For many things, I'm happy to go to Staples -- especially since they now have a printing and basics outlet right next to the local post office where I go to pick up my mail. For example, I get our toiletpaper, in bulk, from Staples (not this nearby one). Ditto paper, the very occasional printer cartridge, and sundries.
Staples "Rewards" program, while it's gone through increasingly less easy revisions in the past year or so -- from credit to something they mail me -- is simple enough in terms of when I make purchases. Ditto many of their sales. In particular, their "Free Batteries" deal -- buy a 20-pack of AA or AAA batteries, get 100% of that money credited back to my Staples Rewards account within a month or so. Since I know I'm going to spend that money sooner or later (e.g., on toiletpaper), that's free batteries in return for tieing up a few tens of dollars or a month or so. (I do use rechargable batteries where possible -- but it's not always possible.)
But, annoyingly, when it comes to rebates, Staples remains old-school PITF (Pain In The Fundament). E.g., this week, Staples is offering a $5.99 rebate on a $10.99 ream of colored, heavier-stock paper... which I have a use for.
Buying the paper: easy.
There's no technical reason Staples couldn't automatically populate the rebate information at time of purchase. My Staples Rewards account has all the needed info, after all.
But no. I have to take the frigging receipt, use my computer to go to the frelling web site, and RE-FRACKING-ENTER data by FNORDING HAND -- which took (I timed it) aroudn five and a half minutes.
And then wait 6-8 FRICKING WEEKS for a FUGGIN' REBATE. At least, this time around, Staples offered the option (which I took them up on) of having the rebate go to my PayPal account.
I'm not the only person who feels this way, either; see Steve Garfield's Off On A Tangent blog posting from a year ago, Staples Easy Rebates Are Not Easy, (which is where I found the "Not Easy!" graphic).
Rebates: Not Easy!
Taking some of my business elsewhere: Not hard!
Sadly, despite previous plans, I won't be at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this year.
But, via email, the web, and on-site agents, I will be doing my best to keep up with the vendors, products and technologies I follow and write about.
(And yes, I'll happily honor all embargoes and NDAs.)
Here's more on what I will be doing, and how you can help!
(In case you've lost track, I'm a freelance technology and business writer, covering products and topics from consumer/prosumer through SOHO, SMB and enterprise, including notebooks, storage, cameras, WiFi, power/UPS, mobile, gadgets/accessories, virtualization, cloud/Saas, Open Source/Linux... and, well, most anything I get assigned to do. See here for fuller lists and samples. I also write some science fiction -- not enough -- and my not-yet-sold Dern Grim Bedtime Tales, Few Of Which End Well, And Other Stories.)
I send myself to CES -- this would have been my fifth, I think -- to see what's recent, new and coming in the way of products; to meet and schmooze with PR folks for the vendors; and to hobnob/schmooze with my fellow journalists (including looking for assignment opportunities, of course -- but many of the journalists -- and PR folks -- are friends, as well, of course.)
Although I file at least one show report, like to TechRevu.com, most of what I see and do at CES (including CES Unveiled, Lunch at Piero's, Pepcom and ShowStoppers) is grist for the rest of the year. Examples: my ComputerWorld reviews of five USB turntables, and of "fast non-Windows notebook boots," my IEEE articles on fuel cells and liquid-cooled PCs, and my CIO.com article on the business uses of Second Life.
I'd pre-registered as press for CES 2011, bought my plane tickets and made my hotel reservation. I had pre-registered for the multi-vendor press events that make CES manageable and more valuable: Lunch at Piero's, PepCom, and ShowStoppers. (CES Unveiled is part of CES, so we don't have to pre-register for it.) I'd also pre-registered, as press, for Storage Visions (which is a CES partner event), and for several CES press conferences.
So I've already got a healthy pile of announcements, appointment requests, press releases, and invites.
But things change, often at the last minute, so alas! No CES 2011.
But I plan to be there in spirit (and by proxy) -- and to get as possible out of CES as I can without being there in person. I don't want -- or plan -- to miss CES 2011 just because I'm not there.
Here's how you can help:
1) PROVISION MY PROXIES: I've asked one of two of my colleagues who are attending to pass along my regrets and requests on my behalf, along with "building me an info-goodie bag to go." (Tchotchkes welcome, too of course!) I'll be sending some some of my business cards (so don't be surprised it if looks like I stopped by when you weren't looking).
If they ask on my behalf, give them a press kit (flash drive, CD, or NTE 2 sheets paper), your business cards (PR agency folks, please make sure to write the vendor name). Don't hesitate to contact me if you need my shipping address for something.
2) KEEP MY NAME on your CES and general press mailing list(s).
3) MAKE SURE WE CONNECT post-CES, especially if you've got something in an area I've been covering or we've otherwise been schmoozing.
4) LET ME KNOW if you hear of anybody looking for post-show news, product reviews or write-ups, feature articles, etc.
5) HAVE AS GOOD A TIME without me as you can :-)
6) EXPECT TO SEE ME NEXT YEAR!
And I'll be following up directly with as many vendors as possible who have or will be contacting me, based on my having pre-registered as press.
Thanks for your understanding and cooperation.
Again, have a good, productive time!
-- Daniel P. Dern
Who'd'a thunk it?
According to the BYTE.com home page (as of December 2011): "Coming in Q2 2011, BYTE.com will serve as the professional's guide to consumer technology. Gina Smith, renowned author, journalist and network TV correspondent, will lead the coverage."
BYTE magazine was started in the 1970s, and at its peak was a thick magazine full of in-depth articles on computer technologies and products. Science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle (e.g., co-author with Larry Niven of RINGWORLD, THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE, etc.) became the computer industry's first regular columnist, with his Chaos Manor column (which Jerry has continued to run through his own site.)
I had the honor and pleasure of writing one or two articles for BYTE magazine, on the Internet, in the early 1990s, which led, among other things, to my becoming the first editor of INTERNET WORLD magazine (the first magazine all about the Internet), and also author of THE INTERNET GUIDE FOR NEW USERS, one of the first end-user (but a little too geeky for "consumers") Internet books.
The venerable BYTE magazine was shut down in 1998, shortly after being bought by CMP, along with Data Communications and LAN Times, from McGraw-Hill. (See former BYTE editor Tom Halfhill's Tom's Unofficial BYTE FAQ: The Death of BYTE Magazine.
But in 1999, CMP revived BYTE as BYTE.com, a web-only publication, with my friend Paul Schindler as editor.
When Paul got also put in charge of Windows.com, I was hired by CMP, reporting to Paul, and was editor of BYTE.com -- assigning articles, managing the columnists and freelancers ("Keeping Jerry happy" was the unwritten fifth bullet point in my job description), organizing Comdex and CES and CeBIT show coverage squads, writing editorials and some articles -- happy fun!
We even got, as tchotckhes for one Comdex, BYTE.com pocket protectors!
...until 2001, when budget cuts and re-orgs and such throttled BYTE.com's budget, turning BYTE.com into a sub-site of the equally venerable Dr. Dobbs' Journal site. (See Daniel bids farewell to BYTE.com.)
And, over time, even that BYTE.com became moribund.
But huzzah! BYTE.com, like Barry Alllen, Jean Grey and Hal Jordan, lives again!
(See Harry McCracken's blog post on Byte's past and future, Good Grief, BYTE is Coming Back!)
And if the new BYTE.com is looking for somebody with proven track record to wrangle and herd contributors and articles, this Barkis is willing! (Meaning me, in case they no longer force you to read Charles Dickens' DAVID COPPERFIELD in junior high school.) Our operators are standing by!
So I'm on hold with Verizon tech support -- fair enough, it's not an urgent problem -- and the voice menu says something like, "press or say 1 to continue, 2 to hear tips while you're waiting, 3 to request a callback..."
So I press 1.
Less than five seconds later, same recording. I press 1 again.
After five or six more rounds, I hang up, and call again, being careful to not let myself get trapped in that tree again.
Press 1 to re-read this. To move to the next blog posting, press 2.
ROUND ONE, MOVING ON UP (FROM A "DUMBPHONE")
So I've been using a "dumbphone" for a bazillion years, happily enough. A few years ago, I moved up to a slightly newer model which had Bluetooth, so I could use a Bluetooth headset, which I like a lot. (It also had a camera, which I never got the hang of.)
But over the last few months, it was clear that it was past time for me to try something newer.
One reason, to relate to what the mainstream is using.
Two, to have something that will let me try sundry smartphone apps and accessories, e.g., to be able to review them or simply try the things otherwise writing about. I've been writing about smartphones, mobile apps, and accessories (see http://www.dern.com/artic.shtml#SmartPhones ); maybe having one will let me get additional assignments, and/or write more knowledgeably.
Three, who know, maybe having mobile access to my email and the web will be useful?
And four, for mobile broadband access a notebook, via "tethering," especially since I'm often trying a press loaner.
I'd been debating between a smartphone -- iPhone, BlackBerry, or something that would run Google Android -- and an iPod Touch, which would give me the "apps" experience, albeit without the "phone" part.
Anyway: I've been an AT&T Wireless customer since before whenever it was that AT&T spun off and sold its wireless division to Cingular, which in turn upnamed themselves back to AT&T Wireless, something like that, for probably well over a decade. I.e., I'm a known customer. And by now -- ten-plus years -- I've spent what's got to be well over ten thousand dollars in service with AT&T Wireless, with the likelihood I'll stay with them, barring some reason to change.
In terms of my actual phone, I've been provisioned, or doing a lot of my window-shopping, at a specific local store. They don't know me (I think), since I'm in there maybe a few times a year.
So back around April or May, when I decided it was time to try a smartphone, I was torn between getting an iPod Touch, so I could try apps without committing to more per-month costs. But I decided that the iPhone 4, then announced but not yet out, would have some of the features I want (multitasking) or think I want/want the option of (tethering to a notebook). Good timing on my part.
I'd read, of course, about the see-the-newest-Star Wars-movie-class lines and strategies, and had not interest in trying that hard. My local store, when I poked my head in a week or so before the first shipments were due, said i could simply sign up, on a list, and they would order me one.
So I signed up, putting my name and phone number on the list on the clipboard.
ROUND TWO: RECORD-KEEPING, NINETEENTH-CENTURY STYLE
A few days after whenever it was that the iPhone 4 was supposed to arrive, I stopped by. The sign outside said, "Come back Tuesday."
Wednesday, I called to see if my iPhone was in stock. "Do you remember your salesperson's name?" they asked me.
Surely you jest, I thought. "Sorry, no," I replied politely enough.
"Was it a man or a woman?"
"I don't remember."
"Did they have glasses?"
"Why do you need to know?"
Apparently the received reserved machines are filed by salesperson, I guess, and even though I've got a name, there's no app for easily searching and finding on this basis. Anyway, somebody went to the back room and looked. "Can you call back every few days?" they asked.
And yet, then, oddly: "We'll call you when your phone arrives."
I hung up confused. Which is it -- do they need me to call, or will they call me?
ROUND THREE: HUH?
Weeks pass. Clearly I'm not panting for an iPhone. I'm doing an errand nearby, so I poke my head in again. "Is my iPhone in yet?
"Did you order one?"
"I left my name and phone number on the clipboard, after talking with a sales rep for about fifteen minutes about my current plan, and what the various options were with the iPhone."
"Did we get your credit card and run an order?"
So apparently , much to my surprise, I HADN'T actually yet ordered an iPhone.
Obviously -- as I remarked to the mildly apologetic sales person -- if I'd been more concerned or eager, I would have called or checked in sooner, and this error would have been uncovered sooner.
Apple of course hasn't suffered sales-wise from not being able to sell me an iPhone yet; the store had none in stock, my phone will hopefully be available in a week or so.
And I did raise my eyebrows at the end of the order process, after getting my credit card back along with my receipt, and suggest that perhaps AT&T Wireless would, when the phone arrived, like to do something to make it up to me, a loyal customer for a decade, for the confusion. (Not to mention the nuisance and delay.)
But the question is, why didn't the salesperson actually take my order? That's like say, yeah, we've got burgers, but skipping "May I take your order?"
ROUND FOUR: DON'T CALL US, WE'LL CALL YOU
OK, so I'm clearly not in a great hurry.
AT&T said they'd call when my iPhone arrived.
I normally don't check email between Friday evening and Monday morning. A week after I'd done the paperwork that AT&T Wireless store folks had forgotten to have me do a month sooner, I check my email around 4:30PM on Sunday, for some reason... and see email from AT&T Wireless, from that Friday afternoon, letting me know my iPhone has arrived.
It's 4:30PM. The store closes at 5PM on Sundays.
So much for calling. This really is a store that doesn't do what they say they will, or know what they mean when they say something.
ROUND FIVE: SORRY, WE'RE INCOMPREHENSIBLY SLOW
I'm not able to get to the AT&T Wireless store until the weekend.
The store is not crowded.
So I get there, early afternoon. There are at least four people in the store, all helping somebody.
There are maybe six people ahead of me, maybe four.
It takes them OVER 45 MINUTES to get to me. Even the Post Office or local drug store where I live is faster, which often isn't saying much.
And that's just for the store manager semi-triaging, to find out why I was there, and fetch my machine from the back, open it, and get it ready so a sales person could help me when my turn came.
There was one person waiting to buy one simple, inexpensive item they couldn't get elsewhere... and they, too, were forced to cool their heels for 30 to 45 minutes, there's nobody working a sales-only register for the simple requests.
I'm nearly ready to give up, but it would take more time to leave and try another time.
What's really annoying is that this particular AT&T Wireless location shares a parking lot with a large, established, well-known independent bookstore. We could be browsing nearby... and be a lot less irked. Even if this store (whose location I'm not identifying) isn't savvy enough to provision waiting customers with those wireless vibrating reservation thingies that lots of restaurants offer, if I were the bookstore managers (and knew about this problem), I'd offer to provide them.
So, finally, my turn comes. The sales person says, "Wait while I go in back and get your phone." "It's right behind you," I say. "Somebody else already got it out."
They go in the back, and come out without my phone, of course, but after a minute or two figure things out.
So I finally get my iPhone.
In a frosty, irked, annoyed, irritated, unhappy, but calm and polite tone of voice, I summarize the tragedy of errors on this store's part that have caused me to wait roughly a month longer than I should have. "Perhaps," I suggest quasi-archly, "you might be able to do something to reduce my unhappiness." (Or something like that.)
They apologize, but, with iPhone accessories, iTunes/App store gift cards and whatnot all around them, nobody offers to staunch my unhappiness, beyond a vague promise to do so later on. No twenty bucks of iTunes card, no offer to reduce some part of my cost, nothing.
They do, to their credit, port my phone contact information from my old dumbphone's SIM card to the iPhone. Easy, they've got a machine for that.
There's also no effort to sell me a case, a Bluetooth headset (just as well, as it turns out, ignoring the fact that I've got one). I ask about the "free case" I'd heard about, to address the antenna problem. "You order that through Apple, they'll get it to you in two weeks." Nobody points out that that's just a "bumper," more or less a small band-aid, and won't actually protect this shiny, expensive new object I've just bought from them.
Again, this isn't about the iPhone. It's about customer service. This is how stores from a franchise, and businesses as a whole, lose customers.
HEY AT&T, MAYBE SELLING IPHONES ISN"T YOUR CORE COMPETANCY...
When I started this fulmination, I thought my point was about how Apple needs to be more discriminating about its business partners, as they reflect poorly on Apple, and in turn, are likely to reduce what I spend with Apple.
But then I realized, that's the wrong view. This is the first Apple product I've bought, and I might easily not spend more than I spent on the iPhone proper in follow-up AppleCare, accessories or apps from Apple. Apple's already gotten most of what they're going to get from me. Maybe Apple's accessory and app partners care. And it's not like there aren't bazillions of people buying iPhones, what I do or say, or to whom, as a consumer customer, isn't likely to make a big diff.
But AT&T Wireless needs to care. All they need to do to keep getting that monthly payment from me is NOT PISS ME OFF. And we passed that milestone a while back.
And all they had to do to not piss me off was run their store non-ineptly... and act (or be) more concerned when they didn't.
This is the same reason I do fly Southwest Airlines as my first choice, and JetBlue as my second; pretty much all the other airlines have, over time, been annoyingly unhelpful, incompetent, apathetic, or otherwise useless when something went wrong that created problems for us passengers, leaving us to flounder unless we knew what to do, who to complain to, or could YELL REAL LOUD.
So, Apple, partner with whoever you want, your business clearly isn't suffering. Maybe you don't want too many more iPhone customers until there's more bandwidth available, anyway.
But AT&T, you've got competition. You're not the only company selling iPhones. And there's enough non-iPhone phones and carriers around... many of us don't need our smartphone to be an iPhone badly enough to keep giving money to somebody who doesn't seem to care.
I've got a month to decide whether I like the iPhone... and also how annoyed I still am with AT&T Wireless.
Anyway, enough about AT&T Wireless (mostly). Now that I've got my iPhone -- my first "smartphone" -- it's time to figure out how to use it, what it can (and can't do), and, well, enjoy it.
Which is, not surprisingly, another story.
To get to my email and do some of the file management for my web site, I still use a shell account (if you've just said "Huh? Whazzat?" you're free to stop here and go to the next entry) (it's a Command Line User Interface (CLUI) access to a *Nix account) (think of it like Windows CMD command box) (still with me?) , and, because of the way I work, files accumulate.
I'm not a Unix maven by any means. I'm an end user. I've been using Unix as a command-line user since 1983, included a "Enough Unix to Survive" chapter in my 1993 Internet book, The Internet Guide For New Users, but there's a lot I never learned or don't remember.
In particular, ways to look for files, and disk usage by size. There's du and some other command I don't remember at the moment, but sorting by size, and then sub-shelling to use rm (which, of course, I've aliased to include the dash-i option, to avoid accidentally blowing away way too much stuff).
But pruning out older, unneeded files via the command line is time-consuming.
On my Windows machines, it's easy; Windows Explorer lets me click-sort files by size.
Fortunately, I've found a way to do this on my shell account, without even adding a new tool. I've been using the free FileZilla as my Windows FTP client, which displays filename, date, and size for the shell account as well as on my Windows box. And, it turns out, FileZilla has Explorer-like abilities at both ends to rename and even delete files.
So now all I have to do is click on the FileZilla date or size column, select what should go, and press Delete. Another problem solved!
These days, not so hard: it's either email, or directly to the content management system.
But for larger files, like multi-megabyte fotos, or video, that's a bit much for email. I can create passworded directories in my web site, but that takes a few minutes... and adds more megabytes to keep track of and delete, if I don't want to go overquota and pay more.
I've got a paid FlickR account, which means space isn't a concern, but FlickR sizes down the fotos, and I've found it a PITA (ache in the posterior) to organize, plus I haven't yet figured out how to set up specific access shares. Ditto YouTube and some other media-posting sites I've got accounts with.
Fortunately, there are bunches of services offering free/fee online space, which can be shared. (Spacewise, I could simply email via Gmail, but that doesn't solve the problem of overwhelming the recipient's mailbox.)
I've just started trying DropBox.com, I set up an account a week or three ago, just logged in, created a sharable folder and "invited" the intended recipient.
Eric Grevstad, my sharee du jour (who reports, "I always wanted to be a sharee. Now I've got ''My Sharee Amour' running through my head") says it works fine... he declined to download the DropBox program, but (as I presumed it would), browser access worked fine.
Another day, another small success!
A lot of stuff on the web (and elsewhere) is in PDF format.
Most of us simply use the free Acrobat Reader from Adobe.
In the past month (mid-February 2009), it's become clear this may pose a security risk.
According to this article on Download Squad (one of the first Google hits on "Acrobat bug"), “Because of the way Adobe integrates into Windows explorer - to provide metadata information about PDF files - there is a chance that your system could become infected without ever opening a single file...That includes something as simple as hovering your mouse over the file icon."
I.e., you don't have to even open or download the file to be at risk.“
According to Stephen Schenck, in Obsessable, “The bug affects only Windows computers running Acrobat version 7 or later."
Here's a YouTube video, from Schenck's article, showing the bug being exploited:
What should you (Windows users with Acrobat 7 or later) do?
- Update your computers, as Adobe releases patches, (which they've started to do, as of March 11). (UPDATE: According to Michale Kassner's IT Security blog in TechRepublic, Adobe has released updates -- here's Kassner's advice on installing and double-checking the patches, and additionally securing FireFox (with the NoScript extension.)
- And here's a freeAdobe Flash vulnerability scanner from HP
- Meanwhile/instead, uninstall Adobe Acrobat completely (some of the components install into Microsoft Windows Explorer, so simply not using Acrobat won't do the trick), and install an alternative PDF reading application.
I'm now using the free Foxit Reader. There's some minor user interface differences from Adobe Acrobat, but it works fine, I'm happy with it.
AND WRITING PDF'S INEXPENSIVELY
During the past month, I've turned up two separate reasons to be able to not just read, but also write -- create PDF files:
Saving copies of my articles from the web sites they appear on, for my "clips" (samples), in case the original becomes unavailable (e.g., the publication's site closes or changes, or the article is too old for them to keep it available).
I've been simply saving these as web pages, but often these saves don't rebuilt exactly, or sometimes don't work at all. And here I don't care about a "live" web page; I'm looking for a copy that's the equivalent of having torn/copied a page from a magazine: "here's what actually appeared."
- On a separate note, as I do more to promote my Dern Grim Bedtime Tales, I'm making up promotional handouts and other things, and want to provide a single document made from a bunch of Word files... and would rather not provide it as a Word file, in any case.
Again, legitimately-free software to the rescue; here, CutePDF Writer. This installs as a option in PRINT submenus, e.g., on FireFox and Microsoft Word.
So far, CutePDF Writer has been working fine, and doing what I'm looking for.
So: FoxIt Reader and CutePDF Writer, both recommended. I'm sure there's other equally good free solutions... and I know that both these tools have a lot of features I haven't explored or put to use yet.
When it comes to browsing the web, I'm a firm believe in "Anything But Microsoft Internet Explorer (wherever possible)."
For the longest while, this meant using Opera.
Somewhat belatedly, I've moved over to Firefox as my browser-of-first-choice, with Opera at the ready -- not because Firefox is necessarily better (and even though my fingers still know more Opera keyboard commands), but because as someone who writes about this stuff, I try to use (some) mainstream tools.
And Firefox does have all sorts of nifty add-ons, extensions, and other features I've barely scratched the surface of.
Plus, Firefox works with ZoneAlarm ForceField, CheckPoint's "browser/email wrap-around" session protector, which works with MSIE, Firefox, even Netscape Navigator, MSN Explorer, and AOL... but not Opera.
To be fair, Opera may be secure enough to not need the ForceField's additional protection... but ForceField also offers a "no session data (cache, cookies, history and passwords) left behind" mode, which feels useful at times.
Anyway, so I'm using Firefox.
I'm one of these people that accumulates lots of open browser tabs as the day and week go on. Yeah, being a better bookmarker would make more sense. I can easily have twenty, thirty or more tabs, reflecting sites I'm currently using, or URLs I want to get around to checking out.
I've got Firefox Start set to "show windows and tabs from last time."
Inexplicably, this is not always working.
Even more inexplicably, sometimes Firefox will restart several times in a row with just my home page... and then, poof! there's my twenty-plus tabs.
This remember-and-forget-and-remember behavior continues across days, incremental Firefox version updates, with ZoneAlarm ForceField working or not... there is no apparent (to me) rhyme or reason.
I've taken to doing a Bookmark-All-Tabs every so often, to save things. Of course, it seems like Firefox sometimes loses track of my bookmarks when it does a version upgrade, or hides them for a few sessions. Bad browser!
Plus, Firefox's "warn me when closing multiple tabs" isn't working lately if I've only got one Firefox window open... although if I've more than one open, closing one Firefox window will. Just not the last window. Go figure.
I'm not about to abandon Firefox and go back to Opera, much less move to MSIE.
But I wish Firefox would go back to doing what it says it would do, and be consistent about it.
Here's the thing: The usage guidelines (which are, to the company's credit, on the device itself, not just in the printed instructions) say, up to eight sheets at a time, and, don't use more than 25 to 50 times per day.
Now, "eight sheets at a time" is pretty clear, and not too hard to do.
But the per-day advice... I'm not disputing the numbers, but y'know, a little incremental, resettable counter would make tracking this a lot easier. (Or, I suppose, taping a mini-pad of paper on top, and just making counting marks.)
For that matter, roughly how much shred does the basket hold -- another rough way to track, if you empty it out before a long day's shredding? I suppose I could track it, and then put pieces of tape on to mark as another way to ballpark the daily shred count.
I'm just saying, we shouldn't have to think about this to know how we're doing.