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Dumb Move of the Day

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

On Sunday I described some of our Thanksgiving Eve woes, one being the difficulties we were having setting up Gail’s new iMac. Ultimately, we had to do so from scratch, without transferring data from her old iMac. The worst indignity was that iTunes wouldn’t recognize the new computer as hers, which means she couldn’t recover all the items she has bought — songs, TV shows, iPhone and iPad apps. As we learned, one must write to the appropriate iTunes rep (calling isn’t an option) and beg for forgiveness. The friendly but patronizing iTuner assured her that he understood how frustrating it is to lose one’s data. He would make an exception to policy and allow her to download her purchases from iTunes again. They were put in the appropriate place on iTunes’ end and she was able to see them in her downloads folder at the iTunes store. This afternoon, almost 48 hours later, the download to the new iMac was complete.

But that’s her story. This is about me. I mentioned near the end of the Thanksgiving Eve post that I ordered my own new iMac last Friday. It came this afternoon. I didn’t want to set it up right away, because doing so would involve transferring data from my ancient MacMini, which I suspected might take hours, during which time I wouldn’t be able to use either of them. Around 5:00 PM, with Joel’s assistance, I connected the two and began the transfer. We then went out to do some errands and have a quick dinner. On our return, the transfer was going well, with an estimated time remaining of 3 1/2 hours.

What to do? Maybe this was a good time to disconnect my computer’s external speakers, which I would no longer need thanks to the built-in iMac speakers. Of course, the external speakers are better than the iMac speakers, but they also take up space. I figured I would try life without them. To my surprise, Gail offered to take them, which meant the speaker clutter wouldn’t disappear. It would simply move from one corner of our extended built-in desk to the other. I wasn’t sure that was progress, but that was the plan.

To implement the plan, I started to slide the new iMac out of the way so I could get to the speakers. It was right in front of them, and in front of my about-to-be-retired MacMini, to which it was yoked as it sucked up the MacMini’s data. If you have the picture, perhaps you can guess what happened next. I’ll pause a moment.

Ready?

When I slid the new iMac away from the MacMini and its peripherals, out came the iMac’s power cord. The iMac shut down, the MacMini kept pumping out the data, but it was just spilling all over the desk. Well, okay, maybe not. I don’t know what the data was doing. All I know is, it wasn’t going into the iMac, and I had just wasted two hours.

That’s your dumb move of the day.

I plugged the iMac back in, started the process again, left the speakers alone, and realized I could work on Gail’s new iMac. That’s where I am now. The data dump will surely be continuing when I go to sleep. I’m eager to see what dumb thing I do tomorrow.

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Categories: Life, Stupidity

Have a Great Day!

July 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve written a few posts about waiting for my new iPhone 4, most recently here, where I noted that Gail and Joel had received theirs and mine hadn’t even shipped yet. Well, it turns out there was a reason mine hadn’t shipped. I screwed up. But I can’t help feeling that the real screwer-upper here is Apple. And I’m finding that our relationship has been damaged.

Let me explain. Like over a million others, I rushed to order our new iPhones when buying season began last month. And like the majority of the others, I was unable to get my order placed. Nor could I the next day. When I tried again six days later, it worked, sort of. I logged in, ordered mine, ordered Gail’s, and was told by the system that something had gone wrong — I was trying to order too many phones. I understood that you can order only one phone per existing phone line, but I assumed I could buy all three in one order, provided they matched up with three lines. Once I realized that this was in fact not the case, that each phone order had to be placed separately, I went back to the shopping cart and deleted Gail’s phone order (or so I thought). Then I went into the store again and ordered a second phone, tied to Gail’s line, placed the order, started again, and placed a third order, tied to Joel’s line. Three phones, three lines, three orders. Done. I was told to expect shipment by July 14.

Early last week, email arrived announcing that Gail’s had shipped. Ten minutes later, Joel’s shipped. But not mine. And still not mine when theirs arrived last Friday. Still not mine Monday, but of course it wasn’t July 14 yet. I would be patient.

And then Monday night I got an email from Apple saying that as I had already been informed (I hadn’t), there was a problem with my order. Apple couldn’t get my phone set up with my phone number prior to shipping. Two possible explanations were given — a problem with AT&T billing, or the possibility that I had ordered multiple phones on a single line. Whatever the problem, the email said it was between me and AT&T and I was urged to call them to straighten it out. Apple would keep trying to complete the order through July 15. If they failed then, the order would be cancelled.

Yikes! I called AT&T immediately. After a long wait, I reached someone. He asked me to look up my order number and I stared at the three original order confirmations to see which one was for my phone. Only then, to my shock and dismay, I saw that two of the three orders had Gail’s phone number attached and the third had Joel’s. Somehow, at the beginning of the process, when I tried to order Gail’s and mine at once and was told I had ordered too many, I deleted the order attached to my line rather than the order attached to Gail’s. I then ordered Gail’s phone, then Joel’s, but really had inadvertently ordered zero for me, two for Gail, one for Joel. The AT&T rep said sorry, but this was between me and Apple, and I’d have to call them.

I called Apple next, but they were closed. The automated fellow insisted he could help me, only to throw up his hands, as it were. So I waited until Tuesday morning. The same automated fellow once again insisted on helping me, but eventually he relented and let me join the queue for a live customer service representative. I was then warned regularly about heavy call volumes. After maybe a little over half an hour, someone came on the line.

Okay, so, if you’re following, all I wanted to do was change the phone number on my order. In fact, all I needed was to change a single digit by 1. I had my doubts though. I was prepared to be told that this was impossible, that I would have to cancel my order and start again. My only hope was that Apple would take pity on me and put my new order at the head of the line.

Ha! The Apple rep’s first words were a statement about how we at Apple are committed to excellent service, or something even more emphatic than that. I then explained my problem, after which he immediately explained that he couldn’t correct the phone number. I would have to cancel the order and make a new one. Did that mean, I asked, that I would be put at the back of the queue. Yes. He didn’t offer to move me up, didn’t express sympathy or regret, didn’t express anything. Maybe he didn’t owe me any of that. I’m the one who screwed up, after all, though the truth is, I’m not entirely convinced I screwed up, by which I mean that I’m not sure I deleted the wrong order. But whether I did or not, I could have read the emails that came back to me confirming the orders and reviewed the phone numbers. I had it in my power, that is, to discover the error early on, whoever’s error it was.

Once I confirmed that he could do nothing to help me, I asked how exactly Apple was demonstrating their commitment to excellent service. He didn’t have much to say to that. He did ask if I wanted him to cancel the order for me. I said he may as well, since it had to be cancelled. He then said it was done and I would receive confirming email within 24 hours. Anything else? No. He then closed with, yes, you guessed it, “Have a Great Day!” That put me over the edge. I asked him how exactly I was supposed to do that, now that my phone order of three weeks earlier had just been cancelled, and pointed out that this might be a time when he shouldn’t follow the script, that it was patronizing and gratuitous. He acted offended, letting me know firmly that he followed no script. There was no useful direction for the conversation to go, so at that point we said goodbye.

If Gail and Joel didn’t already have their iPhones, and if I weren’t eager to share the pleasures of Apple FaceTime with them, I might just have ordered an Android-based phone next. I didn’t. I went to AT&T, fed up with Apple, and put through a new iPhone 4 order. Two to three weeks. We’ll see.

Categories: Stupidity, Technology

The Toad

June 17, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been pretty quiet the last two weeks. Sorry about that. It’s not for lack of topics to write about. Have I been traveling? Making progress on my backlog of novels? Proving theorems? No. Mostly, in time I might have spent writing posts, I’ve been planning my life. That’s too generous. Really, I’ve been immersed in the inane endeavor of planning how to plan my life.

You know Arnold Lobel’s wonderful children’s book characters Frog and Toad? They are good friends, and their adventures are told in four books published during the 1970’s, each comprising five short, easy-to-read stories. Frog and Toad Together, the second volume, opens with A List. Many years ago, when my old friend Dan had two young boys, he had me read it. Perhaps he arranged for me to read it to one of the boys. I didn’t realize it was a setup, with Dan knowing that I would recognize myself as the living embodiment of Toad.

If you don’t know the story, you can read part of it at Google books here. Or, with more time, you can see an animated version in two parts, starting with the embedded youtube clip at the top and continuing below. Pay special attention to the part in the second and third minutes of part 2.

[Spoiler alert: In this paragraph, I’ll give away some of the plot.] The story opens with Toad waking up and making a list of things to do for the day. He starts with “wake up,” then immediately crosses it off. The climactic moment occurs later, during Toad’s walk with Frog, when a gust of wind blows the list away and Toad is paralyzed. He has no idea what to do next, so he resigns himself to sitting where he is and doing nothing. Hours later, Frog suggests to Toad that they should go to sleep. Toad exclaims, “Go to sleep; that was the last thing on my list!” Calm is restored. He scratches the words on the ground with a stick, crosses them off, and goes to sleep.

What does this have to do with me? I could write pages on the matter, but I don’t want to get too personal. Here are some highlights of my list-making evolution: Read more…

Categories: Computing, Life, Stupidity

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

December 30, 2009 1 comment

I started this post weeks ago, and even then I started it by observing that I should stop writing about our time in Europe already. With that in mind, I have let it sit, but now I will finish it and post it. Then I can move on.

One reason to push forward with it is that I can’t resist making use of the title. How often can one write “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and mean it literally? (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, of course, is the title of the great 1962 Broadway musical starring Zero Mostel, with book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim — the first musical for which Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics. My parents saw it, as they saw many Broadway shows of the time, and brought home the Playbill, which I looked at, as I would do whenever they saw a show. I couldn’t make much sense of the title at the time.)

Our version of “A Funny Thing … ” revolves around something we did that was really stupid. I could blame those crazy Romans for being disorganized, or insufficiently clear in the information they provide. And they didn’t exactly help. But I’ll take responsibility.
Read more…

Categories: Stupidity, Travel

Mysteries of Time: Venice

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

A weird thing happened three weeks ago today, our first morning in Venice. Perhaps I should set this up as a puzzle, so you have a chance to figure out for yourself what happened. Maybe you’ll be able to do so more quickly than I did.

Let’s start at the beginning, with a review of what brought us to Venice. [You’re going to need some patience. It turns out that I don’t get to the puzzle for a while.] Read more…

Categories: Stupidity, Time, Travel

Security Theater

September 2, 2009 Leave a comment

SecurityTheater

The Atlantic’s James Fallows has written frequently about the idiocy of the TSA’s airport security procedures, an idiocy best summarized by the phrase “security theater.” (See for instance his post from last January and the links contained therein. See also the Atlantic article in last November’s issue by Fallows’ colleague Jeffrey Goldberg.)

In Fallows’ latest post on this theme, from yesterday, he links to and quotes from last week’s “Ask the Pilot” column in Salon by Patrick Smith. Here’s one small excerpt from Smith:

There is a level of inherent risk that we simply must learn to accept. But, if we are going to have an airport security apparatus, and if we are going to devote millions of tax dollars to the cause of thwarting attacks, can we please do it smartly and at least improve our odds?

Am I the only one who finds it maddening, and even a little scary, that we can’t get this right? Is it not a national disgrace that TSA should spend its time confiscating butter knives from uniformed pilots rather than focusing on deadly threats with a long historical precedent?

I followed Smith’s “confiscating butter knives” link and found myself at one of his columns from last summer, which I urge you to read. The butter knife story is both hilarious and maddening. One taste (but read it all):

After removing the knife, she holds it upward with two fingers and stares at me coldly. Her pose is like that of an angry schoolteacher about to berate a child for bringing some forbidden object to class.

“You ain’t takin’ this through,” she says. “No knives. You can’t bring a knife through here.”

It takes a moment for me to realize that she’s serious. “I’m … but … it’s …”

“Sorry.” She throws it into a bin and starts to walk away.

“Wait a minute,” I say. “That’s airline silverware.”

“Don’t matter what it is. You can’t bring knives through here.”

“Ma’am, that’s an airline knife. It’s the knife they give you on the plane.”

Categories: Government, Stupidity, Travel

Gay Search-and-Replace

August 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, Osaka 2007 World Championships

Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, Osaka 2007 World Championships


[Stu Forster/Getty Images]

Last month I wrote about the dangers of search-and-replace algorithms, making reference to a post by Benjamin Zimmer at Language Log in which he discussed some examples, his post being precipitated by the Chicago Tribune online obit for Walter Cronkite that had “Mr.” inserted before every appearance of his name. (For example, there was a quote from his daughter, “Kathy Mr. Cronkite.”)

In my post, I quoted Zimmer’s passage that recalled other examples of unfortunate search-and-replacing, the most interesting of which was the replacement of “gay” by “homosexual” at the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow site, resulting in the American Sprinter Tyson Gay becoming Tyson Homosexual. Zimmer has a fuller treatment of the Gay-Homosexual gaffe in a Language Log post he wrote just after the 2008 US Olympic Trials, where Gay won the 100 meter race but injured himself in the 200 meters. (As a result of the injury, Gay didn’t qualify to run in the 200m at the Beijing Olympics, and because of a re-aggravation of the injury, he failed to qualify at the Olympics for the 100 meter finals.) Zimmer includes screen shots of OneNewsNow headlines such as, “Homosexual runs wind-aided 9.68 seconds to make Olympics.” Zimmer explains that the “American Family Association is a conservative Christian group chaired by Donald Wildmon, dedicated in part to combating the ‘homosexual agenda.’ This fight apparently includes changing all instances of gay in its online news outlet to homosexual.”

I mention all this again because as I was watching the men’s 100 meter races at the IAAF World Championships last weekend,* I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of and laughing at Tyson Gay’s new moniker every time I saw him. Plus, I was early in my reading of Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France last weekend, as a result of which I was simultaneously in the process of re-adjusting myself to the old-fashioned use of “gay” as happy-merry-lively. (I finished the book two nights ago. See last night’s post.) In recounting her early months in Paris, where she moved with her husband Paul in 1948, Child repeatedly uses “gay” to describe events and people. I would love to re-read those passages after the application of overzealous, wrong-headed search-and-replace.

*Recall that Gay entered this week’s IAAF World Championships in Berlin as the defending champion from the 2007 Osaka world championship in both the 100 meter and 200 meter races. He is no longer the top sprinter in the world, but still can lay claim to best in the world as we know it, since Usain Bolt seems to be from another planet. Bolt won both 100m and 200m races at the Beijing Olympics last year in world record time. In Berlin this week, Bolt set world records yet again in winning both events. (See my post on the 100m and my post on the 200m.) Gay was second in Sunday’s 100m, running the fastest non-Boltian time ever. Due again to injury, Gay withdrew from the 200m.

Categories: Books, Language, Sports, Stupidity