Thursday, October 23, 2008

Apple's Other Excellence

You know, there's a lot of buzz about Apple these days, what with the fantastic gains of the iPhone in the market, the dominance of the iPod, and how great Mac OS X is compared to Vista.

But there's another realm of excellence I experienced today: customer service.

I had a problem with my iPhone that was annoying me for the past few days, and I called customer service about it, even though I was out of warranty. I was prepared to pay for some pay-as-you-go tech support to get the issue fixed.

The person on the other end of the line was very helpful and friendly, and walked me through all the basic troubleshooting steps, and then into the advanced steps. Finally, we decided that the best thing to do would be a complete software reinstall, so rather than make him wait through it, I let him go, saying I could handle it from there. He sent me an email so that I could pick up with him personally if that didn't work.

Now, at that point, I figured I was done with tech support unless I called them back.

However, while I was going through the software install, I received a call from another Apple customer service representative. He said that they were talking about my case after I hung up with them, and he wanted to ask me a few follow-up questions. They'd begun to suspect it was a hardware issue.

Seriously. These guys remain service-oriented on an issue after you have hung up with them and the ball is no longer in their court.

Not only that, but they are going to fix the hardware issue for free and send me a loaner iPhone to cover me while it's being repaired.

I have to say, if I wasn't an Apple fan already, I would be now. I can't remember when I've had such a positive experience with calling tech support for a product. Yes, a hardware issue is frustrating, but it happens. What matters is knowing that Apple will step up to the plate and make it right when it does.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tonight's Debate Reaction

The third debate is over, and thankfully, McCain is 0 for 3, according to the polling by most major media news outlets (even Fox). McCain lost them all. Even the town hall meeting.

A few thoughts:
  • Regarding America's trailing scores in math and science, Obama said "This probably has more to do with our national future than anything." Yes - Obama gets it. Education is infrastructure.

  • Again with the "$3 million overhead projector" thing from McCain. The Sky Theater planetarium projector is an "overhead projector" like Google or Amazon is "someone's web site". Technically true, but intentionally disguising the nature of what is being discussed by leaving out the important detail of how much amazing technology is behind it. The Sky Theater projector is not what people think of when you say the words "overhead projector," and McCain knows it. It's dishonest.

  • McCain predictably excuses his lifetime position of giving education the short shrift by saying "throwing money at the problem won't solve it." Again, technically true - we can't just throw money at our educational system to fix it.

    We need to hire and retain better teachers, find better ways to teach, provide safer and more conducive learning environments, lower the student:teacher ratios, update outdated modes of teaching that don't connect with today's kids, provide after school programs for at-risk kids, fix our crumbling schoolhouses, etc.

    And you know what, McCain? Those things cost money.

    Yes, you can't just throw money at the system to solve everything - it needs true educational leadership and responsible stewardship for that money to do what it needs to do. But they do need money.

  • Besides, McCain sure is one to talk about "throwing money at a problem." This is the guy who would be fine with spending $2,400,000,000 per week in Iraq for 100 years. This is the guy who "suspended his campaign" to go throw $820,000,000,000 at the international banking system. Doesn't he see the irony? At least when we talk about funding teachers, science programs, and... ahem... high-end planetarium star projectors, we know exactly what it is we're going to be spending the money on, that we're spending it here at home, and what we can expect as an outcome.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More Juvenile Antics

You might remember my earlier blog post about how some idiot stole the Obama bumper sticker off my car.

I've been talking to people, and it sounds like this is not an isolated incident. Two of my friends, also Obama supporters, have told me that they have had yard signs stolen, and I noticed that two Obama signs that I pass on the way to dropping my son off at day care went missing and were replaced by a different yard sign.

It's also apparently happening elsewhere. Personally, I like this response.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sarah Palin would make a terrible wizard

It looks like Sarah Palin has an IQ score of 83.

For you Dungeons and Dragons players McCain is always talking about, that means that if you made a character sheet for Sarah Palin, she'd have an Intelligence score of 8.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Adler's Response to McCain

Yesterday, I blogged a bit about McCain attacking Obama for supporting informal, all-ages Science education, namely, Obama's support of replacing the 40-year-old planetarium projection machine (not merely an "overhead projector" as McCain called it) for the Sky Theater there.

Well, here's an update. The Adler has posted a response to McCain detailing the exact position of the Adler and clearing up McCain's erroneous implications about the funding, namely that it's somehow frivolous or wasteful.

Education is infrastructure. Probably the most important infrastructure we have long-term, because if we slide technologically, there is no way we'll remain a leader of the free world. If our kids and grandkids cannot keep up, then we're looking at our potential enemies outpacing our weapons technology, our surveillance technology, our security technology, our energy technology, our medical technology. Economies ebb and flow, alliances rise and fall, but the one constant is that whoever has the best technology wields the most power. If McCain doesn't get that, if he openly mocks science education and says we don't need it, then he should not be president. He cannot possibly be a good steward of America's future.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

McCain against Education Again

I just watched the presidential debate, and I am struck once again by John McCain's contempt for educational efforts.

It's probably not going to get a lot of play, but the one thing that stood out to me as strange was McCain attacking Obama for supporting spending money on a star projector for a planetarium in Chicago. He's referring to a $3 million earmark for replacing the 40-year-old projection system at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the first planetarium in the western hemisphere, let alone America, and a major science education venue in the Chicago area.

To my mind, that's not "pork," at least, not in the derisive sense of the word, like a bridge to nowhere. This is perfectly in line with what Obama was saying about the need to invest in America's educational infrastructure.

Planetarium projector
Modified photo by Arlette.
As a child, I remember planetariums being one of my favorite places to visit, second only to theme parks. As an educational venue, planetariums conveyed to me, like no other venue can, the enormity, wonder, and adventure that is represented by the universe we live in. It got me interested in topics like Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics.

In particular, planetariums did a far, far better job of that than school did. In school, it's all academics and textbooks. But there was something almost spiritual about going through those double doors that opened by themselves, into the serene, dim theater, surrounded by celestial ambient music and dramatic lighting. And there, in the center of the room - the projector. That strange alien-like contraption, a black cylinder with two spheres at each end adorned with thousands of tiny eyelets, the whole thing supported on a rack, displaying it in the middle of the room as it sat dormant and quiet.

And when the show started! The lights would fade, and the music would swell, and that alien device would come to life, rising and falling, turning on its axis, spinning the spheres at each end, throwing stars into the sky above. And the narrator would speak - not the dry monotone or the finger-wagging admonitions I heard in church, but the sage and simple voice of a guide, who would take you through the universe and back. In those tall, comfortable seats, pitched back to look up at the stars, we'd observe the magnetosphere of the Earth protecting us from the fiery conflagration of particles spit out fitfully from the sun, or travel out of our galaxy so far that we could observe it from afar, a swirling sea of stars so huge it was difficult to wrap your mind around it.

To this day, as you can probably tell, I have a childlike awe of the things I learned at planetariums.

But more to the issue at hand, planetariums are educational venues. They are venues for traditional education - school trips to planetariums are common - but they are also venues for informal and adult education. If we're going to be serious about turning around our nation's educational infrastructure, it must include more than just textbooks. We have to fundamentally embrace education as a part of life, not just a part of school. We need to support the things that make kids (and their parents) interested in math and science, that get them interested in careers in the math and science industries, and help them understand how important, far-reaching, enriching, and fulfilling these pursuits are.

If the worst instance of "pork spending" support John McCain can come up with in Obama's legislative history is this, an initiative which fundamentally embraces, celebrates, promotes, and (most importantly) strengthens America's math and science educational infrastructure, then he's better off not pointing it out. Especially in terms of what we're spending in Iraq - the $3 million for the planetarium renovation Obama asked for is what we spend in Iraq every 13 minutes. This would have been a relatively tiny investment for a big return, and given that the projector the money would have replaced was forty years old and is no longer serviceable since no one makes parts for them any more, it's not likely money that would have been squandered; that the Adler kept the last projector running so long beyond its lifetime shows that they are frugal and responsible stewards of the money apportioned to them.

To me, the fact that Obama supported a public, informal educational effort like funding a planetarium, and didn't try to distance himself from it when McCain derided him for it, just reinforces the kind of man he is, especially in contrast to McCain, who has voted against education time and time again.

Oh, and by the way, the $3 million didn't get funded. I guess we needed that 13 extra minutes in Iraq instead.