Our story continues …
Around the middle of October began the most stressful, draining, demoralizing three weeks for me in recent memory. It began when I was given a project at work that was already two months overdue. Based on a past project, I thought, No big deal. It’ll take me two or three days. But this project turned out to be much more involved than the earlier one, and two days dragged out into two weeks, and every few days the people in charge of the project would ask me how close I was to being done. I had no idea, and I vacillated between telling them that and trying to make optimistic guesses. Not very fun.
In the meantime, I was in the market for a copy of Microsoft Office. The more I used Access at work, the more I fell in love with it, and I thought it would be good to own it so I could work from home on occasion and so I could use it for my own projects. But Microsoft software is very expensive, so I decided to go the eBay route.
After losing a few auctions, I found a Buy It Now listing for Office XP Pro for $99. So I grabbed it. They wanted immediate payment, and I always pay immediately anyway, so I sent the money via PayPal and waited for them to ship it. At the end of the day I checked my e-mail and saw two messages. One was from the seller telling me they’d shipped the software. The other was from eBay telling me they had removed the listing because it possibly violated Microsoft’s intellectual property and that I shouldn’t complete the transaction. Well, too late for that. All I could do was to wait for the package and assess the situation when it arrived. If there was a problem, the listing had said I could return the software within 14 days for a refund.
And there was a problem. When I opened the package, I saw right away that the CD had the words printed on it, “For distribution only with a new PC.” Strangely, there was no new PC in the package, just a CD in a sleeve. I knew this violated Microsoft’s licensing policies, and I don’t like using illegal software, so I sent it back using the return address on the package. It was sent back to me. The address was undeliverable.
While this was going on, I randomly decided to post on a programming forum I had joined a few weeks before. I hadn’t posted much, but today I had something I thought would make a good thread, so I started one. The first person to reply told me that there was a similar thread in another area of the forum. He was very friendly about it, and I replied, “Whoops! I should have looked more.” Another responder was not so friendly. He replied with the slightest of sarcasm that I should read the FAQ and “How to Post a Question” too—”We’ll all be glad you did.” As if I didn’t know how to post a question on a programming forum. So I posted what I hoped was a friendly reply saying that I actually had read it and telling him some of the steps I had taken to search before posting. I just hadn’t searched enough in this case. Well, that wasn’t good enough for him, and he replied with stronger sarcasm and still with the assumption that I was some lazy, stupid newbie. So I tried further to clear myself, and he still pressed his own point and didn’t get mine, though to be fair, he did drop the sarcasm.
This went on a couple more rounds, and as it progressed I felt more and more run down. I hate being misunderstood, and I hate being in conflict with people, especially strangers because there’s little basis for resolving the conflict. This little conflict was actually the most oppressive problem I was dealing with during this time. The project at work was annoying; the software scam was unfinished business; but the forum conflict was personal. It all added up to a miserable me. I didn’t want this thread to go on forever, so in the end I stated my agreement with the two points I could agree with him on and then dropped it. Somehow that made me feel much better.
Meanwhile the illegal software was being returned to me. This was getting ridiculous. So when I received the package, I wrote to the seller one last time to ask for their correct address, informing him that if I didn’t hear from him within two days, my next step would be to appeal to PayPal’s Resolution Center. Well, I hadn’t heard anything from him since they shipped the software to me, and predictably, I didn’t hear from him this time either. So, that Friday night I filed a dispute claim with PayPal. It took a while because the claim description could only be 2000 characters, and the one I had written beforehand was a lot longer! But I successfully pared it down and hit submit.
The site said that their investigation could take up to 30 days, but I wasn’t in a hurry. I figured they’d probably start on it the next day, request some supporting information, like the e-mails between the seller and me, the seller would be elusive, and it would take at least a week. So I put it out of my mind and went on with my web surfing. A while later I checked my e-mail. There was the message confirming my claim, timestamped at 11:45. But then there were two others: “Receipt for Your Refund” and “Resolution of Buyer Complaint Case,” timestamped at 12:24—39 minutes later!!! I couldn’t believe it. I logged on to PayPal and checked the dispute details, and there it was, “Refund initiated,” and the “actor” was the seller. I guess he was up late too, although in the status details PayPal did say, “We have granted this claim.” Maybe they moved the funds themselves and attributed it to the seller for some reason. Anyway, there was my money, sitting in my account. I instructed PayPal to transfer it back to my bank. And that was that! There was no message from the seller, and I still didn’t have his address, so I tossed the package in my closet, unopened. It’ll make a good prop for the story, I guess.
And the day before, Thursday, I had finally finished my long programming project. So all my problems were finally resolved. Whew! My mind was free at last.
I learned a few things from these experiences. First, it’s better not to try to defend yourself with some people, because it won’t work. Just say, “Sorry,” or something and let it drop. It’s more important to defend yourself when a close relationship is at stake. I haven’t worked out all the ins and outs of this issue yet, but it does come up every once in a while.
Second, programming can be an unpredictable task. The people on the Enterprise may be able to pull off huge engineering feats in a few minutes, but in the real world it doesn’t work that way. Even I was surprised at how long this project took. But now I’m more aware for the future. Every program I write teaches me things. Well, except for the quick and easy ones that just sort an array or something.
Third, buying software is tricky, especially over the Internet, especially on eBay. I’ve learned to look for certain signs. The photo should look like it was taken by the seller, not stolen from an advertisement. The description should make it clear that the software isn’t the academic version (which can only be sold to academic institutions), an upgrade (which you need an earlier version to install), OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer—the version that can only be sold with a new computer), or volume licensing/media only (unless you’re buying it in bulk). The seller should have feedback from previous buyers—my seller had feedback from sellers but not buyers, possibly because all his auctions were being removed and none of the buyers could leave feedback. He is now no longer a registered member of eBay, fortunately.