I’ve been collecting compasses since the day I discovered one in the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. That was quite a while ago. Before I first set foot in kindergarten, to be exact. So you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I now own no less than six compasses. You’d think this would be enough for anyone, wouldn’t you? But—as the economists are fond of reminding us—human wants are insatiable. And I recently decided to add one more compass to my collection. That’s when I hit a roadblock.
Here’s how it happened. Not long ago I turned out the contents of my ditty bag. If you read In the Same Boat regularly you’ll know this already, because I wrote about it earlier. One of the items I showcased in that article was my Silva Huntsman compass. It’s not my principal compass—a Silva Ranger fills that billet—but it’s an excellent backup, and it’s so small and light that I’m never tempted to leave it behind. It’s no Cracker Jack toy, however. The little Huntsman is a serious instrument, accurate, rugged, and versatile. I have often recommended it. But no more.
The story began when I decided I needed a compass to tuck under the transparent map pocket in the handlebar bag on the bicycle I use for “amphibious” treks. (Spring is coming, after all. It pays to plan ahead.) The Huntsman would be perfect for that, I thought. But I didn’t want to “borrow” the Huntsman I normally keep in my ditty bag for this job. Someday I might forget to return it to the ditty bag, and that would likely be the day I needed it. There was a simple solution: get a second Huntsman.
But I wasn’t sure if I could. My Huntsman is more than 20 years old, and I didn’t think I’d still find it for sale after so long a time. (Truth to tell, the pace of product development has become so frenetic that any item of gear that’s been on the market for more than six months may already have disappeared without a trace.) You can imagine my joy, therefore, when I found a picture of my Huntsman at an online retailer’s website. The description jibed, too. Apparently, the Huntsman had escaped the iron jaws of planned obsolescence. And I lost no time in placing my order.
My joy was short-lived, however. When the package containing my new Huntsman arrived, it wasn’t what I’d expected. The Huntsman compass in the box didn’t look anything like the one in my ditty bag. And it didn’t look anything like the picture on the retailer’s website, either. But it was labeled “Huntsman.” The name had been retained, even if the new Huntsman bore little resemblance to the old. Was I disappointed? You bet. I was even moved to coin the phrase “zombie product” to describe the phenomenon, and I vented my spleen about the whole business on my own website.
Happily, the retailer’s customer service representative promptly refunded my money, though she wouldn’t allow me to return the unwanted compass, even though the blister pack was still intact. It seems that the Huntsman incorporated hazardous materials. It was now too hot to handle. This hadn’t stopped the retailer from shipping it to me, of course, but I’ve learned not to question corporate logic. And I wasn’t exactly the loser in the transaction, anyway. I kept both my cash and the new compass. I’d rather have gotten what I ordered, but…
Is there a lesson to be learned from all this? I think so. In fact, it’s summed up in a hoary Latin tag: Caveat Emptor… Read more…
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