Sunday, March 25, 2007

My ongoing drama with Alienware.

How much customer support time do you think it takes to get a graphics board swapped out? If you said almost 4 hours- you would be right.

So - last week I called Alienware because I was trying to get dual monitors hooked up to my Alienware desktop. Blogged about it here. The thing is, it isn't like we didn't know how to have a machine set up this way. My last machine was running with dual monitors.

We were fairly confident is was a hardware issue. But Alienware customer support wanted to have a go at "fixing" it.

First let me tell you folks. This shouldn't be an unusual request, or a particularly complicated issue to debug. Its either software settings, drivers, or a hardware problem. Thats it! But after 1 hour and 15 minutes talking to the first tech support guy - my husband finally had to tell him we would have to end the call. We had things to do, and just couldn't spend anymore time on the phone. The support guy did wind up sending us an email telling us to make sure we had the latest drivers installed and if that didn't work - we would need to have the board swapped out.

So - after updating the drivers to the requested revision we called into the support line. I really wanted to have an on-site guy come out because at this point the machine wasn't recognizing I had a sound card. Half of the video card was dead, and the machine wouldn't reboot without having to turn it off and letting it cool down.

Admittedly - the sound issue I should have caught sooner, but it wasn't a priority until I got the data closet finished. Now that I was having several problems - I might as well get everything fixed. The sound issue turned out to be a very simple fix. It was just disabled in the BIOS.

Now why Alienware ships a high end gaming system with the BIOS setting turned off is beyond me - but not a big deal. The support guy even said it happens sometimes when they are testing stuff before they send it out. Surely there must be some clever reason they need to waste a phone reps time for something they could quickly have checked. This took a few minutes to fix, and we thought it would be a good sign.

Yeah - not so much. We spent roughly 2 hours 45 minutes on the phone with this guy. Let me remind you, we had already spent over an hour diagnosing the problem on a previous call. The guy had the call notes right in front of him.

Most of the call centered around trying to get the NVIDIA Control Panel to come up. The problem was - the program would crash and wouldn't come up. This made the rep repeatedly tell us how to bring up the control panel. We would repeatedly tell him we were doing what he asked, and it resulted in a crash report.

After that - we went through un/reinstalling the drivers several times. This was all exacerbated the the fact that each time he wanted me to reboot - the machine would have to be turned off to cool down - or it refused to boot. Finally the rep tried telling us that "he couldn't reproduce the problem".

I think it was at this point I was starting to freak out. It was also right about the two hour mark. We firmly told him that just not being able to bring up the control panel didn't make a non-reproducible problem. In fact we were gaining new problems. And that the "Display Properties" setting still had my second monitor grayed out. Even though when the machine booted - both monitors would show an Alien logo, and would drop out when it was almost fully booted.

Finally after about 15 more minutes - he went to get authorization to have the board swapped. Finally I thought. But this guy wasn't done pissing me off.

Because I chose the option of having to pay for the card until we returned the bad one - I asked the him to make sure they were going to ship the card "signature required". It is a 600 dollar card and we already had a problem with FedEx.

After the rep added a few more notes - I again requested that he make sure a signature would be required. To which he replied "oh - I thought you said - no signature required". WHAT?!

And here is the absolute kicker. At the end of the call the rep asks " are you happy with the help I have provided today"? My head is spinning at this point, because after almost 3 hours on the phone what else am I going to say but "yes". I'm tired - and the last thing I want to do it talk to a manager, or get sucked into some conversation on why I'm not happy. Just ridiculous.

It constantly astounds me that companies can't figure out how much money they loose through inadequate customer support.

Other Alienware Blog Entries here, here, and here.

Update

Sometimes I have to post project updates. Otherwise I would be doing nothing but bitching about customer service - and that would make me look like someone who has nothing better to do than complain.

So - today we will revisit a project from September. This really wouldn't have even needed to be a project if I would have with-held payment from my contractor who I had used 5 times previously without incident. It just goes to show that no matter how well you tip, or how many pizzas and drinks you buy - you can't get consistency with a contractor.

I can never really figure out the feedback mechanism for these guys. For less than 50 bucks and maybe an hours with the work it was worth it to turn me into a non-repeat customer. Really - for the tiniest of issues.

Some who read this blog probably think I am just a demanding wretch. That is far from the case. I think my problem is that I become friends with these guys and they become slackers. At any rate, since there are few projects we can't do ourselves, it becomes a super easy decision to not have to babysit a contractor - and they don't get invited back.

In this case - the contracter left us with 10 linear feet of missing sod, and a gate that is non functional. Other than that - the project was fantastic.



Luckily our neighbor was laying sod and we bartered a trade for the scraps he was going to throw away.



Before pictures here and here. Full blog entry here. This is how the courtyard looks now. We will probably get to the gate in the next couple weeks. It would be nice to use it - instead of it just looking pretty.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Why do products suck so Much?

Since Saturday - the following things have happened.

Scooba breaks -

Tech Support says " Unfortunately at this time it appears that your Scooba will need to be replaced. We are no longer manufacturing the Scooba 5900 model robot. Because of this, we will be replacing your robot with a Scooba 5800 model."

But of course I need to pay to ship it back.

My Alienware video card is only partially functional. We only found this out because I was trying to hook up dual monitors to it. Since it is a dual card.. one side is dead.

Tech Support says " All of these steps are to ensure the functionality of the video card, because if the results are the same, like previously mentioned, the card will need to be replaced. If after following the previously mentioned indications, you need to contact our Technical Support Department related to this issue, please provided this reference Number."

Then - this morning my husband tells me our 6 month old Maytag washing machine is being recalled. Thankfully my husband reads Engadget. And thankfully when we just re-did our laundry room we put GFI's in. That prevents our house burning down. They don't say how they are going to fix the main problem.

But I have to say - I am pretty pissed that 3 products less than 6 months old have all had issues. It is completely ridiculous. The whole reason this blog was started in the first place was because we couldn't buy anything - no matter how high end or low end - that didn't break on a regular basis. I am just sick of it.

More about Prosper.com

Normally I don't care what people do - as long as it doesn't affect me. But I have to admit, I've got a super bug up my butt about prosper.com. Made more interesting because Mr. Snarkolepsy was somewhat intrigued by the concept. Not investing in it - just the free market side of capitalism.

Also note - I think my irritation is so high due to a family member of mine buying into every get rich quick scheme on the planet. You just can't tell them the business models don't make sense.

My immediate impressions of prosper.com were:

1. Thats a horrible idea.

2. There will be an incredible default rate.

3. Many of people were very wealthy and could not find an avenue of credit outside of prosper.com. Even people with up to 5 houses. I couldn't figure out why these people weren't under a HELOC at a much lower interest rate than they were asking for on prosper.com - other than being non lend-able through a bank.

4. If you read the loan plea's, it is impossible to see how the loan can realistically be repayed.

5. Prosper.com will probably get sued because of so many defaults.

6. People's need was more based on sob stories than any real need. Unless you think taking a vacation is a need. Some people claimed they didn't even need the money - but said " I am a little suprised at the amount of money people are willing to throw at high risk borrowers or scenarios on prosper, but people do love to gamble."

7. Borrowing money to then turn around and lend money was the most ridiculous idea ever. But yet a bunch of people were doing it.

8. Most of the loans were being funded not by large benefactors, but tons of small cash infusions. Some of these are due to the marketing people at prosper.com advising "portfolio diversification" by making lots of small loans. But some people are just ordinary people putting in small sums of money as you can see later on.

9. The whole thing just really wreaks of a get rich quick scheme.

This is the thing - I think most financial advisers will tell you paying anything with interest over 15% for more than a very short amount of time will result in a situation where you can never get out from under that debt.

So this morning I got a technorati hit on the blog, and up pops this persons blog entry.

I have to admit, I thought it would take longer than that to start seeing defaults. But now I am curious. So I started looking around and found other defaults.Here and here.

This persons blog entry states "Sometimes pressing problems require radical solutions. If you've been reading our blog, you'll have gathered that my wife and I are running a monthly deficit of $1,800. This is a LOT of money and if the situation continues, it will put us in dire financial straits. As part of the solution, we're doing the following:" Yet they claim to have invested 70,000. in prosper.com.

This whole thing is a trainwreck.

Update - For the guys who read the blog who are investors.

Thanks to this guy - you can see how the lenders are faring. This is a better link to track the lenders. Hey.. I didn't put this information out there.

But the whole thing is actually really fascinating. Most unexpected? You can not really predict who is going to default. This guy and this guy are making risky loans, but have a very low default rate. But this guy tends to lend to people with very good credit risk, and he has a very high default rate.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I have to say - this creeps me out.

This morning Mr. Snarkolepsy forwarded me this link. With my curiosity piqued I went over to the site Prosper.com. I was really curious why individuals would lend an unsecured loan to people.

My first thought was "surely I'm just being an asshole - almost everyone is more altruistic than me".

It really isn't that I am mean.. I just feel there are few instances where peoples financial problems aren't caused by bad choices. Growing up dirt poor myself - I am not big on giving away extremely hard earned money. But I digress.

So - I'm fully into guilt mode about this site. Until I start reading some of the profiles. Then my guilt turned to disbelief. I couldn't f-ing believe it honestly.

These were not the needy I was feeling so guilty about hoarding my hard earned cash for. These were mostly middle class people with homes - who are making ridiculous choices. I would even say living way beyond their means.

For instance this guy wants to pay 14% interest to fund an IRA with an $8000.00 loan.

Many people were looking for loans so they could re-loan money to other individuals on Prosper.com. Here, here and here. Some willing to pay up to 11% interest. So what - they could charge another bad choice making individual up to 27% interest.

This guy wanted a 16% interest loan so he didn't have to pay PMI on a new home he wanted to buy. Is he kidding us? And judging from the mortgage payment, it isn't an inexpensive home, but I'm guessing that kind of interest would be almost as much as PMI. But at least when you default you don't loose your home I guess.

This guy claims to have 56,000 in CD's, but is willing to pay 25% interest on a 15,000 dollar loan? WTF? And he claims to make $8000.00 to $12,000 a month.

Really - you need to go over to the site and see the reasons people are requesting loans, and see how much money these people make.

If people want to fund these people who am I to complain - just just can't believe the absolute gall of people.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Company that understands the future.

When we first moved into this house - it was one of our highest priorities to have a room just to hold the computers - and inside that room would live an iRobot Roomba scheduler.

It would vacuum perhaps daily. And it would do so without us having to do a thing. I mean, other than set the scheduler and empty the bin. Yep - the future is fantastic.

More than any other room in the house having daily vacuuming was a huge deal. The computers, the peripherals - it all equals a giant vortex of dust accumulation.

Which says a lot because the bunnies cause a huge amount of vacuuming. But at least they are easy to move and clean around.

So - every effort has been made to make it so dust can not easily collect in this room. The wire racking in the data closet was even chosen for this reason.

We had planned early on that all the cables would travel under the bar high desks and into the closet. This is the tangled mess we had to figure out what to do with.





Initially we thought we would just mount a power strip to the underside of the desks and use a wire CD rack to contain the cables. This had a few down-falls.

All those cables together would make it hard to trace back things we wanted to move. Like if we wanted to move a monitor. The other problem was that every peripheral company wants to make a different size/shape power brick.

These are not too much of a problem if the power strip lays on the floor. But when you start mounting thing off the ground, gravity starts being a problem. Not to mention one brick can take up two power outlet spaces.



We honestly spent months and months trying to figure out a good solution.

So - this weekend it was do or die time. I need check-marks so I can create new projects.

We were just going with the cd rack and power strip plan. But when we went to mount the strips we found that the mounts on the back of them were incapable of getting them to mount. The holes were too small, or the screws you would need couldn't really hold the weight of everything. I'm sure the companies were saying "oh - you didn't really want to mount it did you"?

Plus the cord needed to be longer than the average length - 6/7 feet. So we set out to the store.

The first two store left us super frustrated. High end Monster Cable power strips were in those plastic shrink wrap containers. So you couldn't see what the backs looked like, and once you open it, you can't get it back together. We were about ready to give up when my husband wanted to look at Home Depot. I was convinced that was a waste of time, but we had been looking at power strips for months.

I was ready to freak out at that point. I get a little crashy towards the end of project days. Shopping only makes me more irritated.

To our amazement they had power strips - and they were all in boxes. So we could see the back of them.

And then something magical happened! Belkin had a product that accommodated power bricks - and regular plugs. It has a little ledge so the power bricks would be supported - and not fall from the weight of being suspended. And it was mountable with an 8 foot cord! Oh - and it didn't cost an arm and a leg.




This product completely broke open our bottleneck. We were able to run the cables down each side of the desks.



(Everything isn't really that pink - I just don't have my new filters to cancel out the sepia)

The bot can now do its thing without getting all tangled up in the cables, and our office is finally the way we imaged it. It only took 7 months, but we finally made it. Without Belkin, the result wouldn't have been as fantastic. Now watch it blow up tomorrow.

Spooky Tivocast warning.



Who doesn't love a good warning, but what is with that face in the corner?

I'm on Tilt.

Dear Readers..for people who like to think they own more automated devices than most - I don't understand why my husband and I aren't less exhausted. I was sure these products were going to let me have the deepest ass groove ever. But.. not so much.

It was a busy weekend and sadly - I am full of gripe'ing material.

We started out the weekend by wanting to run our new Scooba that we just bought over Christmas, and have run - probably 5 times. I was actually all set to write a great review about it even.

But - when we set it loose so we could go about the business of starting our weekend projects - it wasn't dispensing any liquid.

Somehow I think we should know by now that if the very first thing we start with screws up - we should just go back to bed. Instead of thinking we can persevere only to wind up in the fetal position mumbling and rocking back and forth.

So anyway... my husband goes to the iRobot web-site. Goes through the online debugging. Complete with the time honored technical remedy of hitting the machine. Think I'm kidding? Its in the FAQ. Nothing of course fixes it, and this means a call to customer support. Fuck. Did I mention this was a Christmas present? Used 5 times...? It doesn't even have to work that hard for christ sake. We walk around in socks 90% of the time.

I of course was filled with dread. I'd been reading stories about customer support. It seemed to me that it had really degraded in the 4 years we've owned products from iRobot. So I wasn't happy at all about having to talk to a tech support rep. As if I ever am.

A full 27 minutes on hold later, we did reach a support rep. He was really nice, and really knowledgeable. Although the prescribed remedy turned out to be not hitting it - but turning the Scooba on its side and dropping it from about 6 inches off the ground. Yes.. you read me correctly.

This did actually make the Scooba start dispensing liquid. While I must say much more than it previously did. Leaving little sudsy trails.



And it became louder and made a rattling noise. Especially when it turned.

The solution also was short lived. Within about 15 minutes the Service light came on and it stopped moving. So I suppose you could say I'm a little unhappy. I'll keep you updated on what happens with Tech Support.

Friday, March 16, 2007

This is how I'm ruining the Earth.



The very first entry on this blog was about my Friendly Robotics robomower. Here. After 3 years our battery finally gave out. Pretty impressive actually.

Even though I was initially unhappy with Friendly Robotics - after 3 years it is one of the few products that has worked reliably. And - it actually has given us many entertainment hours.

Since we have had this mower quite a long time now, the novelty has worn off for us, and it has just turned into a trusty appliance. But - it draws so much attention still after all these years. I find myself being a little uncomfortable at how many people stop in front of the house to watch it. People are fascinated by it.. so I often find myself amused at people's reactions. I will go out to check it if has finished, and someone will be stopped in the street watching it for minutes.

At any rate - this is the packaging the battery took to get it to me safely. A bit much.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

All hope is lost.

The winter of naps is officially never going to happen.

People are now starting to talk about La Nina. Even though NOAA isn't officially saying this is a La Nina year. So I'm not quite an eccentric nut - though to my untrained eye even I could see the weather pattern fit a La Nina year - but I can't quite gloat yet. Here.

At any rate...this month I decided I might as well get over it and start on projects. I'm still bummed I didn't get to spend the winter laying around doing nothing. I already have many projects lined up. I can only pray that the fall brings rain so I will have some down-time. But it should be fun for you Dear Readers because I'm sure there will be plenty of wigging out.

Before I can start a new projects - by a Mr Snarkolepsy mandate - I must actually tie up the loose ends of previous projects. I'm not so great about that. I love tearing into stuff - but then because I'm so ADD I loose interest. Not this year though! So this week we were revisiting the data closet. In this picture it looked done, but there was still some painting and putting on baseboards.

Then, because you can never move anything - we had a computer hardware failure. That left us a lot of debugging - and we are stalled until Mr. Snarkolepsy fixes his hardware problem. But this is where we are at right now.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

She's a little OCD.



For some reason - there is something with the Velveteen Lop breed that causes them to have special sensitivity to balding. We noticed it with our girl Paisley when she started having sore hock like issues on her back feet. She has a real inability to keep the hair there. Here is the kicker - sore hawks are usually due to them living on wire.

This girl has never stepped on a piece of wire in her life. We eventually resorted to putting down plush 30 dollar towels for the bottom of her cage. Yeah - I know.. it sounds insane. Luckily she doesn't chew things like our other bunnies, or that would be really unacceptable. Sore hawks persisted.

A while back - we noticed that she was starting to loose the hair on her chin. Crap we thought - this is really a new one. We spent a while trying to figure out what we might do, because she is obviously going to lick anything we put on her right off. We thought about vitamin E or something topical like Neosporin, but we didn't like having her ingest a very large amount of this stuff. Even the vet gave us a shrug.

We noticed that when we would pet her at night that she would lick a giant wet circle in the comforter (ewww). It finally clicked that she probably had the equivalent of chapped lips.

Since she was such a licker, she was causing her chin to become chapped. So - she would lick it more, and it was obviously causing the hair to disappear. We tried chap-stick for a while. She hates berry chap-stick. But it wasn't really doing anything. Finally we settled on good old vaseline. Thankfully she now is starting to grow her hair back. We thought she would just be bald. Go figure!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

How making me happy can save you money.

Dear readers... I have to make an admission. I used to work in Tech Support. You would not be reading my blog if it weren't for one of the companies I used to work for. But that was in the long, long ago times. Now I am just a frustrated consumer.

So you see.. I understand how hard customer support is. Which maybe is why I get so completely pissed by how inefficiently customer support lines are run. You see - in tech support - you can tell within seconds who the clueless bastards are who will do nothing but drain the life from you. I am not one of them. Usually. So why does it take me 5 interactions with customer support to get my problem resolved?

Little background:
Over the weekend my network connection to Comcast Cable kept dropping in and out. About the time I would become frustrated enough to call them, my connection would magically heal itself - until this morning.

Confident enough in the idea the 2 lights on my cable modem would not increase to 4, I felt maybe I could just have Comcast reboot my modem from their side, and we could all live happily ever after. After all - it was only an intermittent problem up until that point.

With call #1, after going through all the menu's - I was exiled into a phone state filled with static. I could neither tell if I was on hold or had been disconnected.

Call #2 brought me fear that I may never actually get connected. The Comcast automated system repeatedly kept informing me that it was "trying to connect my call". I eventually did reach a support rep, and it immediately started off badly. Despite clear enunciation - it took 5 tries for the rep to get my phone number down.

Once we get through that - I describe my problem, and she begins to ping my modem. Which by that time had regained its connection. Luckily within seconds it dropped back out. This obviously perplexed the support rep. Completely incapable of diagnosing an intermittent problem I could hear her start to stutter. In my head I am starting to scream profanities, and she informs me that she doesn't see any outages in my area. Well I ask " can you reboot my modem from your side"?

A moment of brilliance pops on in her head and she asks" Oh - you want me to reboot your modem"? In my head " No- I was just hoping to chat with you about your day, and maybe diagnose my own problem" - but I only muster a sarcastic "yes". This only results in my connection fluctuating in and out.

She asks "do you have a firewall'?

At this point I'm getting pissed but I know my chances are slim of getting anyone better. This is Comcast after all. I just hope I can get her to do what I want her to do. I reply " Yes I have a firewall, but that won't make the lights on my modem show I don't have a connection".

Then she tries to punt me hoping I would go away. She asks "Do you still have the install disk the modem came with"? You have got to be joking right? So "you don't see any problems on your side" I ask?

At this point she offers up sending out a support Rep. Which makes me freak out because this means I will be without service for several days. I tell her I will take the modem down myself and swap it.

So - a half an hour later I get home with my new modem - plug it in and still no connection. The lights on the modem are reporting a fantastic connection though. I start to think "maybe those f-ing cd's do have something on them the modem needs". I install the CD, and still no connection.

Call #3 to Comcast. The automated operator again informs me she is trying to connect my call - which by the way was the message I got each time I called. Eventually I wind up being dropped.

Call #4. I get a girl named Samantha. But by this time I'm sure my voice has a mixture of pleading, and irritation. I tell her that all I want is to get on the Internet, and that I just swapped out my modem. Then something magical happens. She starts talking to me like a peer. And she knows stuff! Within a few minutes after her sending resets to my modem.. I'm able to get to Google.

At this point I am just gushing about how much I appreciate her. I tell her I have a crush on her. Yeah.. thats right. I can have a non-sexual girl crush. Chicks who know technology rock.

At any rate.. I hope I don't have to call Comcast again - for at least 30 days. But I sincerely wish they would hire more Samantha's. It is just ridiculous for it to take that amount of customer service time for a someone who is reasonably technically literate.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

If you dont start letting me be a diva - I'm running away.



Several people who read my blog have made it known that I am light on bunny pictures lately. So... I will post a few over the next week or so. Then I have to take a bunny hiatus. I'm already starting to get creepy hits on the site.

To all those thinking about getting a cute little bunny for Easter. DON'T. They grow up fast, can often be very expensive and have complicated health issues. So save your money, and buy a weeks worth of latte's.

Links to other bunny pictures on this blog here.

Examples of bunny health issues here and here. Everyone is still happy and kickin.

The Rivers Edge.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

I can see into the future - or maybe the past.

All winter long I have become an armchair meteorologist. If I could put a Doppler Radar System on my roof - I would. In my completely uneducated meteorology world, things are becoming a little spooky accurate.

First I started predicting that we are in a La Nina on February 2nd. Not an El Nino. Blogged about it here. Yet despite Tivo'ing though an insane amount of weather news, I still hear nothing but talk about El Nino.

Yes - I can now absorb the contents of almost any show at 3x's Tivo fast forward. That really helps with my ADD. But I digress.

So - all winter long - it couldn't be more obvious to me that we are in a La Nina, and it isn't even my job to recognize these things. I was just doing some research on stocks and being unhappy about the freezing temps and lack of rain. But still - I can't comprehend a more text-book case.

I took this picture on 2/6/07


Now let us compare it to the example from my blog entry and Wikipedia.



This is a picture taken on 2/7/07 talking about January's conditions.



This picture was taken on 2/20/07.



Now let us compare it to the second example picture from my blog entry.



This picture taken on 2/23/07.



This picture taken 3/1/07



There were only a handful of people talking about La Nina back in the fall of last year. This year I finally I found someone else has starting to say things look like La Nina too. Photography on the Run. Although most accounts are cautious because there hasn't been an official word stating this is La Nina year. Though hopefully now the tide seems to be turning here and here.

The reason I am making a big deal about this?

In this big boring blog entry I tried to make a connection between La Nina years, especially cold dry ENSO years - and years that had not only the most, but the most severe tornados. And so far this year there has been a dramatic increase in activity. Also a pretty good sign of a La Nina. And a ominous outlook for the tornado season.

I thought I was being clever, but there actually does seem to be a connection.

From Nasa.

"The ENSO cycle can effect micro- to mesoscale events, like tornadoes and their parent thunderstorms (TRMM LIS data). It has observed that tornadoes during an ENSO cold phase (La Niña) are stronger and remain on the ground longer than do warm phase (El Niño) tornadoes. "

I think it is a horrible miscalculation for meteorologists to be so slow to advise people to be prepared for a more active tornadic season. If it doesn't happen - all the better, but right now history seems to be repeating itself.
 
http://www.wikio.com