Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Tale of Two Tech Supports

Coming from the computer hardware and software industry, I know problems occur. What separates companies is how they respond to these problems. Here’s my recent experience with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The latter two being the same.

The Good.

Shortly after I deployed a new SBS server at my job, I arrived Friday morning to hear it squealing – there was an alarm was going off inside of it. This is the main server that runs most all of my companies business (a drawback to SBS) and it was still running, so I did not want to shut it down. I spent enough time with it to realize that one of the drives in the SATA RAID-5 set had failed. Since the remaining 3 drives could continue to function, I left it alone until the weekend when I could shut it down and try to further diagnose and attempt to correct the problem.

On Sunday evening I got the machine shutdown and torn apart to the point where I was pretty confident that I knew the drive had failed. So I called Dell. Dreading what I would have to go through on the weekend to get help, I cringed as I dialed the number.

What I got was a wonderful surprise. The tech rep that answered the phone asked how he could help. I explained the situation to him. I expected him to request me to run some new diagnostic, or rerun some old ones. Instead he said, "Would you like me to send a technician out with the new drive?"

Excuse me? That was it? You trust me, and accept that it is broken, and are now willing to replace it, and send someone out to fix it? I had purchased no special warrantee, or service contract, and granted it was only a couple months after the server had been installed, but I was impressed.

Tuesday morning UPS showed up with my new hard drive, and shortly after that, the server was running normally again with a full RAID-5 compliment. Dell Rocks.

The Bad.

End of last year I bought an iPod shuffle. I had a specific use in mind for it. I needed something my kids could use to play some CD’s but I did not want the CD to get damaged, and the shuffle has limited knobs and buttons to break, so I figured it would be a good match. At then end of it's first battery charge, it stopped working. I plugged it in to the USB port to recharge.

I also opened iTunes, which of course had a software update. I figured if I was going to let the iPod charge, I had plenty of time to update the software. Stupid. The computer was unable to recognize the iPod.

I thought it may have been due to the software upgrade, therefore I uninstalled the update and restored the original. No joy.

Then things got really bad. My wife has an old Win2k pro machine. Thinking that maybe it required a fresh install, I loaded the original software on her machine. It NEVER restarted. Not in normal boot up, not in safe mode. Nothing. Dead. Zilch.

I reloaded it with a fresh version of XP (and installed a zippy new hard drive / 29160 controller combo!) but still not able to locate the iPod. I'm pretty much convinced the iPod is dead.

The Ugly.

I go into the store at 1:30 Saturday. I go to talk to the "genius" on duty. But I’ll need a reservation, which is available at 2:45. I’ve got the 2 youngest kids with me, and I know a four year old is not going to do well in the computer store for an hour and a half. So I go straight to the register for an exchange. Here I am told to talk to Erica out on the floor who will reload it. Apparently my attempt to reload it on a Windows machine was not valid. The reload had to be done from an iBook. Erica plugs it into her machine and says, "It’s broken"

I know that.

"You have to talk to a genius."

Why? I want to return this one.

"You can’t return it, it has been more than two weeks."

Ok, return is the wrong word. I want to exchange it.

"To exchange it you have to talk to a genius."

Why? Won’t they just tell me it is broken and exchange it?

"Probably. Make an appointment for 2:45 OK?"

No. It is not OK. What genius thought of this? Can't you just help me?

"No I cannot. That’s the way it works. OK?"

Still not OK. I know it is broke, you know it is broke, the genius will say it is broke, and at 2:50 I'll walk out with an exchange. Why wait an hour and a quarter to help me. This is stupid. Can I leave it with you and come back on another day to get the new one?

"No, we cannot be responsible for stuff you leave here. If you want the exchange, you have to talk to the genius, OK?"

STILL NOT OK! But apparently there is no other reasonable option. I'll be back a 2:45.

I left the store with the broken iPod. Wandered around the mall for an hour bought the kids a pretzel, and came back at 2:45 to meet with genius Jessie. He plugged the iPod into his iBook, watched it for about 30 seconds and said, "It’s broken."

Thanks genius.

"I'll get you a new one."

At 2:55 I left the store for the last time with my iPod. If I never have to go into an Apple store again, it will be too soon. Apple Sucks.

Notice that in the first case, it took five days to get the problem fixed. three were wasted by me, and two were in shipping, but it took less than a minute to get the support rep to help me. The second was fixed in two days. One wasted by me. and it took an hour and a half to get a support rep that could help me. Two broken parts, one easy fix. One stupid fix.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The latest of my deliverables at Regal Air.

As many of you know, I have been working at Regal Air, at Paine Field in Everett WA. The great thing about this gig is that it is three miles from my house, I get to hang out with my airplane, have lunch with my flying buddies, and work on new ratings. As a result, I am well into my certified flight instructor license, building time towards a multi-engine license, and am current to fly in instrument conditions.

At the same time, I get to work on computers and write some code. Two things I consider myself pretty good at. I've achieved quite a bit from install and deployment of SBS 2003, to providing wireless access to customers while keeping our corporate environment separate, to enabling online scheduling of aircraft and instructors, to the upgrade and installation of several new workstations.

But today marks my latest achievement -- well not just mine, there have been a couple of other people working on it with me. Please click on over to and take a look at what we have to offer. And if you find something you like, I'll make sure is gets shipped out to you.

Balance and perspective are important

Dave nails another one.

Unfortunately this research shows the reasons why living in Seattle will make you liberal, and living in Colorado Springs will make you conservative. Extremism and the resulting biases are environmental.

I was thinking about this in the context of the hullabaloo (is that a word?) over intelligent design and evolution. By going to court to effectively silence the ID crowds, the evolution theorists are creating their own legally enforced "deliberation with like-minded peers." It occurred to me earlier that the way to silence or to counter a false science is not to censor one side, but rather exposure of both sides to what can be known. We didn't get past "the earth is flat," "tomatoes are poison," and "waltzing causes plague" by censoring people and calling them names, but rather by opening up society to more information.

But having the information available is not all it takes. Much like the book buying illustration shows, there is also research to show that the explosion of information sources deepens the divide as well. People who are leaning in one direction or the other gravitate toward information sources that reinforce their views, and shun those that counter their view.

I second Dave's conclusion. Find idiots, and talk to them! You will make the world a better place.