Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Chevy Volt: A Study in UX Gone Wrong

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

I’ve been driving a Chevy Volt for about 3 months now. I certainly enjoy rarely having to put gas in the car – in about 3000 miles, I’ve spent perhaps $50 on gas. And that, I think, is what contributes to the Volt’s irrationally high customer satisfaction. Because as someone who previously owned a Nissan Leaf for a year – and as someone who just kinda knows how cars are supposed to work – I have no alternative but to say that the Volt is hands down the worst vehicle I have ever owned.

My dissatisfaction is not about the electric motor or the gas/electric hybrid system, which lets you keep driving even if you run out of electrons (the Volt has a fairly anemic electric range, especially compared to all-electrics like the Leaf). Instead, my criticism is with the car’s overall user experience – often called the “UX.” The UX determines everything about how you interact with the car: Where the buttons are placed, what the displays look like, how it warns you about problems, and so on. The Volt’s UX is casually infuriating, as if every decision was intentionally made to inconvenience or frustrate the driver.

The Center Console of Confusion

consoleStart with the car’s most hilariously disastrous design failure: The center console. Just look at this fiasco. I’m guessing it probably doesn’t look as bad in a photo as it does when you’re actually trying to use it while driving. It’s a giant block of undifferentiated buttons, flung onto the center post in a seemingly random arrangement.

The buttons are all the same size and shape, and there are far too many of them (about 35 in all). And their placement defies rational explanation. The “Home” button, which takes you to the on-screen interface’s central screen, is not the first button in the grid. It’s not even in the center, or on the top row. It’s just kind of randomly in the middle. Likewise, I defy you to find the play/pause button, especially when actually driving the car. I didn’t realize the car even had one for a few days, until I found it lurking, off center, hidden in the midst of a bunch of unrelated buttons.

Honestly, I can’t emphasize enough how completely broken the center console experience is; not only are the buttons difficult to locate and require significant amounts of memorization and muscle memory to use, but they have an unusual feel; they’re hard to press, since they’re not traditional tactile buttons. They are flush with the surface of the console, and don’t really “click.” Knowing where to press to activate them (especially with gloves on) is more trial and error than something you can even learn through repetition.

And then there’s the button that locks the car doors. You won’t find any way to lock or unlock the car on the doors themselves – no, a 100-year-old UX convention like that would be too simple. The door lock and unlock buttons are buried within the mess of center console buttons. Even knowing that’s where they are, my wife and I occasionally stare dumbly at the doors for 5 or 10 seconds after a trip trying to figure out how to get out of the car. I’d liken it to the way Microsoft removed the Start button from Windows 8, but this is actually a lot worse.

Unfit and Unfinished

There’s a cavalcade of what you might call “fit and finish” issues.

Perhaps no one thing better illustrates the lack of attention to fit and finish than the process of adding locations to the navigation address book. When you name your new locations, you can only use upper case letters. That’s fine, I guess, though quite ugly. But your Home address, which is a default label in the address book, uses title case – a mix of upper and lowercase letters. Wonderful. If you’re just a little bit OCD like me, seeing that ransom note list of locations in your address book every day is sure to drive you to the brink of insanity. Sure, some of these things are quibbles, but when you add them all up, they contribute to an experience that feels sloppy and amateurish.

Or consider the main interface’s customization. If you think there are a lot of buttons on the center console, just wait till you wade through page after page of additional icons on the LCD. Thankfully, you can rearrange the icons to a limited degree, putting the features you use the most of the first page. That was great for about 2 weeks, before my custom arrangement was inexplicably wiped out one day and the factory settings were restored. Hey Chevy: a software crash in a car should never reset settings—it’s not a confidence builder. Given the difficulty of the Volt’s customization process, I’ve never tried again. It’s not worth it, especially if a random bug will simply erase all my work shortly thereafter.

And then there’s the fact that the car is confused about the total miles per gallon rating. The Volt tracks both your short-term and total fuel efficiency, which is cool. It’s nice knowing, for example, that I am getting about 140 mpg overall. But I noticed something interesting: One of the trip odometers has never been reset from when the car was brand new, and the MPG credited to this trip counter is different – by a significant amount – than the total vehicle lifetime MPG. They should be the same, and that fact that they’re different is an example of inexcusable sloppiness.

Bluetooth Disaster

More fit and finish frustration: The car can play music wirelessly (via Bluetooth) from your smartphone. But press the pause button (the hard-to-find one on the center console) and the car only pauses the music for about 30 seconds or so. Then it gives up and abruptly starts playing music from the radio. Because to Chevy engineers, “pause” apparently means “only stop playing my selected music briefly, then just start playing some random music at a shockingly high volume.” And lest you think this is some shortcoming in Bluetooth that’s beyond Chevy’s control, I can assure you that I’ve driven other cars with integrated stereo Bluetooth. This is the first I’ve ever encountered this problem.

And that’s not all: Accept a phone call using the car’s on-screen display, and the call, insanely, is routed to your phone by default. You know, the phone that’s probably in your pocket or charging in the glove compartment. Then you fumble madly for the right button on the car’s display in order to transfer the call to the car’s speakers. While driving 50 miles per hour down the highway. I have not the words.

Even the experience of locking and unlocking the car is annoying. There’s no key, of course; with the fob in your pocket, you just press the button on the door handle to lock or unlock. You press the button twice to unlock all the car doors, but only kind of. Good luck getting all the doors unlocked. Double tap the button too quickly, and nothing happens. Most of the time. Occasionally, you might press twice, nothing happens, and press a third time, and be surprised to see the doors unlock after a short delay, then immediately lock again thanks to the unnecessary third press. It’s a game Chevy wants you to play called “I dare you: Just try to unlock your car.” When you exit the car, you can press the button to lock the doors, but you’ll end up nervously standing around a couple of seconds waiting to see if the press “took.” In my old Nissan Leaf, button presses to lock and unlock the doors were authoritative, reliable, and nearly instantaneous. How can Chevy get something as simple as door locks wrong?

It’s Electric, Really

And then there’s the fact that the Volt doesn’t appear to even know it’s an electric car. The navigation system has a database of gas stations and can direct you to the closest ones – not surprising, really, since this is a standard feature in most navigations systems. But the Volt is an electric car – is Chevy aware of that? Because there’s no database of nearby charging stations—something I would argue is a lot more critical than a guide to nearby gas stations. Texaco is on every street corner. Good luck finding a charging station in downtown LA without some help. Again, I must fall back on my experience with the Nissan Leaf, which was always ready to direct you to charging stations when you were running low on electrons. If you have a Volt, download a third-party smartphone app for that, I suppose.

Broken App

And speaking of apps, Chevy offers both an iPhone app and a Web site for finding out your car’s charge status and other diagnostics. Plus, you can do things like start the car and fire the car alarm remotely. Great, right? Unfortunately, the app can’t accept the same password as the one you created for the Web site if you made it strong with special symbols in the password. There’s no indication of this on the Web site or in the app; the only way I found out was after an extended chat with customer service. To use the app, you must weaken your password for both.

Why No Heat?

And once you’re in, I discovered that Chevy doesn’t really understand why they should offer the remote start feature to begin with. As an aside, I should point out that I’ve noticed that Chevy has apparently tried hard to match Nissan feature for feature in many, many ways across the vehicle. If the Leaf can do something, the Volt can do something quite similar – just not nearly as well. Case in point: You can use an app to turn on the Leaf’s heating system, which makes your car nice and toasty while it’s still plugged into a charger. The Volt? You can remote start the engine, but you can’t control the climate system. If you tend to leave the climate system off (or in “fan only” mode), which is likely, since that’s the most battery-friendly configuration, then starting the car in your garage won’t heat it up. Thanks a lot, Chevy. Why did you include the remote start feature at all?

Bottom Line

And there’s more annoyances – a lot more.

I knew that the Volt was something of a “compromise car” when I got it – I wasn’t ecstatic about buying one. I would rather have a Leaf, but the Leaf didn’t quite offer the range I needed for my long daily commute. A Tesla S would have been perfect, but it’s unaffordable. Which left me with the Volt. It’s utilitarian; it does what it needs to – barely – but the UX is so poorly implemented that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this car to anyone who wants to actually enjoy his or her time on the road.

He Actually Owns a Computer!

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

It’s easy to poke fun at the naivety of our pre-Information Age perspective. That’s why folks love to trot out historical quotes like “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” [IBM Chairman Thomas Watson, 1943] and “640K is more memory than anyone will ever need” [Microsoft founder Bill Gates in the early 70s]. (It never seems to dampen anyone’s spirits that the second quote, at least, never actually happened.)

It was in this spirit, though, that I recently watched a fascinating news story from 1981 about how someday, we might all get our news via computer instead of by newspaper. The video is notable for being reasonably accurate, level-headed, and smart. It wasn’t alarmist, nor did it make ludicrous predictions – a rarity for tech stories in any decade. Here’s the video:

One thing jumped out at me the first time I watched it, though. Note that the guy the interview is not identified as Richard Halloran, technology expert or Richard Halloran, computer consultant or Richard Halloran, businessman. Nosiree, he’s credited with a status far more amazing, awesome, and rare. Richard Halloran actually owns a computer! And that’s so freaking amazing that it is the label they use to identify him on television:

owns-home-compter It makes me imagine that if he had cured cancer in 1980, they still would have gone with the “owns home computer” caption for this particular interview.

Dell Watch: Apparently they hate their customers

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

image The saga continues. It has now been 5 months since I ordered a Dell XPS 720, and the system suffers frequent unexplained bluescreen crashes. I’ve talked to uncountable tech support techs. I still don’t have a working computer.

Since the last time I described my problems with my order, Dell told me they could not exchange my system for a different model; they would only swap it out for the exact same specifications. So they sent me another XPS 720, which I decided to set up in the most scientific manner possible. I created an Excel spreadsheet and logged every single thing I did to the system. I noted every app I installed or removed; when I rebooted; when I changed the screen resolution; when I installed a peripheral. I discovered that my first bluescreen was a mere 5 hours after unboxing the system, and I had done nothing more complex than uninstalling crapware and installing Microsoft Office 2007. As time went on, I noted the bluescreen error code of every failure.

Want to see the details? You can grab my spreadsheet and read it for yourself.

After the first bluescreen, I called Dell XPS support, and the tech promised, after investigating my issue, that he’s escalate my problem to level 3 tech support and I’d get a call back within 48 hours. That call, of course, never came. I waited a few days and tried again. A second time, I called and let the level 1 tech tell me how easily he would solve my problem with some inane solution like running the hard disk error check utility, and eventually he agreed to upgrade me to level 3 support–with that mythical call back after 48 hours.

No call came. Lather, rinse, repeat–I’ve called Dell four times now, and four times I’ve been promised a call back with level 3 support, and each time I am glad I didn’t cancel any special dinner plans to wait by the phone, because I’ve never gotten any kind of call back.

So after 5 months, what am I to do? I am genuinely stumped. Dell apparently has no "customer advocacy" department designed to solve problems like mine. They won’t call back. They don’t give a shit. Keep in mind that I spent over $3000 on this system.

Houston, We Have a Problem (and Dell Should Be Ashamed of Themselves)

Friday, March 14th, 2008

reliability01 Fans of this blog — and by "fans," I mean my mom and about 10,000 spambots — might recall that I bought a Dell XPS 720 back at the end of October, 2007. It didn’t work, so Dell swapped it for a replacement, which I finally got in January, 2008, after enough frustration to run some sort of futuristic locomotive that is powered entirely by frustration.

Well, the replacement didn’t work, either. And while I haven’t been blogging about it, I’ve spent the last 2 months troubleshooting the problem, with occasional (and relatively indifferent) assistance from Dell.

First, a very short summary: The XPS 720 locked up frequently (and by that, I mean the mouse would freeze, all desktop activity would cease, and then, after about a minute of eerie quiet, the machine would bluescreen and then reboot).

This tended to happen a few times each day, and generally seemed tied to high hard drive utilization, such as when installing an app from DVD or trying to back up the hard drive. Not always, though. Occasionally, it would just lock up and bluescreen when the system seemed relatively idle.

That was how the first XPS 720 behaved. It had come with with Windows Vista Home Premium installed, but as soon as I got it out of the box, I immediately upgraded the machine to Windows Vista Ultimate. But as soon as I began installing apps from DVD, I noticed it locked up intermittently. I contacted Dell, who had me try some common troubleshooting, and though we didn’t find any specific problems, Dell decided to send me a new machine.

When the new machine eventually arrived, I decided to leave Home Premium in place in case the upgrade to Ultimate was somehow to blame. Again, I started installing apps and, pretty quickly, I noticed this new machine was locking up just like the first PC. It continued to lock up on a frequent basis, making it borderline unusable. Now bear in mind that I wasn’t installing buggy, insane stuff with names like CrazyPhishingSpooferPro — I was installing Office, Photoshop, and a handful of popular games, all ordinary stuff that ran just fine on my old Windows Vista computer. For backup, I use (and continue to highly recommend) Casper to clone my hard drive to a second internal drive. It was incapable of making it all the way through a backup; the machine would routinely lock up before the backup was complete, leaving me without a backup. Check out the Reliability Monitor snapshot above for a peek at how my machine handled itself through the month of January.

Each time it crashed, Windows Error Reporting would tell me:


So Windows was implying there was a problem somewhere in the storage subsystem. Maybe the hard drive itself, or the hard drive controller, or perhaps some filter driver or software interfering with the hard drive operation. That certainly seemed plausible, since the system most commonly hung when the hard drive was doing heavy duty.

So here are just some of the ways I tried troubleshooting:

  • Disabled most of the services that seemed suspect, including the Sidebar, TIVO Desktop, and Startup apps like iTunes and Photoshop gunk
  • Uninstalled anti-virus software
  • Uninstalled Capser even though Future Systems tech support assured me Casper was completely benign
  • Checked all the cable connections to make sure they were secure
  • Ran Dell’s diagnostics that tests memory, hardware, and the hard drive, including SMART tests
  • Underclocked the processor
  • Ran MEMTEST and swapped out the RAM for different memory
  • Swapped the hard drive, installed Windows from scratch

Since I had the exact same problem on two computers, logic dictated that it was a software glitch, not a hardware problem. But even that seemed increasingly unlikely as I winnowed down the possible causes. I was going out of my mind–I had seemed to rule out hardware problems like CPU, motherboard, memory, or hard drive, and I was running a machine that had little more than a handful of extremely common applications on it. And trust me, I was pretty exhaustive in my troubleshooting efforts.

Which is more than I can say for Dell, which exhibited only mild interest in assisting me. Each time I called tech support, they’d pretty much start over with doing asinine Tier 1 troublshooting tricks like deleting the files out of the Temp folder and disabling stuff in the Startup folder. More than once I had a tech delete the files from Temp and insist valiantly that the problem was completely solved, not unlike poor Lieutenant Gorman, who insisted "the area is secure, Ripley."

Once I had a tech tell me to run a suite of tests overnight. He said that if the tests didn’t complete in 6 hours, there was something radically wrong. I called back the next day to say the tests had been running for 12 hours and were only a tiny fraction complete. ‘Never mind,’ the new tech said, ‘that test doesn’t tell you anything, and it can run for days.’ His solution? Wipe the hard drive and start from scratch to see if the problem went away. I got that kind of conflicting support on a number of occasions.

When I asked to be upgraded to Level 2 support, I’d be promised call backs which never came. I took to emailing Dell’s Unresolved Customer Service Issues every single day, and sent them perhaps 15 requests for support. Dell’s web page promises a reply within 24 hours, but they never responded to me. Ever. Not even once. Ever Ever.

Finally, after 2 months of this, I called customer service and asked to return the system. That’s finally when something started happening; a tech support rep scheduled a house call to replace the motherboard, CPU, and memory. For a week after the motherboard transplant, I didn’t have any bluescreens. Which was a record for the XPS 720, which would bluescreen on average once every 36 hours, assuming I was not trying to install software or back up the hard drive (in which case it would bluescreen more or less on cue). But then the bluescreens came back with a vengence. I had 4 in one day, then one or two the next. And yesterday, the machine bluescreened so many times I lost count — more than 6 times. And that’s after disconnecting every external peripheral.

In inserted a fresh hanrd drive, popped in a Windows CD, and watched in amazement as the computer bluescreened during initial setup.

So what isthe problem? Beats me. I’m now trying to get in touch with customer service to negotiate a refund. While I won’t fault Dell for the actual hardware problem, they definitely deserve all the credit for the worst customer service experience in recorded history. Just some of their crimes:

  • Losing my order. Several times.
  • Taking weeks and weeks longer than promised to ship. Twice — both on the original order and the warranty replacement.
  • Lying to me about the order status on more than one occasion.
  • Promising to send, but then refusing to honor, a $200 gift card promotion because of a rule no ordinary customer should be expected to anticipate.
  • Repeatedly failing to contact me or follow up on tech support.
  • Failing to offer on-site support or hardware replacement until I asked for a refund.
  • Providing generally crappy tech support that was far, far inferior to what I was capable of doing on my own.

And just in case you’re curious, no, I’ve never gotten anything like an apology from Dell for this fiasco. The closest I’ve gotten to an apology, in fact, was when they took away the $200 gift card I was supposed to get with my order. Could have been worse, I suppose — they could have kicked a puppy in my name.

Listen Up

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

listen I have wanted to get back to the voice recognition in Windows Vista for a while. I had messed with it a year ago, and was impressed with how well it worked. But I don’t like having a wired microphone hanging off my head–it limits my mobility–so I abandoned it. This morning, on a lark, I tried it out again with a genuinely awful mic that was unable to reach a minimally acceptable recording level. I was pleasantly surprised that, despite the overall crappiness of the mic, I could use my voice to launch Word on the first try. Then I dictated a short test paragraph, and got, well, this:


The lunch with a time that I thought unlikely to live with how-to thing you can voice recognition. On the other hand, the 13th inning with a platoon of that that have the legal level made it very difficult for me to live each day.

I will very much enjoy going back and reading the text that my head that has interpreted plumbing. I suspect it may be a stream of consciousness local alternate reality led by all the words like they are converted into a different language, and in venture of a high and low pay and which not only that he realizes that have anything to do a lot of religion and fled.

I wonder how we’ve done?

There’s nothing from Halloween chillingly Korean about all of that.

Dell Watch: The Amazing Disappearing Gift Card

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Remember my $3000 paperweight with the cool Dell logo on it? The story isn’t over yet.

Indeed, I’ve never had such a highly concentrated collection of problems with a single purchase in my entire life. First of all, let me point out that after waiting for a replacement XPS 720 for a month, the new machine exhibits exactly the same bluescreen behavior as the first system. I’ve spent the last 2 months troubleshooting this system, and it still bluescreens on average once every 1.5 days. I’ll post more information about that soon — looks like I’ll be returning it to Dell for a refund, if they will let me. Jury is out on that right now.

But in the meantime, Dell has found another way to screw me!

When I ordered my original XPS 720, the Dell web site promised a $200 gift card with the system. To make a long story short, it never came. So about a month ago, I called Dell XPS customer service (which is awesome, because unlike standard Dell tech support, you always seem to get a North American call center rather than somewhere in New Delhi) and got a wonderfully polite, helpful person who promised to rectify the situation. She said that she would get my gift card sent out to me soon, but if I hadn’t received it by the time I wanted to place an order, I should just e-mail her and she’d credit my account $200:



Now, I wasn’t too enthused about relying on that offer of crediting my account, so I figured I could wait for the gift card to arrive before ordering my 500GB external USB hard drive.

A month passed, and no gift card. So I sent the nice lady an email to see what happened to it. I got this terse, gruff reply:


Wow. Dell customer service reps are no longer allowed to communicate with customers via email? That’s odd, because I still get this message in e-mails from Dell:


If they won’t reply to emails anymore, you’d think they’d stop asking you to, you know, reply to emails. But okay, fair enough — Dell is erecting even more walls preventing customers from getting a satisfying customer service experience, and they seem to take some perverse satisfaction in frustrating users in the process. Makes sense. Kids like to set ants on fire. It’s the same principle, I suppose.

So I called customer service, and was told that I didn’t qualify for the system because I ordered it over the phone. But I didn’t order it over the phone — I ordered it via the web!

Nope, apparently I didn’t. As soon as I talked to a customer service rep about the order several weeks later, it became a phone order. No one told me that by picking up the phone, I had suddenly forfeited $200. Lesson learned: Dell is evil incarnate. Now I know. And that external hard drive? Obviously, I’ll buy it elsewhere.

Dude, Where’s My Dell: Day 73

Friday, December 28th, 2007

I’ve owned a few Dells in the past, but my current purchase might just be the last. I’ve had an almost indescribably bad experience buying my current PC. Well, it’s not indescribable, I suppose. In fact, I’m going to describe the experience right now.

I placed an order for a Dell XPS 720 with the Q6600 quad-core processor back on October 31. To give you some hint about why I’m so angry, here’s teaser: I’m still waiting for it, 2 months later, and no one at the company can or will tell me when to expect it.

That’s the short version of the story. Here’s a more detailed version, told in bullet form:

  • I created a Dell Preferred credit account (to get 6 months same-as-cash) and placed an order on Oct 31. The estimated ship date was in about 10 days.
  • Almost immediately, $1100 in charges were added to my account that did not belong to me. I called right away, and a rep told me the charges were accidentally placed on my account due to a technical glitch, and they would be removed from my account within a few days. After a week, those charges were still there. I called several more times. Finally, someone gave me a completely different story: now the mysterious charges were a fraud problem, and they sent me paperwork to complete in which I had to swear they were not my charges. Several weeks later, the charges were removed.
  • On November 9, I received notice that the PC was delayed. I called Dell, and a customer service rep said that it was delayed for the processor — and helpfully suggested that if I got a different processor it might ship faster. Seemed like a good idea, so I upgraded to the Q6700 processor, for an extra $800. This resulted in the order being canceled and re-created from scratch. New estimated delivery date was around Thanksgiving.
  • After a delay, the system finally arrived on December 3.
  • I immediately noticed the Bluetooth headset (a $100 option) didn’t work in stereo mode. After several hours on the phone with tech support, they decided it was a hardware problem and shipped me a replacement headset.
  • After a few more hours of setup the next day, I noticed the system crashed regularly. After several more hours of troubleshooting on the phone with Dell, they said they’d ship me an expedited replacement PC. Notice, it’s December 4. Replacement system scheduled to arrive on December 11.
  • The replacement Bluetooth headset arrived. Same problem: they didn’t work. Is this because of a fundamental problem with the PC (after all, the PC was crashing frequently and probably had some significant defect) or there’s a driver problem, and perhaps they simply don’t work at all with Windows Vista? I don’t know (yet). I suspect it’s the latter, but currently the jury is still out. For that to be true, Dell would have to be selling a Bluetooth option with Vista computers and not know it doesn’t work. Conceivable? Read on about their overall competency, and decide for yourself.
  • When the expected ship for the replacement PC date came and went without so much as a status update on the Dell web site, I started calling. I was especially concerned that there were two different, contradictory ship dates indicated on the site, depending upon where you looked, and both were increasingly in the past. I got rep after rep after rep in about a half dozen different calls who all insisted that (1) their screen showed the system "in production," (2) please be patient and wait for the system to arrive and (3) there was nothing to be done, it’ll work itself out.
  • Eventually, after about 4 days of this, I got someone on the phone who confirmed my fears–that the order was indeed lost or mis-configured and we needed to cancel it and re-create the order from scratch. On December 19, yet another order was created, now with an  estimated ship date of December 26.
  • Here it is, December 28, and history repeats itself. The system has not shipped, the order status is woefully inaccurate on the site, I’ve gotten no email updates from Dell about the status of the order, and several different support reps continue to tell me that there’s nothing anyone can do except wait for it to someday ship. I have essentially begged for someone to escalate this to someone who can actually do something, but it appears to be falling on deaf ears. "We’re a mail order company," one rep helpfully explained, as some sort of mind-boggling excuse for why it’s impossible for customer service to actually talk to someone in production about the status of my ghost PC, or perhaps to escalate the issue to a manager who has a more holistic view of the overall order/production/customer service picture and effect an actual solution. 

Wow. I’ve talked to a slew of reps, asked to be escalated several time, and I continue to not find a single person at Dell willing to actually "own" this problem, advocate for me, or find out what the real issue with my order actually is. I’ve been waiting for this PC for a few days shy of 2 months now, and spent $3300 for the pleasure of getting jerked around by Dell.

Unless something dramatic happens soon, there is simply no way I will ever buy a Dell again, or recommend a Dell to anyone I know. This is the kind of service that makes you wonder how the company can remain in business.

I’ve wondered what Dell could do at this point to win me back as a customer. And to be honest, I’m not sure. It would have to be quite a gesture.


Update: December 30: no change to the order status, and no communication from Dell despite numerous requests for assistance.


Update #2: I got a call from someone who identified herself as "Dell corporate customer service" yesterday, December 31. (Though the person had an Indian accent, so I highly doubt I was getting a call from Texas.) She reported:

  • My system was being expedited (but wait — I thought they said they were doing that already..? Is it now Super-Duper Expedited? Or was it not really expedited previously, despite what they told me? Or was it expedited before, and nothing is really changed, making her now a liar? Ah, my head hurts.)
  • It was being held up because of a missing/backordered component. I asked her what part that was, and she said the Bluetooth headphones. That’s right, folks–according to this woman, the $3000 computer isn’t shipping because of a $50 pair of headphones, which they could easily slap in the mail separately. Or so she claimed. In reality, I really, really doubt that this system is not being sent to me because they’re sitting around saying "We need to wait for the headphones, Ed. That computer is useless without headphones."

And today, I see the system has been inexplicably canceled again, with a new order number, resetting their clock on the delivery date yet again! Now it has a new estimated ship date of January 8. That’s right, Jan 8. That’s 3 weeks after customer service generated a replacement order, after they lost my first order. And it’s an entire month after they promised to rush me a computer to replace the non-functional one they sent me that I ordered at end of October.

Wanna start a pool on when it REALLY arrives? If it ever arrives? If you ask me, they should give it to me for free.


Update #3: The system shipped today. Interestingly, even though Dell claimed they were going to ship it Next Business Day, apparently it went out Second Day. This is the email I received from Dell this morning:

This e-mail is a follow up to our conversation concerning Order number 916848917. The replacement system under Order number 995209833 has shipped via DHL on 01/08/2008 and is estimated to be delivered on 01/10/2007.

Honestly, what gives?


Update #4: It’s here. It appears to work. Of course, the Bluetooth stereo headset does not work, but really folks, who honestly expected it to? After all, Dell only advertised it and charged money for it — expecting them to preload the proper drivers and ensure it functions is a bit too much to ask.

Nonetheless, on Day 73, the Dell Ordeal appears to be over. Thanks for reading.


Update #5: I spoke too soon. This replacement PC doesn’t work either. More to come in another blog post…

No soap, radio

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

clip_image002I’ve done it! I have finally transferred my collection of radio show tapes from cassette to MP3. Another pointless chore accomplished.

I’ve been trying to covert all my old 20th century media to something that, if my kids are so inclined, they can use in 25 years. I copied my old home movies of Evan and Marin from VHS to DVD a few years ago, and now I’ve made a record of my radio show tapes as well.

What radio show? Check out the Radio Show Nostalgia page for some clips. Todd Stauffer and I had a fun little call-in talk radio show in Denver back in the age of Windows 95 (think Car Talk, but for computers). That was back when I lived in the glorious city of Colorado Springs, and my freelance writing career was still pretty young. The city newspaper–the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph (now just called the Gazette)–published a weekly computer magazine, and someone at "The G" thought it was a good idea to host a radio show to promote it. Ah, I really miss those days.

Just thinking about the radio show reminds me of all sorts of things from that era that make me bitterly nostalgic.

  • My kids were young grade-schoolers. Wow, you never expect that you’re going to miss that. But you do.
  • I miss Colorado Springs — the weather, the sightseeing, the proximity to Denver, even the malls and the fast food.
  • Lil Ricci’s in Tamarac Square in Denver. The best pizza, ever. And I grew up near Manhattan, so I know. Trust me.
  • Hanging out with my friends Anne and Kevin and Rick and Shawna. Wow, I miss those guys. Now we all live in three different states. We used to play cards with Anne and Kevin every Friday night for years.
  • Writing for magazines like Home Office Computing and PC Computing, just to name a few. There were a lot of awesome magazines in those days. And while I don’t want to sound like an old guy, writing for blogs and websites is somehow not quite as magical as writing for the printed page.
  • And of course, being a scuba instructor for Underwater Connection in Colorado Springs. Diving and teaching was perhaps the single most fun experience of my life. Now that we live near the ocean, we don’t dive very much, and I certainly am not an active dive instructor. There are a few reasons for that, but I guess they’re not important. But it is sad. (When I Googled Underwater Connection to find the URL, I knew I found the right site right away because their site still stinks. Troy! Fix your site!)

Anyway, the clips of the radio show might only be entertaining to me and my cat, but I’ve posted some here on the site. I hope you enjoy the intentional camp of Dank Showcase.


Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Well, I never thought this would happen to me. Not in a million years. And I’m not talking about a risque encounter at a car wash–I’m referring to getting phished. How could I be so dumb?

It all started a few weeks ago when I tried selling some old home theater equipment on eBay. The first time I put the item up for sale, it sold almost immediately at my Buy It Now price. Unfortuantely, the buyer wanted me to mail it to Nigeria. I wasn’t aware of Nigerian scammers in eBay, but this one clearly fit the bill. I contacted eBay and got my fees refunded, then reposted the auction.

Now the real fun started. I quickly recieved a large number of  questions about the unit, and one of them said something like this:

I am interested in your projector, but it how is it different than the one being sold in this other auction?

The link went to what appeared to be another eBay auction. But of course, it wasn’t on eBay, was it? It was a phishing site set up to harvest my eBay username and password. I dutifully logged in as requested, but the link was apparently busted.

Now, I should have realized right then and there that I’d been had, and I should have chnaged my password instantly. And all would have been well. But I didn’t. Maybe I had the flu, or didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Either way, I didn’t think anything of it until the next day, when I found that my auction, only hours from closing, had self destructed. A dozen bidders had all cancelled their bids within minutes of each other, and now I had no bids at all.

Still not sure what had happened, I let the auction run out, and the item did indeed sell, but for about half of what I was going to sell it for based on the previous bids. Frustrating.

The next day, I was locked out eBay–my password didn’t work. Finally, the epiphany struck, and I realized what had happened. I followed all the proper procedures and got my password reset. After I was readmitted to eBay, I chnaged my password to PayPal, just in case, as well as most of my other online banking and finance services.

It turned out that the sale was legitimate and the buyer was a regular, honest guy. He paid me and I got ready to mail the item to him.

Then eBay roused itself from a three-day slumber and decided the entire auction was invalid. It went ahead and cancelled the auction, and notified the poor buyer that he’d been scammed and that he shouldn’t do buiness with me. Argh!

It took a few emails to the buyer to reassure him I was real and that I’d just, in fact, mailed him the item. It took days to straighten out the details, and even now eBay has suspended my automatic payment service, so I have had to manually pay my fees. And something that the phishers did managed to earn me negative feedback from a buyer.

Oh, and did I mention that my e-mail program actually flagged the orignal phishing message as spam?


Saturday, March 17th, 2007

A note from the management…

In the past few days, I’ve been innundated with spam posts. And I mean innundated — a dozen an hour, on average. Now, if people really liked my Smells like fresh paint post enough to post comments about it, that would be awesome. But since the comments I have been getting all say things like “be uuquxv” and “oso icef,” I assume it’s either spambot postings or the ravings of phone crazies.

So, my solution is to require visitors to register and log in before making comments. I don’t know if:

  • That will fix the problem
  • It will be such a pain that normal people won’t post

But since I can measure the traffic on one finger right now anyway, it seems like a reasonable solution. Let me know if you think otherwise…


An update: I’ve enabled a spam filter for the site. Consequently, I’ve also turned off the requirement to register before posting. This is all a learning experience for me… but from your perspective, the site should be back to normal.