How I fell out of love with my Nook

I’ve been an early adopter of gadgets for a long time. I remember buying a Sharp TM-20 before a trip to Europe because I thought, Won’t it be bitchin’ to get my email by just holding this gadget to a hotel phone or pay phone! That was one of the few impulse gadget buys that worked out, the TM-20 really was bitchin’.

Continue reading “How I fell out of love with my Nook”

Apple, you’re cold and I’m leaving you

This is the story of how Apple lost the enthusiasm of one family of formerly fanatical customers.

We’ve owned nine or ten iPhones, a couple of iPads, and a long string of iMacs and Macbooks. Most of these are no longer with us, but the warm glow of that “it just works” feeling is still with us, and that’s what keeps us going back to the Apple store for more. About a month ago, Apple breathed an icy wind into our idyll. One of our iPhone 4’s was bricked by Apple’s iOS 5.0.1 update.

One minute it’s humming along in perfect working order, eagerly anticipating its new iOS version, the next minute it’s a useless brick. Doing Apple’s own iPhone update from within iTunes on a Macbook Pro had bricked the phone. It’s not jailbroken or anything weird like that, just an innocent iPhone 4. I think to myself, “no problem, I’ll take to the friendly geniuses at the local Apple store, they’ll take care of it”. I made an appointment, drove down to the store, and explained to the genius what had happened and that I’d tried the various restore methods found on Apple’s support site.

Enter the icy wind. Not being able to tell a customer from an idiot, the genius tried the same restore methods again and, surprise, they didn’t work. This is where I expected her to say “This is our fault, I don’t know how to fix it, I’ll give you a new one”. Instead, I heard “it’s a month out of warranty, we can only sell you a replacement”. Cost of said replacement: $149.

This would be an extremely generous offer if I’d caused the brickification of the phone. But since it bricked itself during the iOS update process, with help only from Apple’s own servers and software, this offer was an affront. Clearly Apple caused this issue. Asking for some explanation of why Apple wouldn’t own up to the problem, I was told that since they’d replaced so many cracked screens and things in the past for free, they were no longer doing that.

I tried to explain very patiently the difference between a problem I might have caused myself (e.g. cracked the screen) and a problem that Apple caused due to some defect or snafu in their iOS update. The latter is not my problem, it’s Apple’s problem. The fact that Apple used to give away free replacements willy-nilly to people who sat on their phones or left them out in the sun is also not my problem. It’s Apple’s problem. The Apple store employee and I went around and around for ten or fifteen minutes before I left.

That’s where things stand now, with an icy wind where there used to be a warm Apple-shaped glow. If you can’t own up to this, Apple, you’re off my list.

I’m still a fan of Apple computers, and I’ll continue to buy them, though I’ll probably wait longer between upgrades. I’m not eager to give Apple money anymore, the magic spell is lifted, their computers are simply more efficient to use than the alternatives.

In a future post, I’ll write more about how the Apple mobile device ecosystem is like being in an all-inclusive resort, whereas Android is more like a city, with traffic and noise. And choice. A resort is all about the warm glow and the “ahhh” of settling down into a beach chair with a mai-tai.

But after a while you get sick of resort food, and resort muzak, and resort transport, and resort activities, and you’re ready to go back into the world of choice. Having used an Android phone for a while, there are quite a few things to like and amazingly it just works and is more efficient and easier to use than my iPhone. If you’re getting resort ennui from your Apple devices, go out into the world and take a look around. You might be surprised.

The Parking Lot Movie

Through the magic of Netflix I came across this amazing documentary last weekend.  The Parking Lot Movie is a 79-minute meditation on capitalism, sociology, management, class war, and of course, cars.

The Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, VA, is staffed by unlikely attendants — graduate students in philosophy and theology, for example — which gives them and this movie a wonderfully entertaining lens through wjich to watch the collision of low-paying service sector jobs, higher education and spoiled undergrads who park their parents’ BMWs in the lot and try to skirt a $0.40 parking charge.

As a bonus gem, there are some songs by parking lot attendant, bluesy folksinger and UVA law student Mark Schottinger:

Update: Smitten by these songs, I emailed Mark Schottinger to find out if more of his music is available somewhere:

  1. The Parking Lot Movie Soundtrack has the two songs from the film, but unfortunately not the full version of Hellbound (iTunes)
  2. Three songs on Dawn of Man Productions.
  3. There’s an album on Bandcamp — my opinion, this one doesn’t sound as good as the other stuff.
  4. YouTube, search for Mark Schottinger (also see YouTube video above).

Seth Godin, Linchpin

I just finished reading Seth Godin’s latest opus with the “calling all weasels” title Linchpin – Are You Indispensable?

Life is short, so I usually steer clear of so-called business books, but I’d heard much about Godin and watched some of his videos and was intrigued.  So I held my nose and started reading.  It turns out, this was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  It’s a book about karma (though that word doesn’t appear).  And it may just turn weasels into artists, which is what Godin is entreating his readers to become.  He’s not suggesting that we drag Excel into the trash and use only Photoshop, but rather that we approach our work as art.  Do what you love, or failing that, love what you do.

So what is art?  According to Godin, art is something that challenges the status quo, that demonstrates insight.  It is doing not just labor, but emotional labor, at work.  It is being generous with your domain knowledge.  It is connecting with and touching people.  All of this sounds like an obvious good idea, at least for us sentimentalists.  But it’s difficult, and as Godin points out, we’re hard-wired not to be artists, but to be compliant and play it safe.  Near the end of the book are a couple of Venn diagrams that show these intersections:

dignity & generosity & humanity = Indispensable

conformity & compliance & obedience = Surrender

Told you it was a book about karma.  And as a bonus, there’s a great bibliography, too, listing lots of interesting books and grouped by topics such as “Gifts and Art”, “Sociology and Economics”, “Education”, “Programming and Productivity”, “Science and the Brain”, “Wisdom”.

For a business book, Linchpin is pretty damn great.  Recommended.

Siri iPhone App – First Look

Siri is a new iPhone app that takes spoken input like “coffee places near here” and shows you a list of coffee places near your location with distance, directions, etc.  You can also enter a query by tapping on a type of location you’re looking for, but that’s boring.  I haven’t tried some of the more ambitious queries from the company’s demo video, stuff like “get me a table for two at a romantic restaurant near work at 7pm next Thursday”.  For the simple queries I’ve tried, it works well and is surprisingly fast, considering it has to recognize speech (done by uploading the recorded text to a server) before it can process the query.  The technology is interesting, using context awareness and service delegation.  See Siri’s About Technology page for more info.

For the “coffee places near here” example, I have only a small criticism: Culligan Water is not a coffee place, and my favorite, the Tattered Cover bookstore’s cafe, which is about a mile away, isn’t on the list.  Not a big deal, I’m sure it’ll improve by improving query formulation to map “coffee places” to additional terms, or delegating to services with better data.


Goodbye LaCie, Hello WD

I’ve been using LaCie drives for years, but after no fewer than 3 cases of burnt-out power supplies in the past couple of years, I’m trying something new.  LaCie has always replaced the power supply under warranty, but they shouldn’t keep burning out, especially since I have them plugged into a line conditioner.  So I bought a Western Digital MyBook Studio Edition II for Mac, the 4TB model.  It claims to be green’ish (by using less power, generating less heat etc.).  It’s also quieter than my LaCie.  I resent a little that I have to install software to modify the RAID configuration (no hardware switch) of the MyBook, but in return the status bar item tells me temperature and RAID status, see screenshot.  So far, so good, hope this one lasts a while.  WD also includes several cables (FW800-FW800, FW800-FW400 and USB).

WD Drive Manager