The Rule of Incompetence – Featuring TimeWarner


Time Warner

Image via Wikipedia

We’ve experienced aggravating drops in internet access through our high speed line at home recently. Our first attempt to troubleshoot the problem resulted in a 2-hour conversation with a nice person at TimeWarner. After pinging our modem and router, she reported that the cable service to our home was in good working order. She suggested that there may be something amiss with our router, an Apple Airport Extreme.

I took the router for a visit to an Apple technician (a.k.a. “Genius”) and saw with my own eyes that the router worked.

I considered the possibility, then, that I needed a new modem. So off to Best Buy I went. Came home with a Zoom 3.0 Cable Modem. After setting up, my browser generated a message from Time Warner that I needed to follow a simple 3-step procedure: (1) call the number on the screen, (2) give the agent the MAC address for the new modem, (3) launch my browser.

The call lasted two hours and involved four different Time Warner people. The first was unable to help. She forwarded my call to a “modem expert.” Eventually, that person moved me on to a “Tier 3” specialist. He didn’t even know that Zoom sold modems; in fact, he’d never heard of Zoom. He tried to correct my impression that Zoom does make a modem, as I read, no less than three times, exactly what it said on the box and printed materials. When he started getting snarky, I asked to speak to a supervisor. He was obliging . . . sort of.

I was on hold for approximately 30 minutes waiting for the Super. About every 7 minutes, the Tier 3 specialist would come on the line just long enough to say, “It will be just a few more moments.” When the Super joined the call, I mentioned that I had been waiting a half hour. She said that no way had I been waiting that long. So I asked her when she learned of my call. She had just been told and got on the line immediately. So she said. This implied that the specialist before her had deliberately made me wait on the line before telling his Super that I had requested to speak with her. That was a new low in customer service (which, by the way, is advertised as “Turbo-Service” and “Number 1 in Southern California,” on a looped soundtrack you have to endure while you wait for someone to return to the phone).

The Super decided there was something wrong with Time Warner’s line to my house. This would require a visit from one of their traveling technicians, who wouldn’t be able to come to the house until the day after next (which was today).

Meanwhile, at every step in the process, I was urged to use one of Time Warner’s own modems, as if this would eliminate all of my headaches. “Not interested,” I said, countless times.

I asked the Super to explain to me how my modem worked well enough for Time Warner’s set-up window to appear in my browser. Her exact words were, “I’m not going to explain that to you.” Her response to my persistence was to say, “Now you’re not even going to get an appointment with Time Warner.” Moments later she was denying that she ever said that. I asked if she had a supervisor that I could speak to. Silence on the other end. This silence was followed by more silence. So I suspected that she did have a supervisor and was reluctant to put him or her on the phone. I said that she probably was obligated by company policy to put her supervisor on the phone if this was requested by a customer. To which she responded with more silence. I waited. About 30 seconds later, she hung up.

Her name is Jerry, by the way, and she works in the Colorado Springs facility.

I thought this called for a formal complaint—though I doubted that making a complaint would be effectual. I re-dialed the original number, answered by a very friendly and helpful agent who seemed genuinely scandalized by the experience I described. She gave me the phone number for the Office of the President (the President of Time Warner, I naturally assume). She then said, with maximum politeness, “Would you be so kind as to let me try to solve the problem for you?” And her voice communicated real optimism about the prospect of solving the problem.

Alas, even she could not get things working. So she forwarded my call to . . . Tier 3. That’s right. But this time the technician was in Anaheim, CA. The Tier 3 agent was quite confident she could solve the problem. She, at least, had heard of Zoom. My hopes began to rise. In just a few moments, however, she determined that my service level with Time Warner could not accommodate the 3.0 cable modem I had purchased. She recommended the Motorola Surfboard (which I had seen at Best Buy a few hours earlier).

I thanked her, hung up, and checked the clock. 9:15 p.m. Best Buy closed at 9:00.

So the next day I beat a path to Best Buy to exchange the Zoom for a Motorola. No problem.

After making the connections, I was back on the browser, staring in disbelief at the same TimeWarner invite to call a helpful agent for installation.

I made the call.

This poor lady was completely baffled and said I should wait for the tech guy to show up at my house “tomorrow.”

So today I was visited by a Time Warner technician, who also wanted to install one of their own modems. I explained that I wanted to see if my original modem, a Linksys that I’d been using for a couple years, would work. Reluctantly, he gave it a whirl. Voila! It worked.

Amazing.

But the guy also noticed that there was lots of rust and corrosion on the cable connection out at the curb in front of our house. So he cleaned that up.

When he left, I was in business. At least I had an internet link via direct ethernet connection between my laptop and my old modem. I was ready to try the system with my wireless router. The TimeWarner tech assured me it would work and got out of there as fast as he could.

I made the connections, held my breath, and . . . it works!

Now I can blog again. I can rent movies using my Apple TV.

* * *

Yesterday I happened across a passage from Tom Morris’s book True Success.

The world actually most often seems to be filled with plain old incompetence, punctuated here and there by a somewhat higher state of mediocrity.

I confess that I have a sense of entitlement to good service when I pay for it. But this consists in having unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations lead inevitably to disappointment, and disappointment can lead to all sorts of nasty things.

Rational-emotive therapy advises an adjustment in expectations. I get that.

But if we adjust our expectations to match reality, why do we even bother with time-saving technology . . . like high-speed internet service?

While you’re pondering that, I have a call to make.

Now, where is that phone number for the President’s office?

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Nuke Media Distortion with Facts—What to Believe about the Dangers of Japan’s Nuclear Reactors


Are you good at believing the things you believe? That’s my motto. So what are we supposed to believe about the danger of nuclear radiation following Japan’s recent 9.0 earthquake and damage to nuclear reactors at two locations?

Satellite view of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

First, why we need to know what is happening:

  • We care about the safety of the Japanese people.
  • We care about the safety about the world population.
  • We care about radiation drift toward North America.
  • We have energy needs that may be met with new reactors in the U.S., but only if they’re safe.

Second, why the mainstream media cannot be trusted for knowledge of what is happening:

  • The media are prone to sensationalize the “news” in order to boost their ratings.
  • The media have a liberal bias, which is already heavily invested in opposition to nuclear energy.
  • The media have no idea what a reactor is, how one works, and what terms mean when used to described behavior at a nuclear plant (e.g., “meltdown).
  • The media, even if they try for “balanced coverage” by “experts” with opposing views, are as likely to get crackpots having their own meltdown over what’s happening in Japan.

Third, the only way to nuke media distortion (whether deliberate or not) is with facts and critical reflection.

For facts, the internet is probably your best guide.

The most valuable report I’ve read so far comes from Dr. Josef Oehman, a research scientist in mechanical engineering and engineering systems at MIT. Read his analysis “Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors”. The cost of being well-informed is the effort of becoming informed. Oehman’s article is lengthy, but accessible. You can settle for sound bytes or get the facts in clear and cogent detail.

Oehman captures the threat level with this advice:

If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy.

I’ve started following Oehman on Twitter.

Of course, you want more than one doctor’s opinion. So switch off your TV and search out other reliable sources of real information. If you must monitor the TV coverage, be sure to note the names of specialists and experts who are interviewed, find out who they work for, and examine their credentials.

And listen carefully to the naive questions the journalists are asking. Watch for their own off-hand comments and simplistic reactions. Last night I watched Geraldo interview specialists about the news out of Japan. Geraldo marveled with near-panic that engineers had resorted to flooding their reactors with sea water in order to cool the over-heated reactors. Apparently he didn’t know that this is backup protocol when disaster strikes. (See the article by Oehman.)

Critics of nuclear energy will be sorely tempted to make good use of the disaster in Japan. But this could backfire on them if it turns out that the 9.0 earthquake demonstrates the safety and viability of nuclear power plants, even when disaster strikes.

Time will tell.

Amazon Deal on iHome iH51


I don’t have an iHome. I’ve never used one. But it looks like a good device for producing quality sound from an iPhone or iPod and for use as a pleasant alarm clock. The iH51 is on a 47% discount for the next few hours at Amazon here, as long as they last.

Do you recommend this device?

I guess it’s possible that the i51 is about to be replaced by a new model. And that would raise questions about compatibility with the very latest Apple iTunes units, or forthcoming iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

For a 2008 review of the iH51, check this post at iLounge.

From the Kindle to the iPad?


various e-book readers. From right to left iPa...

Image via Wikipedia

I have a first-generation Kindle and have written about it here before. I bought it when I was about to travel overseas and wanted the convenience of carrying lots of interesting reading without packing any books.

Things have changed pretty dramatically since then. The $400 Kindle of that day has been superseded by the $139 basic Kindle of today. And now there are other models to choose from, featuring 3G and a choice of screen sizes. For details, click here.

Kindle stills rules the world of e-Book technology. But it’s met with vigorous competition. Its greatest competition is the Apple iPad. And the main reason for that is that the iPad is so much more than an e-Book reader.

So I’ve come to the point where I’m tempted to upgrade my Kindle, or else switch over to the iPad. Now’s a good time since Kindle has improved its device, lowered the price point, and garnered my support based on a happy experience. On the other hand, Apple is about to release its iPad 2, and there are rumors of a September release of an iPad 3. (I’ve learned to wait for 2nd-generation products from Apple.) One way or the other, I feel ready to retire my original Kindle—though there’s nothing wrong with it.

If I’ve settled the question of whether to upgrade, I’m not yet settled about which upgrade to go with. I truly like the Kindle and I know I’d like the new versions even better. But what about the iPad? I’m an Apple fan who uses a Powerbook Pro, an iMac, and an iPhone. Why not an iPad, then? It’s far more versatile than a Kindle, and is nearly as compact.

Here’s the best case I can make for sticking with the Kindle and simply upgrading to its latest model:

  1. It has a more attractive price point.
  2. For reading books and documents, the Kindle is still a superior experience. It uses electronic ink technology that is easy on the eyes under all reading conditions.
  3. The iPad is no use for outdoors. The bright natural light washes out the screen. Not so for the Kindle.
  4. The Kindle is very light-weight and compact.
  5. The Kindle battery will hold a charge for an impressive length of time. Not so for the iPad.

Here’s the case for an iPad instead:

  1. For a few more dollars than it costs for the 9-inch Kindle, you get the full versatility of the iPad, with all of its countless apps.
  2. The iPad is good for reading at night, since it’s backlit.
  3. E-books on the iPad can be marked more quickly and conveniently.

Here are the reasons why I lean toward getting both, a new Kindle and the iPad (when it’s been refreshed):

  1. For most reading, I would prefer the Kindle. I do a lot of reading, and I like the convenience of being able to read while on the go. For regular reading that doesn’t require extensive note-taking and highlighting, the kindle is my first choice.
  2. For reading that requires mark-ups, the iPad seems the obvious choice.
  3. While I don’t actually need all the features of an iPad, it would be an improvement over my iPhone for on-the-go email, internet look-ups, working on presentations, etc. I might be able to leave my laptop at home when I travel.
  4. I could justify the added cost of an iPad if Dianne would be interested in using it, too.

The outlay of cash would be greater, of course. So the advantages of a dual approach have to be weighed against the combined price of a new Kindle and an iPad.

But which iPad? If iPad 2 is about to come out in the next few weeks, but an iPad 3 is slated for release as early as September, should I wait it out?

Here are some reasons to jump into the iPad with version 2:

  1. There’s really no telling for sure whether an iPad 3 will come out so soon.
  2. There’s no telling what an iPad 3 will cost if and when it’s released. The iPad 2 is supposed to be priced about like the current iPad.
  3. iPad 2 features may be perfectly adequate for my purposes.
  4. Technology becomes obsolete so quickly that waiting for the iPad 3 probably wouldn’t mean that I would be using a device with a longer shelf life if I waited and got the 3.

Maybe you can help me with this decision. Have you decided between a Kindle and an iPad? How did you make up your mind? Are you happy with your decision? Do you have both? If so, do you use both?

Permanently Lost in Digital Reality?


Technology addiction is a serious affliction today. But how serious?

Matt Richtel, writing for The New York Times, examines the possibility that the brains of today’s young people are being wired to function differently, if not better, than the brains of all previous generations of humanity. The critical difference is the use of technology to process information. His article “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” makes a convincing case. And the picture he paints isn’t uniformly attractive.

I recommend Richtel’s article to parents, educators, and even teenagers. If teenagers can read to the end of the article and comprehend its basic message, then things may not be as dire as they seem.

Matt Richtel’s website.

Mophie Has Improved My Relationship with My iPhone


Much as I’ve enjoyed using my iPhone for the past 18 months, the comparatively brief battery life has often proved inconvenient for me. I use my phone enough to require a re-charge every night. And there are days, especially when I’m traveling, that require an additional boost before the end of the day. Sometimes it’s enough to use the car adapter while driving. But that’s a slower process and not always what’s really needed. And when I’m hoofing it, using the car adapter is not an option.

I recently returned from a two-week speaking tour that took me to Pittsburgh, Puebla Mexico, and Atlanta. In preparation for my trip, I researched technology that extends the life of an iPhone battery between charges. Thankfully, I discovered the Mophie.

The Mophie Juice Pack Air Case and Rechargeable Battery for iPhone is pretty slick. It comes in two parts that slide onto the ends of the iPhone. The bottom portion plugs into the iPhone’s power port and has a small, inconspicuous on-off switch. The Mophie provides protection for the iPhone while supplementing the iPhone’s battery with an additional battery. If the Mophie switch is on, its battery is used first. If the switch is off, the iPhone battery is used in the usual way. When the iPhone battery runs low, switching the Mophie to on begins recharging the iPhone. The phone works during the charging process. And it’s easy to tell how much charge is left in the Mophie battery, since an indicator lights up on the back when a small button, flush with the case, is pressed.

The Mophie never has to be removed from the iPhone. Both can be charged at the same time, using either the outlet cord or the USB cord to your laptop.

I was initially reluctant to buy this gizmo because of its price of about $80. Having used the Mophie for two weeks while traveling nationally and internationally, I’m happy to say that I have no regrets. Throughout my journey, I was relieved to have the additional battery life, and to know that it would last me to the end of a long day of frequent use.

If you think this might be the solution to your own needs for extended battery life on your iPhone, I encourage you to check it out at Amazon here.

Reviews:

There’s an excellent review of the Mophie at iPhone Spies.

Twitter Tip for November 16, 2010


http://mobile.twitter.com/statuses/4398283879354369/compose_reply

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