Tag Archives: Best Buy

Me & My Manuals

Subtitle: More Than You Want to Know About My Technology Skills

Subtitle: Why We Are Doomed

Modern life is complicated. Much more so than when I was growing up (some people say I was never actually young – not so, but I won’t argue). I am, however, astounded that anything actually works any more.

Growing up, I was a tinkerer/investigator. I would skulk around the neighborhood and remove broken radios/lamps/vacuums, anything electrical, from neighbors’ trash  to disassemble and study how they were built and what made them work. I didn’t learn much but it was something to do.

I was a “technology leader” in my profession. While still a young associate back in the 1970s, I introduced my law firm to its first electronic calculator. It cost me $125, grudgingly reimbursed by the partnership that saw it as wasteful and pointless, an enormous sum at the time for a lowly associate lawyer. It had only four functions. It was the junior model to the first Bowmar breakthrough product, as reported at www.bowmarllc.com:

One of the company’s biggest defining moments came in 1971 when it produced the world’s first hand-held calculator. The Bowmar Brain sold for $240 and ushered in a new frontier of global technological advances. However, since its inception, Bowmar’s primary market has remained aerospace and defense.

While I couldn’t afford a Bowmar Brain, I bought the next best thing and thus it was Bowmar and me on the frontier of technological innovation. The firm resisted but I persisted and soon the partners were secreting the device in their desks to prevent others from secreting it in their desks.

Leaping from Memory Lane to almost-today, I once again faced the technological frontier.

I had owned two inexpensive, limited-function devices to work with my high-powered iMac computer. One was a flat-bed scanner that scanned documents and photos one page at a time. Like an old bike, reliable but slow.  As time passed, the controlling software became somewhat squirrelly (details spared—thank me later).

The other “device” (device, that’s what we call them now) was a simple printer. It did both black/white and color and had a limited but functional sheet feeder. The company that produced this inexpensive marvel decided it was a good idea to modify the software in some fashion that caused the printer to … die. Since the device was far out-of-warranty, multiple tries to download/update the software failed and there was apparently no one home at Hewlett-Packard anyway, I made a command decision: give the scanner to a friend who could use its limited functions and trash (recycle) the moribund printer, replacing both with a more modern, all-purpose single box that would do everything I needed: copy, print and scan. Fantastic. What could go wrong?

My extensive online research led me to what turned out to be a very large, incredibly heavy (circa 50 pounds) All-in-One (AiO) machine from a well-known brand not Hewlett-Packard (some affronts cannot be forgiven). Algorithms at American Express, acting on their own, “decided” that the company identified in the purchase order was “suspect,” and rejected my charge. Stunned at this development, I called Amex which promptly said, “oh, ok, no problem.” So, no problem.

Reasonably believing the algorithmic rejection of the charge had invalidated the first purchase, I returned to the source website and purchased the item again. I also bought a service contract with a firm that claimed to offer turnkey setup and technical advice for years. Little did I know that algorithms in the seller’s website had kept the first transaction “alive” following the credit rejection, so now I had unwittingly ordered two of the devices, each of which was half the size of a Volkswagen beetle.

These particular devices would not connect to my wi-fi system for reasons never understood. The algorithms did not like my network, I suppose. The service contract also turned out to be useless, as, after multiple excruciating waits “on hold,” the “technical experts” at the service company simply told me to call the manufacturer for advice on set-up. They had no idea what to do and really weren’t much interested.

So, I returned the devices. Both of them. Fortunately for me, the seller had a UPS pick-up system so all I had to do was get the devices, in their original boxes with all wrappings, wires, etc., down to the concierge desk. Done and done, sore back and all.

The search for a viable machine resumed. I located another AiO, from a different well-known brand, sold by Best Buy. Well-known brand. Free shipping. What could go wrong? Chastened by my earlier experience, I paid for another service contract with the “famous” Best Buy Geek Squad that claimed to include 24-7 installation/setup advice, guaranteed. I’m on a roll now. Stand back and stand by.

The device was delivered promptly enough but, and this is a big but, this device also was unable to connect to my wi-fi system and thus could not, for example, print documents that resided on my computer. It was the  algorithms, I’m sure. I spent more than two hours on the phone with various “representatives” from the Geek Squad, mostly on hold, none of whom had any helpful advice on the rare occasions when I was able to actually speak with someone. And, Best Buy, it turns out, does not pay or arrange for returns.

Since by this time we had moved from New York City to Washington DC, but had no car, we paid an Uber fee to return the machine to the nearest Best Buy. The staff there was singularly uninterested in why we were returning it: “just drop it over there.” But, without argument, they did refund both the purchase price and the cost of the utterly useless Geek Squad service agreement. [Note to self: don’t forget to send Best Buy a bill for the Uber fees].

Sooo, the search resumed yet again, eventually settling on an older, smaller AiO from Epson with more limited features (e.g., a smaller sheet feeder) available at Amazon, where, in my experience, returns were usually pretty straightforward. Now, my prime criterion for buying anything was whether it was easy to return the item when, most likely, it didn’t work. Ben Franklin said “experience keeps a dear school but a fool will learn in no other.” That is what we have come to. I declined to buy the service contract this time. It was me and my manual or bust.

Well, and here I reach the point at last, the substantive portion of the user’s guide for my device is only available online and is 350 pages long! That’s in the upper end of the range for New York Times Best-Seller Non-Fiction books, since the list began. I don’t know what the significance of that is, but it seems important.

Suffice to say that the manual was pretty much useless. Recalling my early successes in the law firm back in the golden era of the 1970s, I succeeded on my own in enabling “print from computer” and “copy from on a roll using my wi-fi network to connect the devices.

BUT, not so fast. The scanning function would not work! The Epson device in scan mode would not “recognize” my printer sitting just a foot away. “Recognize?” Don’t you love how we’ve anthropomorphized computers? We think they’re like people but, of course, people can do things. Algorithms just say no.

After multiple hours on hold with Epson Support, lengthy discussions with multiple technical reps, including several “Level II” senior advisors, several dropped calls after being put on hold “for just a minute while I check something,” I suggested that maybe a direct connection between the printer and the computer with a USB cable might solve the problem. “Oh, for sure, that will do it,” the Epson guy said, as if this obvious solution had been under discussion all along.

I bought a cable, Amazon delivered it the same day (a miracle right there) and then a fellow named “Albert” [uh huh] walked me through a software uninstall/ reinstall of two of the dozen software programs involved in running my device and voila! I was able to scan while using the “buttons” on the front of device, which had been my simple goal all along. It was a victory worthy of Game of Thrones.

Of course, no one at Epson thought it might be a good idea to offer to pay for the USB cable as partial compensation for the staggering time I had spent while setting up the device, not to mention that it was I who came up with the solution.

Now, standing alone, this story has little meaning in the grand scheme, whatever that it. BUT, as I mentioned earlier, we just moved to Washington from New York City, thereby necessitating the purchase of a car. After extensive research, we decided to buy a Ford Escape Hybrid similar, but much more fuel efficient, to the one we owned three years ago before decamping to NYC from Alexandria and giving up our cars. But, no, not so fast.

There are no Ford dealers in the District of Columbia! None. Mon Dieu!

We ultimately settled on two options in the near Virginia suburbs, based on distance from our apartment and the late-season availability of the car type/color, etc. we wanted (relevant but probably ineffectual).

Suffice to say, the salesmen at both dealers knew next to nothing about the cars they were selling nor about how they are taxed or financed. Actually, not next to nothing. Just plain nothing. But, OK, cars have only been around a short while and young guys no longer tinker with them, so nobody knows a damn thing about anything. So be it. I can always look things up. Right?

And that, my reader (if you’re still here) is where the gist of the gist is found. The car manual is an actual book. And when I say “book,” I mean “book.” The manual is 550 pages long! Not only does the inside of the car resemble an airplane cockpit, but you need a degree in aeronautical engineering to understand how to operate it.

Lest you think I exaggerate, something I never do, permit me an example or two. At p. 54 of said manual, one encounters “Keys and Remote Controls.” The first subheading is “General Information for Radio Frequencies.” Radio Frequencies!?! Why do I need to know about radio frequencies to drive my car????

Following three bolded “Notes,” there is a subheading for “Intelligent Access (if equipped).” Parenthetically, I don’t know whether that is a reference to a car feature or to the possibility that the owner may not be intelligent. Maybe it’s just a linguistic oversight because no one knows anything anymore.

Returning to Keys & Remote Controls,” there are three ways to unlock your car door (details unimportant) UNLESSexcessive radio frequency interference is present in the area,” which I take to mean you are parked under a military radar installation (in which case you are about to have other problems). Anyway, if your car won’t unlock electronically, you can always do it with the “mechanical key blade” hidden in your “intelligent access key” as to which “see Remote Control (page 54),” which is, as it happens, immediately below and unsurprisingly reads “REMOTE CONROL” followed by “Integrated Keyhead Transmitter” and another paragraph of instructions. Finally, all of this is on page 54. All of it. Who, then, thought it was useful to direct you to Remote Control on page 54 when you’re already on page 54? Is proofreading now a completely dead occupation?

The above information is followed by pages of information about keys and their uses, including 11 “photos” of various keys and functions most of which do not resemble my keys.

Thereafter, it gets … worse. There are, for example, seven pages devoted to Starting and Stopping the Engine and another seven on Unique Driving Characteristics, which seems likely to be important. Someday I will read about it.

Well, I have to go now. If we’re ever going to actually use our new car before the warranty expires, I have to study up to be sure I don’t accidentally activate the passenger automatic ejection seat (we did not get the moon roof option) while trying to turn on the ten position/six speed variable/fixed windshield wiper/cruise control. Wish me luck. And remember, this is why nothing works any more. You read it here.

Black Friday & American Commerce at Work (herein of Amazon, Best Buy, CVS & Whole Foods)

Black Friday is here and America is ready for a shoppingpalooza to end all paloozas. It seems like a good time to remind everyone, with full expectation of being ignored, about how the American shopping experience can sometimes go wrong.

First, Amazon. The funny (in a perverse way) part. I have written twice about Amazon’s practice of waste in its inappropriate packaging choices. https://bit.ly/2PQ7VTp and https://bit.ly/2DVS4fR That part is not funny. Anyway, I was slightly surprised by the weight of the package that arrived supposedly containing a precious order of Nature’s great food: popcorn. But I had ordered a box of six boxes of six packs each, so it was, I thought, possible that popcorn could weigh that much. The item is depicted here:

Delicious! Since I had foolishly consumed our supply some days before, I was delighted to receive this package.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the outer shipping box, and saw inside a box bearing the brand name of PopSecret wedged tightly into the outer box. Yes! Amazon is doing better! So, I slit open the top of the inner PopSecret-labeled box and saw this:

As best I can tell, this product is: Oracal 631 Matte Vinyl Roll 12 Inches by 150 feet – Black by Oracal

I would have understood if Amazon had shipped the wrong brand of popcorn or maybe even if it had sent another food product altogether. But Vinyl Tape instead of popcorn? Is this stuff arrayed on the shelves together? Does no one check these things before they ship?

We will never know the answer to those compelling questions. But we do know is that Amazon knows a bad move when it sees one and, as I have experienced in past product mix-ups, it advised me to just keep vinyl tape and it would ship the popcorn at no extra charge. Of course, the estimated delivery date is a week from the arrival of the tape, making a slight mockery of the Prime delivery for which I pay an annual fee. And the product listing for the popcorn now shows “Currently Unavailable,” so we could be cruising toward a losing situation. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I have laid in a supply of popcorn from the local market.

Moving on to something more concerning, I recently visited the local Best Buy on Broadway in New York City. Its website showed it had a software package for photo editing that I wanted to buy. And, I wanted to buy it right now! After reviewing the package for compatibility issues. So, I walked the half mile or so to the store, asked the young man on the phone at the information booth in front whether the software was downstairs. He nodded yes and continued his conversation.

To make a long story shorter, I walked around each floor of the store twice. No photo editing software to be seen. I did see one, yes, one other customer who was engrossed in playing with one of the electronic devices. I saw at least six Best Buy employees moving around the store, some of them speaking into walkie-talkies. I thought I would trick one of them into asking if I needed help by spending some time with the most expensive cameras. I showed serious interest, looking through view finders and manipulating the dials. No takers. Bottom line: I walked around the store acting like a confused consumer looking for something specific and not one of the employees asked if they could help me find something. I left.

I don’t know where the management was. Maybe one of the Best Buy people I saw was the management. In any case Best Buy, which is in direct competition with Amazon and many others for mostly commodity-type products, is running a losing operation based on this admittedly small sample size of its performance. Maybe I have it backwards though; the store was empty because everyone but me knows how bad the service is. Time will tell.

Now to get serious for a moment. A good while back, I wrote a post about a service failure related to a product branded by CVS Pharmacies  https://bit.ly/2DTcAgY

That little essay concluded with this:

“One thing is certainly true. I will not be ignored. And, thus, we are here, using the only tool at my disposal to try to shame CVS into responding to my documented complaint about a product sold under its brand. This is not the end of this saga but the beginning. I intend to file complaints in the near future with the Better Business Bureau and such other consumer protection agencies in New York City as I can find. CVS, this could all have been avoided if you had just acted responsibly.”

Not being one to make idle threats, I did what I had said and, finally, the sleeping giant awakened. Recall that I first contacted CVS in June 2018 about the damage caused by its product that had melted against the bathroom wall. My complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs apparently got their attention. A CVS message to the BBB took the issue back to Medline Industries that handles such things.

After the usual form apologies and assurances about how seriously they take the quality of their products and “value others input,” Medline, in October,  told me this was the first such complaint and that “the issue is considered to be isolated.” Then,

“It is likely that the issue occurred due to harsh conditions such as high heat and humidity in the storage area. All sanitary napkins, diapers and most food products are printed using the same technology that is used for this product and under normal conditions this issue does not occur. It is our recommendation that packages such as this should be kept in a drawer or cabinet where the exposure of the product to harsh conditions is minimal.”

My English translation of the Medline message:

“We don’t deny the problem occurred, but it’s your own fault because of the “likely … harsh conditions” in your bathroom (high heat and humidity) which are not “normal conditions” for a bathroom so you need to seal the product in a heat and humidity proof drawer or cabinet which we are sure, without investigation, you can readily find to protect this product that cost less than $3.00. While we would have to recognize there is no warning about “harsh conditions” on the package, you are surely aware of the famous old saying, “buyer beware,” so take ownership of your trust, however misplaced, in our branded products and go have yourself a lovely day in the harsh conditions in your bathroom.”

Oh, yes, CVS did not refund the price of the product, presumably because the whole thing was my fault for maintaining “harsh conditions” in my bathroom. Nothing more to say, except that this decision has cost and will continue to cost CVS a vastly larger, though in the scheme of its business, an insignificant loss, in diverted business to its competitor at … Amazon.

To end on a more positive note, in keeping with the season, we recently ordered, in person at the local Whole Foods store, a cake for an event. We wrote on a note the message that was to be iced on the cake. It was not a hugely expensive cake but it was a nice one for our small group. We were told to pick it up at 10 am on the date of the event. We arrived on time and were met with “what cake?”

It took all of two seconds for the assistant manager, who happened to be in the bakery section that day, to direct the staff to prepare the cake immediately, with the prescribed icing and “there will be no charge.”

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how it is done. It’s called customer service. No arguments, no excuses, just fixed it. Done and done.

Have a happy holiday weekend. Shop until you drop, if you must. Keep your guard up and stay safe.