John Klossner

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John Klossner: Is anybody there?

In the past few weeks I have encountered a variety of technology-related problems. At the risk of boring you, it goes like this:

The battery on my laptop started acting strange. The machine would turn off even though the battery claimed to be 50-65 percent full. It is a little over two-year-old battery, with much fewer cycles than the claimed lifetime of the battery. I found a chat room on the Apple site (LINK BELOW) (I'm a Mac user) that fully recognized and described the same troubles I was experiencing. The discussion also claimed that in some cases Apple would replace the faulty battery for free. When I took the laptop into my local Mac dealer, a place where I have done frequent business, the clerk and store manager wouldn't even listen to my story -- once they heard my described symptoms, they immediately declared that I needed a new battery. When I told them about the discussion online, they acted as if they hadn't heard me, and repeated that I needed a new battery. I went home and called Apple support, which did know of the problem I described. They looked up the serial number of my machine and battery, and then told me that my battery was not among those listed that would have been replaced. I bought a new battery.

I received a new cell phone for Christmas. The volume switch on my new phone did not work, so I returned to the point of purchase. They told me that they had no replacement models in the store but that it would be no problem - they would order another phone. When I did not hear from them for a week, I stopped in the store again. The manager (who stayed in his office, relaying these messages through the clerk at the counter) told me that this model had been discontinued, (Maybe the entire line had faulty volume switches?) and that my choices were to upgrade or let them call other stores seeing if they could find some back stock of these phones. This phone was a fairly recent model, and I liked it, so I asked them to look around for other phones. When I did not hear from them for another week, I stopped by the store again. This time the manager came out of his office to tell me "Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot to make that call. I dropped the ball." (While refreshing in its honesty, this is not something you want to hear from someone you're doing business with.) Not being savvy on how to get out of wireless contracts, being able to use my volume-limited phone in the meantime, and having this store en route of my daily errands, I chose to give him another chance. When I made my stop the next week (funny, for a phone store they don't seem to make many calls) the manager told me that he could find no phones. Being a borderline Luddite and not wanting to a) spend on another model or b) have to spend too much time learning another phone (as an aside, I have avoided the cell phone lifestyle up until this phone. It's another story.) I asked him what he suggested. He then told me of an option where I contact AT&T (the provider) and they can do something called a "warranty swap." This involves them sending me a refurbished phone in the same model, and I send them my faulty phone. The only risk here, kind of like buying a used car, is not knowing what the refurbished phone's history was. I took the chance, thinking that a) the refurbished phone may have had a tiny problem, like a non-working volume switch, and b) this new phone had certainly received a lot of attention. I promise to declare in a future blog entry if I made a terrible mistake. As of now I am awaiting delivery of the new phone, after which I will take it to the store to have the transfers of my data completed. (NOTE: Since starting this blog entry, I have received the replacement phone. The camera didn't work. Oops. I contacted AT&T and they were very nice and put another replacement phone in the mail. I am wondering whether I have gone through enough to be able to legally say I am now in a Kafkaesque technology experience.) (ADDITIONAL NOTE: I have received the second replacement phone. It is in perfect working order.)

On Super Bowl Sunday, I noticed that I hadn't received any e-mail. At the time I was glad to take a day away from e-mail and I figured, it being Super Bowl Sunday, that maybe the world had gone offline for a day, something I aspire to and occasionally pull off. When I went online Monday morning, I still had no e-mail. For me to have no e-mail two days in a row would require an event larger than even the Super Bowl. It would mean either the end of civilization (and spamming) as we know it, or that something was wrong with my computer. Since having former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor on "Dancing With the Stars" (LINK BELOW) is probably the end of civilization as we know it, I thought I'd check the second option, just to eliminate all possibilities. I went to my ISP's site, where I can check my e-mail when I have problems. (I was able to get online; I was just not receiving mail.) From the ISP site I was reminded that my former telecommunications provider, Verizon, had in the past year sold its Northern New England (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) accounts to Fairpoint Communications. Fairpoint has been our local telephone provider for several months now, and they had chosen Feb. 1 to move all the data from the Verizon systems they had been using to their own systems. On my end, this meant I had to enter new settings to my computers' mail accounts. In their defense, Fairpoint had sent out a mailer describing this transfer, including the necessary settings, in December. Being a 21st century English-speaking American male who believes that all information is at our fingertips all the time, I noted on the mailer that this wasn't happening for a couple months, and I would be able to look up the settings at that time. I then "lost" (either threw out or put in one of the many piles of paper in my non-paperless office) the mailer.

Verizon had a link to the Fairpoint site. The link was dead. When I went to the Fairpoint site independently, I found no working links to webmail or the information I was looking for. There was a page of phone numbers, however. I called the customer support number. It was busy. I figured okay, they probably have a few people with problems, I'll try again. (Over the next 48 hours, I tried that number no fewer than 25 times. It was always busy. Isn't it required by law that any telecommunications provider have a maze of automated options before telling you that an operator will be with you in 25 minutes?) After some frustration had built - I knew what I needed, I just couldn't find it - I started calling other numbers on Fairpoint's page. One operator told me she was sorry - the phones had been ringing off the hook and even she couldn't get ahold of anyone in technical support. A later operator was much snippier and told me that they "are going through a major transfer. I'll just have to be patient." Well, that helps. I'm sure they won't have difficulties billing me for these days. One person (it was in sales, I believe) offered another URL for me to look into.  (She told me a caller had informed her of this page.) This URL wasn't linked from the main page, but it did offer a live chat link. I entered it and -- voila!, -- I was told that I was in a queue, and would be talking with someone in five minutes. After the four and a half minute wait, I was told that I was next. I was then told that the live chat was not operating that day. (See? That's how telecommunications works!)

I then called my state's Public Utilities Commission. I spoke with a person with excellent listening skills who told me that she would call her contact at Fairpoint and get back to me. She called an hour later to give me a phone number and URL. These were the customer support number and the live chat URL. Later that day, Fairpoint had put up a page with the necessary mail account server settings -- the info I had been looking for all along -- and I was able to set up and receive my e-mail. (I just looked up the Fairpoint site again and noticed they had put a link to these settings on their home page. Wouldn't that have been one of the first things you should've done, when scheduling a systems transfer six months down the road?)

I share this technology trifecta not to relive the stress, nor to offer an insight into my mishandling (and I'm sure there's much) of these situations. The time spent listening to busy signals and waiting for web pages to load allowed me to reflect on the thread in each of these situations - lack of communications. While I can point to problems in each company's handling of these situations, better communications - and, specifically, better listening -  on their parts would have alleviated much of the trouble. I didn't feel heard by any of the parties involved. The local Mac store could have listened to the research I had done, and discovered for themselves that Apple had, in fact, declared some batteries faulty and replaced them. When the Apple technician acknowledged this, even though my battery didn't qualify, I felt satisfied in the resolution. The AT&T store would not have told me anything had I not stopped in each week to check up on  the situation. I certainly didn't feel listened to there. And the Fairpoint systems transfer? - that speaks for itself. AT BEST they were unprepared for the magnitude of the transfer. (Based on this and other service experiences I have had with them, I don't look forward to having my phone and internet service reliant on their growing pains.) This went beyond not being listened to -- this felt like being avoided.

You could argue that being listened to wouldn't have necessarily solved my problems, and I would agree. Maybe being listened to would have merely been a symbolic gesture to placate me while they continued to ignore the specifics of my problem. Perhaps, but in this climate I think it is important to a) use all available resources in problem-solving, which may mean including the off-base experiences of your customers / users, and b) keep your customer / user base satisfied. If they felt heard, this would prevent them from taking their business elsewhere.

This brings us to the president's smart phone. I have found the hubbub over this piece of equipment to be silly. Does anyone really think someone with the discipline necessary to survive the national primary and election process and who is surrounded by advisors and security personnel is itching to sneak away so he can drop state secrets on his handheld to his old college roommate? Please. Besides, since he is the first president to go through this scrutiny about his PDA, it makes me think that not too many other world leaders have smart phones either, making it less likely that high security topics would be shared, should he be texting another head of state. No, I think this falls into the symbolism I mentioned earlier. If the president's smart phone was taken away, it would give the appearance of not communicating, wouldn't it?  Even if he sends out an "I thought you'd be interested in this" a couple times a day, it gives the appearance that he's communicating.

That said, is the president's smart phone even a legitimate piece of equipment? Between running the country, making numerous public appearances, and having family time he probably has about 15 minutes to send off a couple YouTube links. (LINK BELOW) This handheld screams of "symbolic." Nevertheless, it allows me some fantasizing…

If I were a political cynic, I'd ask if it's possible that the president's smart phone has better security than several East Coast ports.
Which would be the bigger "get": a picture of the president on his smart phone or with a cigarette?

If you were one of the persons given access to the president's handheld device, what could you possibly send? Is there any privacy here? I imagine a scene where you have to get clearance before sending updates on the Cubs' chances in 2009. (LINK BELOW)
There was an old comedy routine -- I believe during the Ford administration -- which relied on the running joke of "...Secret Service agents jumped on the offending _______ and wrestled it/them to the ground." This started with human characters filling in the blank, but got humor out of inanimate objects - "The president was hit on the head by a tree branch today. Secret Service agents jumped on the offending branch and wrestled it to the ground. The President poked himself in the eye with his thumb today. Secret Service agents jumped on the offending thumb and wrestled it to the ground." This joke can now be resurrected to include the smart phone.

Of course, there's always the chance that he's dealing with one of my suppliers, in which case we know the smart phone isn't working properly.

LINKS:

"chat room on the Apple site"

former NY GIants linebacker Lawrence Taylor on "Dancing With the Stars"

YouTube links

Cubs' chances in 2009



Posted by John Klossner on Feb 12, 2009 at 12:18 PM


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