Always Room for Improvement…

Well 2013 is here and either we are just the holographic debris on an event horizon of a black hole, or reality is relative. I wouldn’t have minded being the Mayan Calendar maker who made the last calendar, because then when finished, and asked …

King: “What happens when we reach the end of thew calendar? This think will not work after that.”

Mayan Calendar Maker: “By then I hope we are using a better system.”

King:“But you said your system was great?”

Mayan Calendar Maker: “There is always room for improvement.”

With that said, (as I actually said when someone asked me about databases I created in the mid 1990s about Mac OS’s Unix calendar running out in 2038) I wanted to write about a few things, but a project has been eating time like the Cookie Monster with a box of chocolate chip cookies. (Cookie & Count were always my favorite.)

So, I will mash up a few things, left and right… Read of to find out about a new Bluetooth audio headset, a product warning, and whatever else comes out in this unedited memory dump:

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Apple Geniuses, Limited

Apple Geniuses are Limited, By Policy 

One thing that always strikes me on each visit to an Apple Genius bar is how little the employees can actually tell a person because of Apple policies. A number of times in the past 6 years, I have considered getting various Apple certifications, but the one thing that always stopped me was the conflict of interest it would cause. With the increased access to the inner workings of the OS and the hardware it runs on top of, there is a significant burden of what one can and cannot say. I have always worried that the best interests of a customer preserving data would go against official policy just to keep a certification. Because of this trade off, I have not pursued any Apple Certifications, even though I could probably have written half of the OS X certification book. (Holding down the option key is a great way to find hidden features…)

I witnessed first-hand a customer being told he would have to wipe his drive if Disk Utility didn’t work to fix his problem. I mentioned that Disk Warrior might be an alternative if the problem was directory corruption. Since the person did not have a backup, I mentioned it. The employee responded that Apple employees are not authorized to even use it. I told him that I could, and pointed to my bag.

Also, unless a person already knows the name of a product that would suit their needs that isn’t on Apple’s roster of approved devices, an Apple employee cannot even mention its name. In another case, months ago, I mentioned needed more than 1TB internally, and an employee hinted there was an alternative. It wasn’t until I told him that I was considering getting a DataDoubler sled and swapping out the optical drive that he could even say anything more.

I do not expect regular in-store support personnel to know much beyond the basic features of devices they sell. A few do know more, but in most cases, Apple Policy makes actually helping people meet their needs more difficult. I have overheard Apple employees not mention how to backup an iOS device manually even though I know it is part of their training. They seem unaware that there are dock extension cables that are iDevice certified. A customer had a question about his iPad not charging, or charging very slowly. He was told to purchase an iPad specific auto adapter, instead of being told to just make sure the 12volt adapter can output 2.1 amps. Another asked a similar question about quick charging an iPhone. Again, the employee that person spoke with neglected to mention hooking the iDevice up to a 2.1A charger to charge it quickly.

In general they do not mention alternatives that would meet a person’s needs simply and easily. The unifying principle behind this is to keep things consistent and simple. But simple does not equal easy, nor does it mean inexpensive. For example, one customer asked a simple question about getting the best sound out of iTunes. The answer was painfully obvious to me, but the customer was not told to rip the CDs in a lossless audio codec.

But this isn’t just Apple. When I had Microsoft Certifications, the agreement a person has to sign in order to receive even one, is to agree, under penalty of law, not to say anything disparaging about Microsoft products. I am not sure if that clause was enforceable, nor if it is still in the certification legalese. I realize that almost none of the certificate wielding professional followed this rule. Still, I always thought signing away your freedom of speech, should not even be legal.

Apple Support: It Gets Better

A few months ago, one of the feet on my laptop fell off. I called Apple hoping they could send out a replacement, but AppleCare personnel insisted the foot was attached at the factory, and I couldn’t do my own repair. So, after a few calls, insisting that I have been disassembling laptops for over a decade, I relented and took my machine in for a bottom case swap. At that time there were no other problems with the laptop. When I got the machine back, the next time I used the optical drive, it no longer worked. I had to take it in again and have that swapped.

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Professional Typography & Design: The Path to Technomancy, Part 3

After I was hired to be a DTP monkey, I applied and refined my wild layouts, but had to tone them down quite a bit for business documents. (Wired back then was tame compared to my unrefined layout.) Being a bit of a perfectionist that cares about anything I do—whether paid or not—I started studying proper typography: I learned the difference between the hyphen, N-dash and M-dash, what x-height was and how to match serif and non-serif fonts. I studied the art of graphic design, the concepts and research behind the guidelines so I knew when I could break the rules and get away with it. I found traditional reports stuffy and boring. So, when I got the chance, I started refreshing the look of the company documents.

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