Monthly Archives: September 2012

The strange case of Verizon Wireless and the lost hour

I woke up this morning and picked up my phone. On the screen was a message about Verizon updating my phone. There was only one button , and no way to avoid the update.

When I rebooted my phone, “universal search” (the feature that allows you to search the web and the phone simultaneously) was gone, presumably as a result of the recent Apple/Samsung lawsuit. There was a custom padlock screen showing on boot. This is Verizon’s way of saying that your warranty is voided, though it could also mean that you are card-carrying paid-up member of the phone-hacker community.

I could have lived with that, but root was broken as well… and that is unacceptable. In order to un-break it I had to re-root the phone, a process that involves downloading a Rooted Rom Image and writing it to the phone. I then had to install an OTA Blocker Program ($2.99 from the Android Market) to prevent Verizon from pulling this kind of stunt again.

Everything is now back to normal. The phone works as it did last night, root works, and the boot padlock has gone away.  The whole procedure took me just over an hour; that was an hour of my life that Verizon and their controlling ways have stolen from me and I will not get back.

Don’t get me wrong; OTA Firmware updates are a great idea. That’s how security problems are fixed and new functionality is added, and if you have not rooted your phone, unlocked your bootloader or installed a custom ROM (which would be 99%+ of us), my advice would be to accept the update. However, I have a problem with updates that are more about control than progress, and I have an even bigger problem with updates being rolled out without giving the user a chance to refuse them or delay them to a more convenient time. Microsoft’s habit of auto-rebooting your computer after installing automatic updates – and losing any unsaved work left on the machine – is also unacceptable, for precisely the same reason.

I also have a big problem with useful functionality being retrospectively removed from a phone to keep someone else happy. It’s one thing to shut down a store selling fake Rolex watches, it’s another to roam the streets tracking down folks who bought them and tearing the watches off their wrists – and that is effectively what this is. For some reason, we have somehow surrendered our property rights in the digital realm.

Verizon, I pay you for a phone and a monthly fee to use it on your network. If I want to tinker with my phone, as long as I do not defraud anyone or abuse the network, I should not have to fight with you in order to do it. That should not be your business.

I am your customer.

I am not your product.

You would do well to remember that.

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Is eBay… eVil?

I just got an e-mail from our friends at eBay that I felt was worthy of mention. It is a change to their terms of service. Normally these things are just small changes or adjustment, but this one had two things that raised my eyebrows:

The User Agreement contains an Agreement to Arbitrate, which will, with limited exception, require you and eBay to submit claims to binding and final arbitration, unless you opt-out of the Agreement to Arbitrate by November 9, 2012. Unless you opt-out: (1) you will only be permitted to pursue claims against eBay on an individual basis, not as part of any class or representative action or proceeding and (2) you will only be permitted to seek relief (including monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief) on an individual basis.

Hmmm…. looks like a fairly transparent attempt by eBay to avoid class-action lawsuits. While I am no fan of class-action lawsuits where the lawyer gets $10M and I get a voucher for $0.89 off my next purchase, I don’t like any thing that takes away my right to join one. I also have a bug problem with  compulsory-arbitration clauses. Not only are they unconstitutional (Amendment 7: “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.“), but there is something of a conflict of interest; if the arbitrator is being paid by eBay I question their ability to come to a fair and unbiased decision.

You don’t need to take any further action to accept the updated eBay User Agreement. If you choose not to accept the new terms, visit this help page for further direction.

And the link points to… TERMINATE YOUR ACCOUNT! That’s not “further direction” that’s “Grasshoppa, time for you to leave…“.You can opt out of the agreement to arbitrate without opting out of the updated user agreement, but they don’t exactly make it easy. Rather than giving you an “Opt-out-of-it-now” link, you are required to opt-out in writing by a specific date. They don’t exactly make that information easy to find, either – so in the interest of public information, here it is.

Sincerely,

Braden Dong, Senior Counsel
Marcus Morissette, Privacy Counsel

Ah. Written by the lawyers – why am I not surprised? Something smells funny here, and the whole thing seems very very sneaky.

Of course, this is all academic to me; earlier this year I decided to top selling things on eBay, since they seem to have become the buyers’ friend and the sellers’ enemy.

But it seems that every time they change their terms they become a little more… evil.

Thanks a lot, Apple!

The iPhone has been out for five days now, and I hate it already.
No, let me back up a little. I don’t hate the iPhone. But I am very annoyed with Apple right now.
You see, when the iPhone came out last Wednesday, Apple released a new version of iTunes. On Friday night Apple’s software update program informed me that the new version – numbered 10.7 – was out and that I should upgrade to it. Seeing as I was running 10.6.3.25, I figured that this was a minor update, so I upgraded. And that was when the trouble started.
You see, I prefer to keep manual control of my library, rather than leaving it up to iTunes to keep track of everything. It’s not that I don’t trust iTunes (I don’t, but that’s not the reason) but because I like to know what is going on. So I use a program called iTunes Library Updater Utility (ITLU) to keep my library up-to-date by removing files that I have deleted and inserting new songs into the library. I have been using this program since 2008, and it has worked flawlessly with iTunes versions 7, 8, 9 and 10… until the new version of iTunes broke it.
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I also use a program called iSyncr to synchronize my Android phone with iTunes. Actually it is a suite of programs; a server running on the iTunes PC and two running on the Android (one for wired access, the other is a wireless add-on) I have been using this for about a year, and it has worked flawlessly, keeping my 32GB micro-SD filled with music, and passing the playcount and ratings info back to iTunes. Until iTunes broke that too.
I didn’t realize this until this morning, when I tried to sync my phone with iTunes and it refused to connect. Realizing what the problem was, I had to:
  1. Download the previous version of iTunes. I used oldversion, but later found out that the older versions are available from Apple.
  2. Uninstall iTunes – the old version would not install over e newer version. Fortunately the uninstallation did not remove the library.
  3. Replace the iTunes library with the saved pre-update backup that iTunes took last Friday
  4. Install the old version of iTunes.

The good news is that everything works again. The bad news is with the library file replacement in step 3, all of my changes over the weekend have been lost. Podcasts that I had finished are now marked as “new”, and a whole lot of ratings changes that I synced over the weekend have been lost. And that’s an hour-and-a-half of a Monday morning that I will never get back.

 Thanks a lot, Apple

Here we go again again

Apple has released the iPhone 5. A year after we were expecting it, but it’s here. Slightly taller, with a “longer” screen; sporting 4G communication speed and a 4″ screen, calling it the “5” seems a little weird, but I see their point.

It’s a safe bet that a whole lot of hipsters will suddenly decide that their 4S is no longer “good enough”, and will be lining up to shell out hundreds of dollars on the latest new shiny toy.

I’ve got nothing against the iPhone – it’s a brilliant technological achievement, and a bigger step forward than the 4S was. It’s the hordes of folks spending money they don’t have to buy stuff they don’t need to impress people who don’t care. And I know some of them.

I’m more than happy with my two-month-old GSIII: while it is a large device, the 4.8″ screen makes Apple’s new-and-improved version look small. It uses a standard Micro-USB charging cable, has user-replaceable batteries and support for up to 64GB Micro-SD… three features that the new iPhone cannot match.

*Sigh*… I’m having the most curious sense of Deja Vu

P.S. I am neither an Apple Fanboy (when I see “Fanboi” I tend to pronounce as the French do: “Fan-bwaah”), nor am I an Apple Hater. I have a 80GB Series 5.5 iPod and Her Ladyship has a First-Gen iPod Touch; both lovely pieces of kit that we have felt no urge to replace… though Apple’s habit of changing the cable pin-outs from time to time (once for the iPod Classic, and again with the new iPhone) is quite annoying – particularly when it renders all of your old cables and add-ons suddenly useless. That is the kind of behavior that I do not reward with my business.

The 5 REAL Worst Customer Service Mistakes

I recently stumbled across an article entitled “The 5 Worst Customer Service Mistakes“, written by no less of a luminary than the CEO of a company. While it admirably addresses the top-level view, it struck me as “ivory-tower” thinking, and does nothing for a typical customer like me.

Sadly, the author does not invite comments, which is alarming in itself. So in the interest of completion and respectful rebuttal, here is my “sea-level” version of “The 5 Worst Customer Service Mistakes”

  1. Trying to keep your customers away from real people: When I hear “Our options have changed”, I interpret that as meaning “someone got through to a real person and we changed the system to block that path”. Solution: pay someone to answer the phone. The customer will be pleasantly surprised.
  2. Outsourcing customer support: Outsourced customer support does not care about your business. If they are paid by the number of calls they field, they will do anything to get the customer off the phone as fast as possible. We can tell if they are juggling calls, and that does not impress us. And yes, we can tell if English is not their first language, and that impresses us even less. (Hello Dell!)
  3. Not answering the question: How many times have you e-mailed customer support and got a boilerplate reply that does not answer the question? (EBAY/PAYPAL ARE YOU LISTENING? Evidently not…)
  4. Disempowered CSRs: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” does not cut it. Sorry does not solve my problem. They need to be able to fix the problem. And often they either cannot or will not. There is more to Customer Service than telling the customer: “Sorry, but NO”.
  5. Biased Surveys: Most post-support surveys dwell on whether the CSR was polite and respectful, not whether they were competent. “Are you satisfied, and if not why not?” is the only question that matters. Offering the option for a callback would be a win here.

Where prices like to get down

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I spotied this it at a local supermarket. I was expecting a mirror ball to descend from the ceiling.