Mi$$ing my Mac

On Monday morning, my MacBookPro slid off the bed and onto the floor. It wasn’t a long fall – and it was in my bag (purchased through Apple) – but the very top of the bag isn’t very well padded and it landed pretty hard. I started it up and was happy to see it boot and all; but I started hearing some pretty grim sounds from the optical drive – like it was trying to eject some phantom disc again and again.I powered it down and went off to work. It did the same thing there. I slid a disc in and the noise stopped – a good thing I assumed. When I tried to eject though nothing happened. I finally ended up calling Apple and explaining what happened. Daniel, the support person I spoke with was helpful and by following his direction I learned that the system no longer saw the drive.

The one thing that he failed to mention was that because it was an accident it would not be covered by Apple Care.

The shipping box arrived at my house on Tuesday. I sent it in on Wednesday. Apple received it on Thursday – so far, so good. On Thursday afternoon I got an email telling me that “our diagnosis indicates there may be issues that are not covered by the warranty or a service contract” and asking that I call.

So I called. Their diagnosis revealed what I had told them on Monday. That my computer had fallen. “Didn’t they tell you on Monday that accidential damage isn’t covered by Apple Care?” Nope. To repair the computer will cost $630 ($655 after tax) – a substantial percentage of what I paid for it in the first place and more than twice the price of my Apple Care service plan. This information was conveyed during the course of a more than thirty mintue call punctuated by lengthy periods spend on hold.

I noticed that as the news got worse – and the hold times longer – I was no longer listening to Annie Lenox. Instead, I was listening to a no-nonsense woman’s voice repeating that I should “Please stay on the line, we will be with you shortly” in English and French. (As it happens, I was treated to this for almost 20 minutes – longer than the 5-7 minutes I’d been told to expect.)

I started writing this earlier today and was expecting to write about how happy and impressed I was by my experience but that isn’t going to happen. The reality is I need to get the computer fixed, but I might have had second thoughts had I known how much it was going to cost. And since I told the first tech right up front what had happened I kind of wish he’d returned the favor by being up front with me.

Instead, I don’t have my computer (and won’t for a while), am going to be out several hundred dollars and spent more than 50 minutes sitting on hold. I guess at least I learned some French . . .

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Warmish Turkey

I just got back from vacation. We went up to a family camp in New Hampshire where we’ve gone for the past three years. It was terrific but it’s hard to quit technology. I’ve heard people talking about the liberation of no cell phone or email or 24 hour news, etc.; but it was something that I missed. I didn’t miss work, but technology is pretty central to my life – it is where I get most of my news, entertainment and maintain my connection with friends and family. The attitude that technology is an intrusive productivity tool is pretty passe if you ask me; and one probably held by people that have had technology thrust upon them rather than by people who seek it out.

For me, it was akin to not having books with me, or musical instruments. Technology isn’t a chore, it’s a choice.

My forced hiatus was not complete. I still had my Blackberry (but that is just my work email and eventually its battery died) and my cell (whose reception was poor and also ran out of juice). As a result, I was able to stay in some state of connection but it was very limited. I did use my Blackberry’s slow and clunky browser to check on Red Sox scores but that was too depressing last week to make the effort.

When I got home on Saturday night, the first thing I did after unpacking the car was to start my system. My nephew (who is living with us) was having some issues with his and we sat for a few hours troubleshooting and just goofing around. It felt great to be home.

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The Stupidest Lawnmower Accident Ever

Like it or not, I have to mow my lawn every week. I really don’t like it. Yesterday I got up and decided to get it out of the way early. I was out there mowing away when I came to the kid’s swingset. They have a two-person swing and I drive right into it assuming it would go f to one side or the other. It didn’t. Instead, it got caught on the front of the mower and before I knew what was happening I was at a 45 degree angle. I stopped the blades and the engine and hopped off. The mower was just hanging there, the front three or four feet off the ground – suspended by a one inch dowel and two pieces of nylon rope.

It took a while to figure out how to get it down. The front of the thing has the engine so it’s pretty heavy and I didn’t want it to drop. The tension on the swing was pretty good and I didn’t want that to come swinging back and hitting me in the face. In the end, with the help of my nephew and his dad, I wedged a ladder under the mower and held it in place with a set of portable steps. They were able to life it while I unhooked the swing and then rested it on the ladder so I could back it down. It was one of the stupidest things I’ve seen.

There are more pictures in my Flickr account.

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The dope on DOPA

Concern and conversation around online communities and social networking aren’t going away any time soon. In his article that appeared on the Tech Review, Wade Roush wrote about the Deleting Online Preditors Act (DOPA – not to be confused with L-DOPA) currently bumbling its way through the halls of power in Washington:

The social-networking site MySpace has 95 million registered users. If it were a country, it would be the 12th largest in the world (ranking between Mexico and the Philippines). But under a bill designed to combat sexual predators on the Internet, MySpace and similar sites would become countries that young people can’t visit — at least not using computers at schools or libraries.

Technology Review: Emerging Technologies and their Impact

Sites like MySpace, Facebook and others can play a valuable and legitimate role for young people seeking an outlet for expression and connection. Limiting that is foolish. It seems that the people advocating limits have some odd ideas about what online communities and social networking are all about. It’s almost as if they imagine that MySpace has become the bus station bathroom of the 21st century – “for a good time IM HughJass” – filled with naive teens and dirty old men in stained trench coats.

Correcting this image takes education – not only about the technology and the real degree of risk, but also about the realities of youth culture. Boasting, bragging, flirting, etc. are not new. The fact that you can do these things to 95 million people is new but these things will happen with or without social networking site – they just won’t be as efficient . . . The discomfort caused by seeing young people being themselves (and I think that is alot of what is behind things like DOPA) needs to be balanced against the positive aspects of promoting free and open communication. Hmmm – uncomfortable old guys or teen communication, yeah, we’d better tell the kids to stop.

Education though needs to happen for the users of things like MySpace and Facebook. We’re already seeing stories about people who’s online profiles are being viewed by potential employers and there are some bad people out there – maybe not as many as the DOPA advocates believe, but out there never the less. Colleges are picking up on this and some are starting to provide guidance to incoming students on how to use networking sites wisely. This make sense.

A kid walking into the public library though isn’t necessarily going to get those kids of messages. Maybe they should. Maybe social networking needs to be recognized by communities, parents and educators as being a part of the reality of life and treated accordingly. People eventually realized that sex happens and by most accounts, sex education has had a positive impact. Why not apply the same sucessful logic here – instead of falling back on the failed notion of “Just Say No“?

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This week I’ve come across two opposing views of the nature of online communities. On Weekend Edition this past Sunday, Shari Caudron was interviewed about her book, Who Are You People?, which looks at people across a diverse set of self-selected communities. One of the people she mentioned was a woman named Judy, a Barbie collector from Fort Worth. Judy’s son was killed a few years ago and while her friends in her physical community slowly melted away, her friends in her online community of fellow Barbie collectors and enthusiasts rallied to support her.

The story describes a community made possible by the Internet but which demonstrated the qualities of a community better than the physical one where Judy lived.

On the flip side, in yesterday’s PC Magazine, John Dvorak paints a very different picture of online communities:

Though there are a lot of social networks, newsgroups, forums, and club-like Web sites on the Internet and Web, these entities are not true communities, although many purport to be. Worse, they are often peopled with phonies and posers who see the whole thing as an elaborate video game.

Column from PC Magazine: The Mystery of the Online Community

As I read his column and thought back to the story I had heard on Sunday, it was hard to see how these two people could be describing the same phenomenon. While there are issues with false identities online, I think Dvorak is confusing it with the creation and use of online persona’s. The ability to present an idealized version of yourself – regardless of the name you use – is one of the appealing things about online communities. That isn’t the same as being a phony or a poser.

The information you provide, or the care and support you give, aren’t limited to the name on your driver’s license. By the same token, people can merrily use their real names to be complete jackasses – both online and offline. Creating communities is happening online in a way that for better or worse isn’t happening to the same degree offline these days. Rather than wring our hands and complain about it, we need to get involved and become active and positive members of the communities that matter to us – no matter where they exist.

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Leopard and Vista

There was a pretty interesting thread on digg today about the potential impact of Leopard on Vista. I posted there but wanted to put my comments here as well.

I’ve been using various systems for since the early 80s – mostly DOS or Windows. I got a MacBook Pro in April. I bring my MBP to work. I also have a generic HP laptop on my desk. My work consists of reading, writing, editing, browsing, emailing, IMing, calculating, etc. Guess which system I use more? The other day I needed to do a quick video for a new business pitch. Guess which system I used for that.

The fact of the matter is that there are plenty of standout features of OSX – things like Garageband and iMovie – can someone point out the out-of-box equivalents for Windows? Has essentially switching to OSX at work caused me any hardship? Nope. With the exception of our time and billing system (which I could run in Parallels if I wanted to) there is no need from me to use the Windows system at all.

Do I think that Leopard is going to hurt Vista? Probably not; but what it demonstrates does – that there is room on the corporate desktop for alternatives to Microsoft. Linux and open source are also chipping away. I mentioned a discussion I had with a senior editor at Forbes in another thread a while ago. He told me about a major company that we’ve all heard of that faced a challenge. They have 15,000 employees and another 100,000 seasonal employees. The 15,000 are on Exchange. The 100,000 didn’t get email because it was prohibitive. Soon, thanks to Zimbra, they will.

If there are credible, available, affordable, workable and feature-rich alternatives to Microsoft, why wouldn’t they begin finding their way into the enterprise? At the end of the day, virtually every business in America has one goal: to make money. You can make money by getting more OR by spending less. Microsoft might offer software that helps on the getting more side of the equation but they hardly do on the spending less.

If you’re a CIO at a mid-sized company with a thousand PCs that will need to be upgraded in order to run Vista, do you make the switch? Or do you think, I can stick with XP and start looking at some open source alternatives that could save a ton of money and make me look like a hero.

The fact of the matter is that the Windows monoculture is slipping away. It isn’t going to be replaced by Leopard or any other single OS or environment. Instead – thanks in part to wider choice in applications and new thinking from IT pros entering the workforce – a more diverse, productive and economical landscape is likely.

The diversity of technology

Sometimes it’s easy to get focused on high technology and to forget that interesting things are happening everywhere. Clever people are constantly trying to figure out new and interesting ways to do things. This was brought home to me this weekend when I visited a friend on his farm in New Hampshire. He’s developing a system for converting sunflower seeds into biodiesel and has created processor for doing this. I won’t begin to try to explain it because it was pretty much Greek to me; but I could tell that this was an example of someone applying creativity and engineering to create a technically innovative solution to a problem.

One of the things I’ve learned recently in speaking with a pretty broad range of people is that the edges of innovation are creeping closer and closer to the individual. Thanks to greater availability to information and more accessible tools for creating applications, information technology is likely to see some major changes in the near future. Outside of high technology challenges, creativity and the ability for more people to make and do things that they couldn’t before may lead to innovations in a variety of areas.

Every time I come across someone doing something new and interesting, I’m inspired to look at the systems in my life to figure out ways to improve them. I can’t point to any great breakthroughs or successes but I am able to steadily refine and improve the ways I do things – and it’s really great when things actually work just the way you imagined.

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