Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Seven and a half hours

Seven and a half freakin’ hours to install an update to Adobe Creative Suite. This is on top of the hour I spent the other day just getting to the point of deciding to buy the update. FedEx dropped off the package late yesterday afternoon.
  1. Reboot. Open package. Look for installation instructions (none). Open DVD case. Look for installation instructions (none). Pop the unnumbered DVD labeled “Application” into the drive. Wait for the autorun popup. Click Install. Watch progress bar. Wait one hour.
  2. Acrobat 8 failed to install. Cross fingers and try installing again. Wait another hour. Same failure.
We’re up to two hours now. But Adobe Technical Support wouldn’t be open until 9 a.m. my time today, so get some sleep.
  1. Call Adobe Technical Support at 9:01. Get right through. That Chris, he’s a helluva guy. Two hours on the phone with Chris because you cannot simply uninstall Acrobat like any normal program by clicking a button. No. After clicking the button, you have to dig through approximately seventy gazillion folders to delete individual files, some of which refuse to be deleted, even after rebooting in a special mode that’s supposed to let you; and then you have to dig through the registry, deleting many, many keys scattered throughout.
  2. Bye, Chris (11 a.m.). Try installing Creative Suite 3 again. One hour. Successful install.
  3. Start one of the updated applications. Check adobe.com for updates. Download and install updates. One hour and thirty-nine minutes.
  4. Call Adobe Customer Support and raise holy hell. Demand compensation in the form of free fonts or free software. Speak with three people who swear they can’t do that and a fourth who offers me a book on getting started with Adobe applications (after I told her I’ve been using their software for over twenty years) and then reconsiders when my pitch rises. She thinks maybe she can send me some fonts I want. Fifty-one minutes.
Total: Seven and a half hours. We’ll see if the freebie materializes (I’ll let you know).

This is not the first time. It is, instead, fairly typical.

Most software companies take responsibility for their own errors and offer some sort of maintenance plan that, in exchange for a modest annual fee, entitles the customer to free updates. Adobe takes the approach that anything that goes wrong is the customer’s fault and if Adobe makes a mistake, the customer has to pay for it.

That’s not a long-term strategy for customer satisfaction.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Okay, this is just bizarre

A minute ago, on NPR news, it was reported that in one of the areas hit by wildfires—an area where utilities have not yet been restored but where residents were permitted to return—law enforcement officers were called upon by a supermarket manager to stop the “looting” of bottled water.

Um, wouldn’t a half-conscious manager be out in front of the store with a team of volunteers handing out the water instead of calling the cops on his customers?

The mind boggles.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Without wasting a minute of your time

So I tried to update my version of Acrobat Professional from 7.0.8 to 7.0.9, something that should have happened automatically without my being aware of it but for some reason did not. It seems there is a critical security issue Adobe recently became aware of and they will be releasing a patch to fix 7.0.9 in the next days. I wanted to be ready for it.

I downloaded the update file and attempted to install it, whereupon I got a cryptic error message from the Microsoft installer.

So I called Adobe support and was quickly connected to “Samson,” a gentleman who speaks impeccable English but with an unmistakable Indian accent. He worked through his script, incessantly repeating my name, the product name, and the reason for the call; and when he got to the end of the script he informed me that my problem was one that would have to be handled by the technical support team dedicated to my product.

He then quickly connected me (really, I have no complaints about long waits on hold) to “Thomas,” who had me go through all the same information that I had just given to “Samson” (customer ID, serial number, product, nature of the problem), repeated it all back to me several times, and then said, still reading from a script, “Without wasting a minute of your time, I will connect you to a support technician who can help you with that problem.” This was now approximately ten minutes into the call, all ten of which had already been wasted, because I had not yet spoken to anyone qualified to resolve a technical issue.

After some buzzes, hearing-damage-inducing whistles, and clicks, I was speaking with someone in the United States who had me repeat all the same identifying information yet again (don’t these people have computers?) to ensure that I wasn’t trying to steal services from Adobe. Then, after listening carefully, he told me that for $39.95 he could initiate a support call and try to solve the problem. A problem caused by a bug in their software. Their software that has a critical security flaw that could enable a sufficiently malevolent soul to inhabit and destroy my computer. $39.95 for that. For an attempt to solve the problem. No promises. Or I could search the knowledge base for the error message, which I did to no avail. Or I could buy the upgrade to Creative Suite 3 for $600. Which is what I ended up doing, even though the product line has proliferated in such a way that I can’t actually upgrade all the software I bought from Adobe less than two years ago for $2,000 unless I want to spend $2,000 again and get a bunch of stuff for making movies that I’ll never use.

And we wonder why people complain about the customer experience with companies like that.

No, not a minute of my time was wasted. More like an hour. And until the new software is delivered (I opted for physical media rather than a download, because I’ve been down that road before), my computer is still as vulnerable as it was before I started this sorry adventure.

MBAs. Can’t live with ’em. Can live without ’em.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Check-in time

I know you’re out there. Say something.

This blog is fun to write. But the idea was to generate some conversation, not just to carry on an extended monologue. A bit of audience feedback, by way of comments on posts or just an email will help me come up with posts about subjects that interest you. That, and your ideas are just as worthwhile to read as mine are.

Or you can sit there quietly and wait for my random drivel.

So, here are some questions for you. They’re all optional, but I’d be interested and my guess is that others would be, too:
  1. What’s your name?
  2. Where are you?
  3. What do you do?
  4. What topics (of those I cover) do you want to see more of?
Come on, don’t be shy. Tell me what’s on your mind.

And this does mean you. Don’t worry about overwhelming me with comments to respond to. There aren’t all that many of you who read this blog on a regular basis—just a hundred or so altogether. When NPR does their fundraising, they tell us that only ten percent of listeners contribute money. I’m not asking for money, so maybe more than ten percent of you will drop a line.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

True stories

A couple of conversations in the past week reminded me of the value of a well-told story.

In the first, someone in an online discussion group expressed an interest in learning about how crafts used to be done, “eons ago without modern technology,” preferably by watching something on public television.

I responded:
The history of craft is the history of technology. MANU+FACTURE = HAND+MAKE.

PBS did have some series in the last several years where they took a group of people and placed them in a period environment (various periods) with appropriate tools and training in techniques. So if you watch those series, you get a flavor of the development of various technologies. Also, there’s the classic Jacob Bronowski series, The Ascent of Man, which touches on a lot of what you’re asking about.

But mainly, if you spend time with working craftspeople in various media, some of them are quite knowledgeable about the history of their specific craft. Next opportunity you have, go to juried traditional crafts fair. Or go to one of the many historical recreations (Old Sturbridge Village, Plimoth Plantation, The Farmers’ Museum, etc.) around the country, where there are generally collections of tools and docents or recreators who can explain their use in a historical context.

My issue, though, is that it’s a mistake to romanticize the techniques of the past. Throughout history, craftspeople have sought to improve their techniques and tools. They’ve been the innovators, the leading-edge, bleeding-edge, state-of-the-art, high-tech people, trying to develop the breakthrough tool (remember, Gutenberg was a goldsmith). They’ve been the early adopters of every new advance they could get their hands on.

So there’s no reason to attribute greater authenticity or value to an object made (today) the same way the Neanderthals made it than one made by machinery in a factory, if the objects are identical (not that they would be, of course). To take a specific example, I knew a guy who prided himself on making Windsor-style chairs without the use of any power tools. I think he even cut the trees, hauled them to his shop, and split them into boards by hand, if I recall correctly. Needless to say, his chairs cost ten times what the same chair would cost if made to the exact same design and with the exact same materials and care but with the judicious use of power equipment. When all was said and done, his chairs were just as precise and perfect as those made with modern methods. The only difference that would persuade a consumer to pay ten times as much was the story behind the chair. But the story as I perceived it was that the guy was not working in the craft tradition at all; he was just an atavist who had found a way to indulge his neurosis by telling a good story.

Bottom line: Judge craft on the quality of the product, not on the story.
The second conversation is one I’m engaging in with a manuscript I’m editing.

The author is relating anecdotes, but he is presenting them as training units. The rule in training is “tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said.” That’s a lousy way to tell a story, though: “I’m going to tell you an amusing story. Here are the things that happened. Here is how those things played out in the rest of my life, long after the things that happened happened. Here is why the story was amusing. I’m amused. Aren’t you?” Umm, no, I’m not amused. You are telegraphing your punchlines, and I’m going to put a stop to it.
Storytelling is
an art, not a procedure.
Hence, red pixels flow.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Morlocks unite!

I am a craftsman. I make things—mostly books; I pay attention to the details; and I take pride in the quality of my work.

What prompts this post is that I live where the new sidewalk ends. Here in the Northeast, concrete sidewalks do not last forever, and the State of Connecticut is replacing the sidewalk in front of my home today, at least up to the point where another section was replaced a few years ago by the City of New Haven. As a typical American sidewalk superintendent, I took a break to watch the men as they worked. These guys work for a local contractor, and they are good at what they do. They’re craftsmen, too: they make things; they pay attention to details; and they take pride in the quality of their work.

Books and sidewalks are very different things. And maybe the level of education of people who make books is, on average, different from that of people who make sidewalks. But I often feel a greater sense of camaraderie with sidewalk makers than I do with, say, the average person walking down a sidewalk or driving down the street, to whom a sidewalk—or a book, for that matter—is beneath contemplation as a made object, to whom such objects merely exist as facts with prices but do not represent the labor or skill that went into making them facts in the first place.

To me, life is richer for the appreciation of the craft of others, be they the people who make sidewalks or the people who grow food or the people who build cars or the people who turn my PDF files into printed and bound books. I find myself disappointed that so many people can’t or won’t take a moment to consider the makers of things. I find myself pitying those people, too, sometimes.

The world is a richer place for its artists, whose vision and imagination help shape culture. But the world also needs craftspeople—lots of them—to turn vision into practical reality.

Craft matters.