London, Macbook

Getting Customer Service at Apple’s Regent Street Store

In terms of my Mac ownership I have had a story of two Macs. The first, an early Macbook, has had a lot of problems and if I hadn’t been able to keep taking the thing back to the Apple Store then I would probably never had bought a Mac again. The other is a MacBook Pro that I bought after the change to Santa Rosa. This machine was specced at the very high end and even included a full compliment of expensive Apple RAM. I have had no problem with this machine at all. I suspect the lesson is not to buy first wave Apple products and not to buy anything from Apple where the engineering has been compromised by price. As you are paying a premium anyway you might as well go for the best you can.

So, the latest issue with the MacBook is the power supply. The collar of the power supply split and revealed some wiring which worried me. I could have just taped it up with insulating tape and lived with it but I had read some reports that the problem can cause arcing and be more serious.

So I took the power supply into the store and showed it to one of helpers and he agreed that it didn’t look right and that it should be replaced but that I would have to make a Genius Bar appointment to do so. Genius Bar appointments are not my favourite things but I did make one and went along with my power supply and when I was seen it was agreed that the split was not good news and that it could be replaced as it was a flaw with a certain model of MacBook. However the exchange could not be done there and then as I didn’t have my MacBook with me (it’s pretty heavy so you wouldn’t take it along unless you thought you needed it) and my AppleCare records were not up to date so only my ownership of the MacBook Pro was showing up in the system. So I made another appointment, this time taking my MacBook but I foolishly let things drag on at work and didn’t make my appointment on time. The Concierge told me to make another appointment and annoyingly refused to change my Apple Care details so I would have to bring in the laptop again. All this week I failed to find any Genius Bar appointments so yesterday I was finally lucky enough to bag an evening appointment and went once more unto the breach. I made it on time, checked in and then waited half an hour. During which I reflected that when I was late I was turned down flat but when Apple runs late you are expected to suck it down. Something which all the worse because there is no system in place to be able to call or tell the store that you are running late.

So when I do get seen the MacBook’s barcode is zapped, the “floating” account is re-registered to my details. However the MacBook is out of warranty and now I am told that I cannot get a replacement. Well that would have been fine three appointments ago but now it’s poor customer service so I demand an explanation as to why I have been told contradictory things and instead I get a discretionary replacement. So I leave relatively happy with a new model power adaptor.

Here’s some things that would have made my interaction with the Apple Store easier.

  • A clear explanation of what I would need to bring in for the appointment.
  • An accurate idea of how much it would cost to buy a replacement. I was told a replacement adaptor would have cost £70 so therefore I was given an incentive to seek an exchange. Checking in the store later I found the price was between £50 to £60 depending on the model you need. I might have decided to buy a replacement straight away and saved me the multiple wasted trips and appointments. Here you are really suffering from Apple’s refusal to use commodity parts. If I had been able to buy a cheap power adaptor I would probably have done so because that is what I do with my Windows/Linux PCs.
  • I should have been allowed to call the store to explain I was running late and cancel or reschedule the appointment. Alternatively I should have been allowed to make a future appointment at the Concierge’s desk when I did arrive.
  • The customer database simply needs to be better and you should be able to update it with the Concierge. It should take a technical support appointment to update your records.

Here are some things that I learnt about dealing with Apple Store that I hope make your life a lot easier than mine was.

  • When you arrive at the store make sure the Concierge (one of the helpers at the Genius Bar) correctly registers your arrival and your name and confirms that you are going to get seen. If this part goes wrong then you just get left on the bench and never get called.
  • The Apple staff have business cards, when one of them tells you something get a card from them and if there is a dispute as to the advice given later produce the card and ask the person to contact their colleague and check things.
  • Apple staff have a huge amount of discretionary power. Although they may want to stick to a particular policy they have the power to bend the rules, particularly in the end of customer satisfaction. Remember that despite how they may act at times they are a premium electronics retailer and therefore need to retain their customers. There is not necessarily another customer coming through the door in a minute who will accept poor service.
  • Stay polite but firm. Remember that there are often two things going on in the store that are to your advantage. Firstly it is often busy and there is going to be a point where the delay in dealing with you formally is going to outweigh resolving your issue and moving on to the next customer. Secondly it is a store and if people see other customers having an unhappy or unpleasant experience then they are going to be less likely to buy something.
  • Don’t be afraid to use NLP framing techniques. Try saying things like “Can you tell me why I was told this?”, “Can you see why I am frustrated with the service I am getting here?”, “Can you explain why this has happened?”. Get them to view the experience through your eyes and see that you are being served poorly.
  • It doesn’t happen a lot but if one of the staff wanders off into technical matters remind them that whatever the cause of the problem they still need to resolve the problem for you.
  • If booking a Genius Bar appointment then try the website at several points in the day. On Saturday there were no appointments at 7am, nor at 8am but at 10am I was able to book through Saturday afternoon to Monday.
  • If you are late for an appointment just give your name to the Concierge. They will not be able to find you and will ask you when the appointment is for. Say that it was roughly for whatever time you booked. They will then hiss and tell you you are late. Explain that you were unavoidably delayed (it is London after all) and that you are here now. They can and should put you back on the list. By default you will ironically be the first person to be seen.

I wish I had known that last one! Kudos to the guy ahead of me in the queue who pulled it off.


Woohoo! Leopard!

Today I finally took the plunge and installed Leopard on my MacBook Pro. So far nothing seems obviously broken and so I’m pretty happy. At the same time I haven’t really noticed much difference at the moment either. Preview might be sharper and shinier. Desktop icons now have little previews. The machine is maybe a bit faster and runs cooler when doing the same tasks, particularly compiling which is probably faster than I have ever seen on a desktop machine.

Mostly though I am glad that everything has been migrated with zero pain.

Macbook, Software

Music for the Mac

When I switched to OSX I was surprised to find that the “just works” system had no support for Ogg or FLAC. I also missed the simplicity and power of programs such as CDEx and MusikCube. I have had a look at all kinds of replacements but recently I was delighted to find a two programs that fill exactly the same niche on OSX. Max is a ripping program with a more elaborate interface than CDEx, this makes simple ripping a little more involved but it is possible to set up different encoding outputs for each rip so that once the track has been ripped it can then be encoded to different formats. You could produce a lossless FLAC version and a radio quality MP3 version for a small flash player. I haven’t been able to produce different encoding settings for the same output format and I am not sure that is supported.

Of course having encoded the music you also need something to play it on and finding a decent player on OSX is hard due to the smothering presence of iTunes. Cog is a player with a lot of features and decent format support that has a clean and simple interface. It is now my player of choice on the Mac and I would highly recommend it.

Java, Macbook, Software, Swing


I never really used an outliner before I got my MacBook, the Mac had a bundled copy of OmniOutliner. OmniOutliner is amazing and really blew me away. However as I’m not completely a Mac person I was looking for something that would work on more platforms. Being a Java type of guy I had a quick search of Sourceforge and Freshmeat and came up with JOE. Java Outline Editor, is a pretty nifty program that unfortunately does not seem to be being developed much at the moment. It is also oddly featured, it could be simple enough to be a single jar style application but instead the program has four or five jar dependencies for very marginal features. It’s Find/Replace and File Opener dialogs are customised and very highly featured. However the basic outline functionality is very simple.

Since it’s open source I’ve got it into Eclipse and started to hack it around abit. So far I’ve only been able to remove the XMLRPC and XP jar (as well as a couple of classes that have been replaced by Generics). The underlying model is not what I was expecting, nor is the actual implementation of the line rendering. I was also a bit surprised that the GUI elements are all built up from a XML file which was quite interesting. I was also a bit disappointed to find that JOE seems to smear preference directories in several places rather than just gathering them all under the User Home.

What I really want is a simple outliner that will work cross-platform and ideally will only be in one JAR. To that end I think the way ahead is to cut down JOE while also building from scratch a new small outliner in Java. That way, what I want will be a kind of meet-in-the-middle job.

The new outliner will be a way of understanding the Swing Event model (which I’m very hazy on) and a way to try and understand how the Application Model and the Swing components interact in a vaguely MVC way.

While looking at Outliners I also came across Jreepad which seems to be an excellent Java based replacement for my much loved JotNotes.


MacBook Memory Upgrade

I was a bit of cheapskate when I bought my MacBook and I’m not really ashamed to admit it. I had a budget and I deliberately underspec’d the machine because I wanted it to be light, cool and quiet.

However, the MacBook has easily been one of my best purchases this year and it is now in constant use. Moreover I didn’t realise when I bought that it would be running multiple logins constantly and there would be a lot of shuttling between users. The amount of security that is used has also risen from nothing at the start to “oh my god what would happen if this was stolen” in the last three months.

The machine was struggling to run the software I wanted to run and recently I have even been using to program more. This month I decided to complete my investment in the MacBook and fork out the necessary to upgrade the MacBook memory to its maximum capacity of 2GB. Crucial’s website promised me that it would be like a free upgrade and I know from my PC experience that it can make a big difference.

So the memory has arrived, costing under £200 but not by much. There were several tentative hits of the power button until I realised that when the manual says push till it clicks, it means it goddamn it. You have to be quite firm pushing the chips into place.

Having gone through the process though… I’m a very happy man. The whole system is much snappier and more responsive. I’m happier than ever with the MacBook. To me it is all-round a superior laptop. In fact I’m so impressed that when the MacMini goes CoreDuo2 I might be leaving the PC to just be an expensive games console.

Macbook, Software

NeoOffice Beta Patch 8

So I downloaded Patch 8 tonight and since I was critical in my last post on it I thought I would say that in fairness Patch 8 uses a lot of resources but it does actually put them to use. This revision felt much faster and more responsive. In fact I was able to use it happily for a good two hours without any issues apart from some funny focus business after a autosave and even that wasn’t really that annoying.

An Aqua OpenOffice is a great thing but so far this has been a bit of a back and forth experience, more so than I would expect for a Beta. This sometimes feels like more a “Nightly Build” affair.

Java, Macbook, Software

NeoOffice Beta Patch 6

I really enjoyed using NeoOffice Beta 3. It was fast and had the full OpenOffice functionality I know and love but in a nice OSX compatible wrapper. However after downloading and installing Patch 6 it seems that the application is current three steps back on the development cycle. The application is a horrible memory hog and seems to want to grab every resource on the machine it can. Despite this it is also extremely unresponsive to actions I would consider to be trivial such as cut and paste.

Of course I could get more memory for my MacBook: I deliberately underspec’d the machine due to Apple’s high memory prices but still 1Gb of memory for a word processor is excessive. It is easily the most demanding application I’m running at the moment.

Macbook, Software, Web Applications

MacBook Word Processing Part Two

Well now, hold the line, since writing my last post Writely finally opened for registrations again, NeoOffice posted Beta 2 and I also decided to give Mariner Write a go.

So then, first impressions? Well first of all NeoOffice Beta 2 is a big jump up. Performance is much better and the whole thing looks a lot slicker while retaining the great OpenOffice functionality I know and love. This is such an improvement that I am not sure I need to use something lighter like AbiWord.

Writely is something I have been waiting a long time to use as I only heard of it after the Google buyout when they closed registrations. So does it live up to such long held expectations? Well the short answer is yes in that I am not disappointed by it in the least at the moment. Naturally as a web-based word processor it has its strengths and limitations. I certainly like being able to snatch a moment at work to write something up and not have the hassle of working with a USB drive or anything similar. I haven’t tried the ODT export yet but if it works as advertised then the integration with OpenOffice is going to be a big win for me as it will allow me to mix the applications while keeping the data consistent.

So far Write just isn’t getting a look in although I did download the Mariner MacJournal software at the same time and that looks quite good.

Macbook, Software

MacBook Word Processing Part One

Since getting the MacBook I’ve been in need of a decent Mac word processer. I have NeoOffice and OpenOffice for the heavy duty stuff (and to be honest the ports are a bit heavyweight/ponderous too so you’re rarely tempted to crack them open for writing a little blog posting like this) but there is then a gap between them and TextEdit (which is what I am using now). The OpenSource alternative is AbiWord and I cannot deny that it is fast, usable and has some of the necessary functions for article writing (such as Word Count) however there is no denying that the WYSIWYG element of the processing window leaves a lot to be desired particularly in the area of font kerning. The best commercial alternative I’ve found so far is Mellel. That has the required features and a pleasing appearance as well as native performance.

However it also has its quirks such as a poor styling system, a strange desire to hyphenate words rather than do normal paragraph alignment. Hyphenating words automatically is only really of interest if you want to print the document from the application which is actually, in my view, the minority case. Most times my work is either transferred to the web or sent on to a publisher who wishes to import the raw text and styles for formatting according to their tastes. The major problem though that affects both Mellel and Abiword and really makes me hesitate to purchase a license to Mellel is lack of a “Zoom to screen size” option. The MacBook’s wide screen means you really need to able to seamlessly stretch the program to the width of the window and then have the text automatically resize to an appropriate size. There is nothing worse than looking at a long narrow column of tiny text that leaves two-thirds of your widescreen unused.

In the end the decision was made for me by Mellel, the evaluation license ran out and despite downloading a later version of the application I could not renew the evaluation. The end of the evaluation meant I was locked out of my documents, or rather I could not export the document to external formats (fair enough) and I could not cut and paste from the documents I had created during the evaluation period. This last restriction really bugged me, partly because it was shit (you could still take text from the buffers it was just more complicated to do) and secondly because if you are genuinely evaluate something and decide not to use it in the long run you should be able to transfer the content of your documents while not using any of the fancy features the application offers.

This kind of thing is the argument that is used against closed source and I for one would prefer to spend time and effort on Abiword despite its deficiencies because the effort will never be wasted and the software will never be taken away.


Faint Alarm at Myself

I accidentally switched on Photobooth while beavering away and was suddenly confronted at no less than myself. It’s kind of like a mirror but the sudden appearance just gives it a shock value. What’s that on my screen? My god it’s me.