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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

Our Master Speaks

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I couldn’t make it down to San Francisco for this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC10). But thanks to live bloggers, I can follow Steve Jobs’ opening keynote address, which started 45 minutes ago. Right now I’m following via Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky.

What a great experience! We get to learn, virtually live, about our lord and master’s next gift to us. These days, Gail and I spend our evenings side by side, iPads in hand. (She got hers a week ago.) Soon we will be able to replace our second-generation iPhones with iPhone 4’s, which is what Steve is revealing to us now. And Topolsky’s live blog includes photos, such as the one above.

Gotta go. I’m missing the latest.

Categories: Technology

Tweeting my Posts

April 17, 2010 Leave a comment

It worked! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s supposed to work. I noted moments ago in my last post that just before writing it, I had “tried to link my twitter and wordpress accounts so that each time I publish a post, an accompanying tweet will appear.” I wasn’t confident that it would work. I had spent ten minutes looking for such an option within my wordpress settings, then found a couple of third-party plug-ins that were designed to link the two accounts. I downloaded one, but couldn’t figure out how to install it. I signed up for the other, but couldn’t get it to work either. And then I found a simple box to check in my second search through wordpress settings that purported to send my posts to twitter. I checked it, was taken to a twitter page to give the wordpress application permission, and that was that. The thing is, how did twitter know who I was? When wordpress sent me over there, twitter didn’t ask me to identify myself. It just asked for my permission to tweet URL’s for my blog posts. That was the principal source of my skepticism.

Rather than think too deeply about this puzzle, I decided I should simply test the link. If it works, who cares why? I wrote a post, published it, and checked my twitter page. There it was, a new tweet — Nocera Returns: http://wp.me/pkHKn-Cb — consisting of the title of my post and an abbreviated URL for the post.

WordPress also provides the option, with another settings click, of having my posts appear as facebook updates. A number of my FB friends, whose blogs I already subscribe to, do that. But I’m not ready. I’ve been a passive facebook user, posting a status update only once, two Septembers ago, and deciding I had gone too far. I’m not ready to change just yet.

Categories: Technology

Antietam, Gettysburg, Books, Kindle

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ll be in DC the week after next for some business. Gail will join me at the end, and two weeks from tomorrow we will take our first Civil War battlefield trip. That Saturday, we’ll drive up to Antietam National Battlefield, where we hope to get a tour with a local battlefield guide. We’ll then continue on to Gettysburg, where we’ll be staying at a bed and breakfast for two nights. The next day we’ll spend visiting Gettysburg National Military Park, where again we hope to have the help of a local guide. (I called this morning for guides and may be too late for Antietam. I’m awaiting a call back on Gettysburg, which seems to have an army of guides, so I assume we will succeed in reserving a tour.) I’m excited. This is long overdue. Perhaps it will be the first of many such trips.

Yesterday afternoon I looked into books we might read in preparation. Many years ago, I read James McPherson’s mammoth Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. I could try re-reading it. It’s so physically large that it would be a candidate for buying again in its Kindle version, though the Kindle is a disaster when it comes to displaying maps and photographs. Instead, I looked for books focused specifically on the two battles. For Antietam, I found another of McPherson’s books, the slim Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam: the Battle That Changed the Course of the American Civil War. And what do you know, he has an even slimmer book on Gettysburg, Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg, in the superb Crown Journeys series of travel books. (I wrote about another member of the series, Frank Conroy’s Time & Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket, in one of the first posts for this blog.)

After a little more searching, I decided to buy McPherson’s two books. Now what? Buy the physical book or the electronic Kindle version? Or, maybe buy my first electronic books from the Apple store, for the iPad. Well, I eliminated the last possibility quickly — they aren’t available. But both were available for Kindle. Then I remembered that the Kindle is a map-viewing disaster, and surely I would want to study battlefield maps. On the other hand if I got the books on the Kindle, Gail and I could read them simultaneously. And I love the Crown Journeys series so much that maybe I would buy the Gettysburg book in both forms, one for maps and as a keepsake, the other for immediate access and simultaneous reading. As a starting point, I might as well get both for the Kindle, and that’s what I did.

I read the opening material of both and soon found myself looking at a map of Antietam. It was terrible. Useless. Ah, but the iPad has a free Kindle app, which I downloaded last week when I brought the iPad home. (Once one buys a Kindle book, one can download it to the Kindle itself or to the iPhone or the iPad). I downloaded the Antietam book, paged through it for the map, and it worked! I could do the usual two-finger expansion motion, as one would with photographs or webpages, getting the map to fill the screen, and it was entirely legible. A win for the iPad. On the other hand, the iPad is sufficiently heavier, and larger in size, that it’s not comfortable to hold with one hand, so for basic text reading I’m sure I will prefer the Kindle. If I’m willing to travel with both, I can use the Kindle for most reading, switching to the iPad version for maps and photos.

This may not be the best solution, but it will do. Another weakness of electronic reading, even if I’m satisfied with the quality of the graphics, is that it’s not as easy to return to reference items — maps, photos, family trees — as in a book. You can’t just flip back to a particular spot. You can mark a page. I’ll have to do that with the maps. But still, just turning to the desired page in a book seems a lot easier. Or maybe it’s just more familiar. Maybe I’ll get used to the electronic equivalent.

I didn’t mention it, but before I headed east at the beginning of March, I bought Kindle versions of two new travel books whose reviews convinced me that I had to have them: Peter Hassler’s Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory and Ted Conover’s The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today . I thought they would be perfect reading on the trip. I got on the plane to Philadelphia to start the trip and immediately started reading Conover’s book. (One problem with electronic reading — when the plane’s doors shut, you have to shut the device until you’re 10,000 feet in the air. But there’s always the airline flight magazine.) I wasn’t thinking too clearly when I ordered the books. I just figured I could carry both on the trip easily, thanks to the Kindle, but I forgot about the map issue. Each chapter of Conover’s book recounts a different trip, opening with the tracking of the source of mahogany being used for expensive furniture in New York, from New York backwards to the Peruvian coast, over the Andes, and down into the Amazon basin. As I began to read, I realized that a map would be useful. I then saw that the author helpfully provides one. But on the Kindle, forget it. Amazon is going to have to figure out a way to improve its graphics presentation. As a start, a higher-contrast touch screen would help, with the ability to zoom in and out by Apple-style pinching moves. No doubt this will appear in time.

Categories: Books, History, Technology, Travel

Gathering For Gardner

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I wrote two days ago about buying an iPad, mentioning in passing that one of the apps I had downloaded for it was the WSJ app. Yesterday I explored how it works. It’s really good. What it does is download and keep on the iPad the last seven days of the paper. The next day — if you bring up the app the next day — it deletes the oldest of the seven days and downloads the current day. You select the day you want, choose the section of the paper you want, and then start reading. In one mode, all the articles of that section are listed in a column on the right. When you tap on one of the articles, it comes up, with the column still there on the right so that you can go straight to any other article you wish. To continue reading a multi-page article, or to go back a page, you do the standard horizontal swipe.

Of course, this isn’t free. I don’t know what it costs to subscribe anew. As a print/online subscriber, I get iPad access, for now, at no additional cost. Apparently the WSJ will soon charge print subscribers.

Anyway, since we were back in New York a week ago, we didn’t get last Friday’s paper. As I explored the iPad edition of the WSJ yesterday, I realized I could look at Friday’s missed paper with just a tap. So I did, heading straight to the Weekend Journal, where I happily discovered an article on Martin Gardner that I would otherwise have missed. It’s a rare day when any major newspaper has an article with mathematical content. I’m glad I found this one.

Though not himself a mathematician, Gardner is one of history’s great popularizers of mathematics, through his long-running “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American. He is as well one of the great debunkers of pseudo-science. The WSJ article describes the 9th annual conference in honor of Gardner, held two weeks ago in Atlanta. From the article:

. . . a four-day conference in honor of Martin Gardner, 95, a public intellectual whose most famous pulpit was “Mathematical Games,” written for Scientific American between 1956 and 1981. Mr. Gardner’s column illuminated the beauty of math and logic in discussions of fractals, origami, optical illusions, puzzles and pseudoscience. It challenged readers to discover how finely math and logic are interwoven through the world.

. . .

Puzzles are instructive, Mr. Gardner found, for they teach us to appreciate hidden structures of the world that are not owned by any particular discipline and are potentially useful to all. He saw the world as resembling not a magazine, where the subject of each section bears little relation to that of the next, but a well-written novel, where ideas introduced in one chapter are apt to reappear—transformed, modulated and extended—in others. He taught his readers to see the world in the same way, inculcating in them an openness and alertness to the often surprising possibilities of the world, and the desire to seek them out.

Categories: Math, Newspapers, Technology

iPad Fever

April 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Yes, I succumbed. I knew I would. It was just a matter of when. And when came late this afternoon.

I have known for a long time that I wanted an Apple tablet computer. Whenever I sit around the house with my MacBook Air, I realize it’s the wrong product. If I want to type, I’ll sit at my desk. When I carry it around to other rooms, I use it to check email, read the NYT or other news in the browser, look at my calendar, maybe look up some statistic as I watch a sporting event. Holding my laptop is awkward. There are two planes, two flat surfaces, and I want only one.

I had a tablet PC for a couple of years. It had its own problems. It got too hot to hold comfortably when I used it for an hour. It was too heavy. It had no touch screen, so I had to click on websites or emails using the tablet pen.

I knew what I wanted. I wanted a lightweight touch screen tablet computer with no physical keyboard. Once I got an iPod Touch (and later an iPhone), the model was clear. And of course, I wanted Apple to make it, since all my other computing is done on Apple products with Apple operating systems, and since I sync my calendars and contacts and browser bookmarks through Apple’s MobileMe cloud computing service.

In effect, I had conceived of the iPad long ago, as it filled the major gap in my computing needs. I was simply waiting for it to appear.

I intended to be patient. At the least, I figured I would wait for the 3G version to come out later this month.* And since we were in New York over the weekend, there was no danger that I would buy it right away. But the more I read, the more tempted I became, and then I realized yesterday that Apple Stores had stock. If one ordered online from Apple, one would have to wait, but one could drop by a store and walk out with one. I was on campus this afternoon for a meeting. Afterwards, I went down the hill to the University Village Apple Store, tried one out for about 15 minutes, discussed the memory options with an Apple iPad expert, and made my choice (32GB).

What do I think? Well, I’ve been focused more on setting up tonight than enjoying it. I’ve downloaded Amazon’s Kindle app so I can read my Kindle books on it. Netflix. An app that lets me transfer documents from my computer hard drive to the iPad via our WiFi network and then read them on the iPad. My RSS reader (NetNewsWire). The WSJ app and the weird NYT app that lets you read just a small portion of the NYT, though in a convenient format. The Weather Channel’s app, which seems to think my location is Boston.

Oh, that’s another problem with not waiting for the 3G version. The WiFi version lacks not just 3G connectivity but also GPS. I figured I could do without. I have GPS on my iPhone. I don’t expect to be walking down the street with the iPad in hand, trying to find a restaurant. But maybe with GPS the Weather Channel app might have realized I’m not in Boston.

Do I love it? Not yet. But then, for the most part, it does what I expected. No surprises. Happy? Yes. In love? Maybe not.

What I take on our next trip will be the subject of a future post. The contenders: iPhone, iPad, Kindle, MacBook Air. Do I need all four? I sure hope not.

*The version released on Saturday connects to the internet by WiFi only. It comes in three forms, the only difference being how much flash memory it carries — 16 or 32 or 64 GB. The version yet to be released will connect through AT&T’s 3G cellular network as well as WiFi. It too will come with three memory options, and each one will be $130 more than the WiFi-only version. To use the 3G network, one will have to pay AT&T for a data plan, but unlike with the iPhone, no contract will be required. You can pay as you go.

Categories: Technology

Book/Kindle Update, 3

February 14, 2010 Leave a comment

On New Year’s Day, I wrote a post about a book I had just finished reading, William Langewiesche’s Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson. I also took the opportunity to discuss, again, my experience with the Kindle, as well as mentioning yet again the two books I had been eager to read for months, which I anticipated reading next, Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance, The Bankers Who Broke the World and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

In the following days, I began to read Lords of Finance, describing a few days later how I was alternating between reading the physical version and the Kindle version, depending on whether I was sitting up during the day or lying in bed at night, and wishing there were a way for the Kindle to know where I was in the physical book so it could jump ahead as needed.

Five weeks later, I regret to report that my reading of Lords of Finance stalled. Not because of lack of interest. I was thoroughly enjoying the book, and learning a lot about pre-depression economic issues in Europe and the US. Read more…

Categories: Books, Technology