asks, "You know which one that is?" Marla says no and asks whether Willa does. Without skipping a beat Willa explains, "That's the Red Hawker-Nawker, and it's habitat is..." She apparently goes on for several extensive descriptive and imaginary educational vignettes about this fictitiously identified bird. Willa is smart, she's imaginative, and she's creative.

Some days Willa embodies the perfect pura vida, and other days she is mired in her fourness, and some days she rapidly vacillates. So she lost the pool today, and we'll spend some time talking about it while doing other things. Am I doing it right? I certainly hope so. The fournado is real, and she's the sweetest little monster I know. People say they miss this time -- I think they have memory loss. The Red Hawker-Nawker is a keeper for all times.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

An early take on pura vida

Pura vida has mostly been a call of pride and mutual agreement that things are pretty alright. Pura vida is the national expression of Costa Rica. It is a way of life. It is how one is doing when you ask, ¿Como esta (how are you)? It is an expression of agreement that life is pretty great here.

Take for instance after having worked with a real estate broker here for a long while to find a long term rental with a tight profile. He very vigorously identified properties fitting a our specifications, but they didn't quite suit us save one that was great, but it disappeared within a blink; friends of the owners would be taking the place before us. We canvased the area for all brokers working within this town of 1,500 residents, and we found exactly what we were looking for through another party, and it was tough for me to write the message explaining the situation. I felt bad to deliver it in an email, but I had an opportunity to connect with him in person shortly thereafter. Both his response to the email and seeing him in person the affect was the same. Pura Vida. He was glad our family has been able to find exactly the place we needed for the time we are here in Sámara. What a choice notion to affirm life exclaiming, "pura vida."

Unrelated to the apartment, during my recent mourning period a new friend explained that Costa Rica is a place where cell phones come to die. My language instructor affirmed this after a discussion in class this past week. So, a couple weeks I went out near shore fishing. Everything was spectacular about the entire trip from early rise right up until the final minute of the trip back to shore. We were successful out at sea bringing home some yellow fin tuna, and we split up the catch among the three different parties. When at nearly the last moment the boat to shore skiff came sliding in ashore, and the boat skids up on the rocks turning sideways. Everyone else successfully gets out of the skiff, and I put my leg over the side of the boat at which point it gets shoved broadside by a wave, and I was tossed face first into the shore. My hand and knee took a mild skinning and beating. Worse still my cell phone was in the cargo pocket of my bathing suit. Newly dunked I immediately sprang into action tossing the phone. My new buddy graciously and selflessly began hooving water off the device and wiping it down.

Time goes by and alas the phone is dead. Like dead dead. Like there's a single red light blink if you attempt to power up the device. I'm fairly sure I'm singlehandedly responsible for assassinating my phone with an electric surge before it was fully dry and ready for such an encounter. Well, much time gone by and energy spent a new phone will make it to me with about a month's long gap in between.

Back up a week or two before the phone's death, and I was shocked to find myself here and spending as much time as I did on the couch making sure I traversed every corner of my old internet stomping grounds. And, as it turns out that is a lot of information. My phone was also quite handy for walking around with as it has the local data plan making it easy to stay in touch for our family and explore new towns, etc. However, did we HAVE to have this up to the minute access? No. Pura vida. Could the death of my phone be cause for exclaiming, "pura vida"? Yes, in fact it is.

Without constantly reaching for my phone I have been reaching for my book. I finished a great one, Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. And, then I moved onto the next book in my pile.

Not to be outdone with the downside of pura vida I had to pause writing this story at home, which I'm doing because the internet has been down for four days (pura vida). I had to pause because Willa killed the iPad. She wanted to give me a hug while watching her show, and with the cord sufficiently wrapped around her waist she dragged the device off the coffee table and the screen cracked into a million shards making the iPad dangerously unusable. Pura vida.

Before we left Marla and I discussed what this year would be for us, what we wanted for Willa and overall how would this time would change our family. Well, the resiliency we discussed and agreed would be very beneficial for all of us is being served up daily. Things are different here in a great way, and we are beginning to embrace all the amazingness and all the challenges that pura vida has to offer.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

When it feels right

Back in January/February Marla and I sat and had lengthy deliberative discussions about what was next for us. We had settled on Toronto as a great place for our family to live. That would be at the start time for Willa heading into primary school, Fall 2018, and there was the matter of what should we do now, right now? What would be best for our family.

Sabbatical made a lot of sense to us as we're waiting for my permanent residency paperwork, which has a natural course of action. Costa Rica appealed to us for many reasons. We had previously travelled here and loved the whole experience. Ticos are wonderful, kind and easy going people; they embody their Pura Vida ethos. As two relatively wound up people that would do us good. Then there's the 77-87º F weather -- with a shower in the afternoon half the year -- every day. Add to that a tranquilo beach town with good beginner surfing, yoga on the beach and a great bi-lingual pre-school. It all was too hard to drown out the chorus of resounding "yes" or "claro que sí".

Fast forward through lots of planning, a little bit of preparatory shopping, and a lot of good-byes, a taxi, a flight, and another taxi, and we arrived last Wednesday. Key to comfort here are cross breezes through the house, and as such we had the front door open wide with the screen door offering fresh air. Shortly after dark a neighborhood cat sidled up to the screen door to see who had come into town. Willa being quite tired and road weary launches into sympathetic pleas of "But where is he gonna sleep?" & "He's so lonely." She repeated these alternating inquiries and pleas in the sweetest and most innocent way that only a four year old girl can.

I suspect the cat understood Willa because over the following few days we received multiple presents. Walking out the front door Marla shrieked. She had squished the first present not having noticed the cat had left us a dead something; we couldn't identify it after nearly all of Marla's foot had descended; although, I did see a tail and some guts still on the mat, and I had to scrape the bulk off the underside of her foot with a paper towel. We all get clean, I wash the welcome mat, and a day later we come back from an outing to see this lizard curled up in the mat. Dad is definitely getting the unceremonious responsibility of cat gift disposal. You know you're not in Brooklyn when...

We are still settling in, and we were keeping a close eye on Willa's reaction to our new world. It has been a flurry of new, different, and exciting. It has all been the adventure we anticipated, and it all feels right so far. Willa's school is on the same two week break as the rest of the nation, and it's giving us plenty of time to figure things out together.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

My first taste of the ocean

Over the past many months I have been settling up our affairs in New York. We made the decision to pack up and head to Costa Rica in February, and this past Wednesday we arrived. There were lots of ins and outs to the whole transition. We had a long arc of goodbyes to our family and friends and to our city of 20 years.

Most everything went off without a hitch, but of course I can be silly sometimes. I had to have one more urgent care visit before leaving. After having settled up in Brooklyn we headed to Scarsdale, NY to spend a week with family. We went to the local pool, and not 15 minutes in I attempted a few breast strokes with my eyes closed -- my new goggles were arriving the next day. Several strokes in I veered off course a bit, and I banged my head into a ladder. Reportedly, eight staples at urgent care sealed the cut, and worse it donned on me that I couldn't jump in the ocean immediately upon arriving in Costa Rica. Irritatingly, I continue to have my fair share of accidents, but I got my feet in on the first day nevertheless. Marla, importantly, took that first day Pacific plunge and came back glowing. We have made a great decision for our family. Willa is a whole other matter, and we're still inching her into the water; on Wednesday she would have none of it.

Needless to say there was a bunch of conversation about my staples before departing. Should they come out early before I leave? Would I be able to get them out in a small town? Sámara only has about 4,000 residents. Answer turns out to be yes, there's a clinic run by Dr. Freddy Soto, and he indeed has a staple remover. Cool, we're good to go staples and all. They didn't set off the metal detector at JFK, but I had the visit notes handy just in case.

Yesterday was to be staple removal day, and I couldn't wait. First though we joined Willa's new school, Sámara Pacific School, on their beach day. The trip celebrated the school year half way point. Costa Rica's school calendar runs year round with about 210 days in session. This was a great opportunity for Willa to begin her new school introduction, meeting the other students and playing at the beach. Of course the ocean was looming, and not even the enticement of a fellow girl who went dashing into ankle deep water was enough to get Willa there. She did stick her toes in, which was a marked improvement over the two prior days.

At the beach picnic Marla and I were introducing ourselves and meeting lots of parents. Many have been here for a while, some were here only weeks before us, and some were leaving the following day. As it happens, Brian and his family were departing the next day after a three and a half year stay. Brian had lots of great suggestions for settling in, turns out they had two bikes to sell, and to boot he's an ER doctor with a pair of staple removers back at his house. After the beach party we went back to their house where he deftly removed my staples, and moments later we bought they bikes. Nice how that turned out.

During the past week I had fretted quite a bit about the staple removal, and I had discussed at the urgent care getting a staple remover to bring with me, I had seen my internist before leaving and discussed it with her. Marla and I and many family members had all discussed it extensively. I had contemplated how the tools would need to be sterile, and what would I do if they weren't; would I say something? In the end I sat at new acquaintance's poolside table. He pulled a pair of staple removers from a bag with lots of other tools, and he proceeded to pull out seven staples. The urgent care doctor said there were eight, so Dr. Brian and two onlookers all combed through my head with beach hands and scanned for the never applied eighth staple. This is not how I imagined the scene was going to go down.

After all that I was walking the small lane between our house and the beach, and I saw an email from a friend. There was change back in New York, which related to everything that set our family's adventure in motion, and it brought a huge smile to my face. With that I dropped off Willa's beach toys, which I had been retrieving, took off my shirt, pitched my flip flops and walked into the ocean.