The Microsoft “no help” forums

Back in the early days of desktop computing, when WordPerfect was still the king of the hill in word processing, they had a Customer Support number. You’d call up, get in queue, and listen to a real-live “hold jockey” spin tunes, provide information about the software, tell you where you were in line, about how long it would take for your turn to come up, and then connect you to a helpful, qualified, American technician who would help you solve your problem. It was almost like being able to say “shibboleet.”

But ever since the early days of Microsoft, and I’ve been there since the beginning, getting any real help from them has been an exercise in futility. There’s an old, old joke about Microsoft’s technical support, and it goes like this:

A helicopter was flying around above Seattle when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft’s electronic navigation and communications qquipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter’s position and course to fly to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter’s window. The pilot’s sign said “WHERE AM I?” in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign and held it in a building window. Their sign read: “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER.” The pilot smiled, waved, looked at her map, determined the course to steer to SEATAC airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER” sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded “I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, like their technical support, online help and product documentation, the response they gave me was technically correct, but completely useless.”

Sadly, things have gone downhill from there. These days, responses are not even technically correct. Some time ago we “upgraded” to Windows 10 – and those scare quotes are there for a reason – and my wife lost her old suite of games that used to come standard with the operating system, like Solitaire.

Here’s an example taken from a real live Microsoft Community page; I came across this issue today when I had the same question and was looking for help. Of course, it should be noted in passing that to ask questions or provide responses on any of these fora you need a Microsoft account.

The question posted was:

SOLITAIRE ON WIN10 – HOW TO GET RID OF XBOX SIGN-IN

I’ve downloaded Microsoft Solitaire Collection for Windows 10.

When I want to play a game, it presents me with a sign-in screen for xbox live.

I don’t want to sign in to xbox Live and have to go through several steps to get rid of the login screen and play as a guest every time I select Solitaire. How can I get it to stop asking me to sign in?


And here is the “featured response” from Microsoft Representative 
Syed Abdul Jabbar:

Hi [Name],

Thank you for posting the query on Microsoft Community. I am sorry to know that you are facing issues with Windows 10. Do not worry, will assist you with the issue.

If you’re looking for help with audiovideo and hardware driver issues while playing a game on Windows 10, you’re in the right place. 

For anything gaming or Xbox related, head over to the Xbox Forums& they’ll take care of you.

In future, if you have any issues related to Windows, do get back to us. We will be happy to assist you.

By the desiccated skull of Mogg’s grandfather, it’s like the responder (who supposedly represents Microsoft):

a) didn’t even bother to read the question, or
b) doesn’t speak English, or
c) is a bot, or
d) all of the above.

Many of the frustrated follow-up comments point out just how useless this response is, and my experience of Microsoft Community answers is almost uniformly like this. Either the answer is painfully useless, or the solution offered is so complex as to be incomprehensible by the average computer user. If I were the CEO of Microsoft I would be mortified to my very bones if I allowed this to be my customers’ experience. There is only one possible explanation:

Microsoft doesn’t care.

And they haven’t cared since day 1. They’re the biggest shark in the pond, and even though Windows’ market share has declined over the last 5 years from roughly 91% to 88%, they pretty much have the world by the short hairs and they know it, so there’s no sense in expending any resources on helping their customers have a useful, satisfactory experience with their product.

That’s not to say that there isn’t help on the internet – you’re just much less likely to find the answer you’re looking for on a Microsoft forum than in other places. As it turns out, in this case there’s no way to use the Microsoft Solitare Game Pack without an XBox Live gamertag, and the only solution is to head for the app store and find a free app that does the trick. Sadly, most free applications include ads, but at least I can avoid the ones that push you to make in-app purchases.

I think Microsoft made a bad move when they stopped including Solitaire, Minesweeper, and other games as integral parts of the operating system. As we’ve all seen, that’s hardly the only bad move they’ve made – think Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows Vista, and others – but I can’t ever envision a time when they ever start paying the price for their insouciance.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Maine’s Implied Warranty Law

Implied-Warranty-1-e1519143773204

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. For legal advice, consult your legal professional.

In light of merchants and sellers practicing deceptive douchebaggery (an Apple dealer, for instance, quoting $1,200.00 to repair a MacBook Pro that was one year out of warranty), it’s a good idea for consumers to check their state statutes.

The state of Maine has a very rigorous implied warranty law.

“It stipulates that regardless of manufacturer warranty, any item purchased new in this state must function normally for the normal expected lifespan of the item under normal usage, and the onus is on the manufacturer or reseller to prove abuse. For computers that is typically 3-5 years. It’s taken seriously enough here that there is a form on the attorney general’s website you can fill out to trigger an automatic complaint. This complaint is actually followed up on, and the consequence for outright refusal is loss of the right to operate in the state.” (With thanks to redditor /u/ijustwanttobejess).

If you download the actual statute, it’s very enlightening. The official summary:

A. Maine’s implied warranty law applies to all new or used consumer goods that are sold by merchants, except for used cars.
B. Used car dealers are allowed to disclaim implied warranty rights and typically do so on the car’s Used Car Information window sticker.
C. The Maine implied warranty law offers the following protection: if you have been sold a seriously defective product or component, even if the product has exceeded its express warranty period, then both the seller and the manufacturer can be required to repair it for you free of charge. In order to prove a breach of implied warranty you must be able to prove within the first four years from date of sale, that:
(1) The item has a serious manufacturer’s defect;
(2) You have not abused the item; and
(3) The product (or defective component of the product) is still within its useful life
(useful life will normally extend at the most four years from the time of sale).
D. It is an unfair trade practice for a merchant (except a used car dealer) to attempt to disclaim verbally or in writing your implied warranty rights and to thereby limit your rights to an express warranty.
E. Implied warranty rights and express warranty rights are often automatically transferred to second buyers.
F. If an item is defective, you should take it back to the dealer and let the dealer arrange the repairs. You should not have to be responsible for returning it to the manufacturer.

What’s more, the question of “useful life” is treated in detail (there’s more in the full document, this is just an extract)

Appliance              Low       High      Average
Dishwasher             5         14        10
Dryer, electric        12        16        14
Freezer, standard      10        22        16
Furnace, warm-air, oil 7.5       40        20
Microwave oven         5         14        11
Range, electric        10        30        17
Refrigerator           10        20        17
Washer                 12        14        13
Water heater, electric 10        18        14

 

To cite a personal example, if I toddle down to the local home-improvement store and buy a fridge, by law there’s no real reason for me to buy that extended warranty that they offer – the store, not the manufacturer, is responsible for making sure that fridge works right for at least the low end of its expected life, which is 10 years.

As they say, the devil is in the details, and lodging a complaint with the Attorney General for failure to honor implied warranty is, to me, the “thermonuclear option” – it’s there to protect consumers from gross negligence or insouciance. As a result, for the last two referigerators we bought I did get that extended warranty, because most repairmen I have spoken with have been united on the fact that ice-makers are mostly crap, and are prone to break down regularly. Both times that warranty paid for itself multiple times over in saved repair costs. It’s faster than going the legal route, saves endless hassle, and is worth the small extra expense. But that’s the only appliance I’ve ever used one for.

I chuckled to read that used-car dealers are exempt from voiding implied warranty, but there’s a certain amount of sense in that. Even the honest ones (there may be one or two) have no way of knowing what might let go next week on that sweet deal they just sold you.

bad-used-cars-lot-1-1024x579

But the takeaway here is that depending on your state, you may not be without recourse when a dealer thinks they have you by the short hairs. Check your state statutes, because forewarned is forearmed.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Marketing by Deception Threedux

I’ve written about the auto dealer “You’ve Won a Prize” scam before. Today I happened to be driving past Rockland Ford in Thomaston, Maine with one of their flyers in my hand, and since a $5.00 WalMart gift card is better than a sharp stick in the eye if I’m in the area anyway, I dropped in.

ford

(Click image for a larger view)

The flyer states pretty plainly that I’ve won a “car, hotel and gas card.” But as usual, the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away:

The number  that you matched does not give you a choice, but an opportunity to win a prize.

If you’re not sure, this means “the number you scratched off means nothing at all.” The only number that means anything is the one after “official registered #”, which in my case is 129,280. Odds of winning the WalMart gift card are 499,994:499,999, meaning that’s what you’ll get. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the $500.00 one. It isn’t.

The salesman I spoke to insisted that the advert wasn’t deceptive at all, and I should just read the fine print. Well, I’ve lived long enough to know that bait-and-switch is a scummy tactic, and is usually covered up with the most barely-legal douchebaggery the attorneys can dig up.

Yes, as long as the “final deal” is spelled out somewhere, they can claim that customers had access to all aspects of the promotion and it’s legal. But I ask you: how many people walk away from the encounter disappointed and with a sour taste in their mouth about the dealership? How likely are they to want to buy a car from a dealer that uses such tactics to get people in the door? People who run these enterprises ought to give that a thought.

But they won’t.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Working “for the exposure” – an Open Letter to Elon Musk.

Dear Mr. Musk:

Make no mistake about it – I’m a fan. You have done and continue to do amazing things with technology, which will benefit humanity in incalculable ways as things only continue to improve.

I’m putting “Unicorngate” down to a simple lack of awareness of what happens on the ground to virtually countless artists, writers, web designers, composers, photographers, playwrights, and so many others who depend on their sweat and blood and tears and creativity to make a living. Tom Edwards is one such, and intriguingly enough from all I’ve read, he remains a fan of your efforts.

Ask any creative soul – they’ve probably been asked to work for free. One of the best essays on the subject I’ve seen includes illustrations by Emmie Tsumura, who imagines the faces of people who want you to work “for exposure.” I recommend the piece.

tsumura1

Illustration by Emmie Tsumura

These people probably fall into one of two categories: Cheap bastards, and the totally unaware. Mr. Musk, I don’t know you from Adam’s off-ox, but you don’t strike me as falling into the first category. I suspect that what happened is that somewhere in your organization, someone who wasn’t even thinking about copyright violations thought Tom Edwards’ work would make a good bit of marketing fluff, and before you or anyone else at the top was aware, it had been incorporated at multiple levels.

The right thing to do would have been to compensate Mr. Edwards fairly for the privilege of continuing to use his work, or to apologize for the error, pull the illustration from your materials, compensate him fairly anyway, and move on.

Telling him that suing would be kind of lame, and intimating that the exposure was good for his business, is essentially being this guy:
tsumura2

Illustration by Emmie Tsumura

Don’t be that guy. Your company can afford to pay people fairly for their work. The optics of doubling down on an issue where you’re clearly taking the wrong position are terrible, and the world needs Tesla to look good.

That’s all.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Drug Pricing Maze

I’m grateful to have health insurance. Many, many people don’t, and that’s an ongoing debate in our society right now. That said, I absolutely don’t understand what’s going on with drug prices.

I get my long-term scripts filled by Magellan, a mail-order pharmacy. When my last batch of prescriptions was delivered, the printed circulars that came with them had some interesting information that got me thinking.

These are all very common drugs, not rare ones. Actual drug names have been replaced with ℞ A, ℞ B, and ℞ C.


℞ A: The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of ℞ A is around $4.00, 90% off the average retail price of $43.29 (30-day supply)

OTC versions, for comparison:

Amazon: $27.96
Walmart: $8.00
Kroger: $17.06
Costco: $19.26

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $187.20
With Insurance: $10.00
Cash discount: $10.00
Net price: 0

So I ended up getting this one for free.


℞ B: (GoodRx) The cost for ℞ B is around $13 for a supply of 90 capsules, depending on the pharmacy you visit. Prices are for cash paying customers only and are not valid with insurance plans.

This drug is not available over the counter.

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $397.22
With Insurance: $10.00


℞ C: The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of ℞ C is around $10.54, 92% off the average retail price of $134.99 (30-day supply)

Not available OTC.

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $450.00
With Insurance: $10.00


So I’ve paid $20.00 for scripts that should have cost me $1034.42

These numbers from Magellan just don’t add up. Are these “self-pay” prices, or just randomly inflated numbers to make me think I’m getting a killer deal? What is the “average retail price” anyway, if nobody pays that?

I found this article at Lifehacker, and it addresses the issue that I mention here – but even after reading the article, to me it is still a mass of confusion. And I realize that in terms of the complexity of the entire situation, what I’ve outlined is just the frost on the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet.

The situation is untenable, and I can clearly not choose the drugs in front of me.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Domain Listings: Another Scam

For a while now, people have been receiving deceptive solicitations from a company called “Domain LIstings, PO Box 19607, Las Vegas, NV 89132-0607.” I got one just last week.

You can see the letter they send out below:

domain1domain2

The letter is designed to think that you have to pay to re-register your domain, but this outfit is nothing more than an American version of the “World Business List” – offering worthless services for an outrageous fee.

Please note that these bottom-feeders offer you virtually nothing that Google doesn’t do for free. Their “directory” will not give you a whit of exposure. They offer 24/7/365 exposure, which is exactly what you get when Google and the other search engines crawl your site.

Customer reviews at Yelp, just as an example.

If you get one of these letters, it’s not an invoice. Just throw it away, and stay away from these scum-eaters.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

To the New York Times

Edit: The Times on January 8 responded to reader criticism of the obituary in question. Their response, while acknowledging some failings, essentially circled the wagons and justified their position. This is still unacceptable.

On January 3, The New York Times published an obituary for Thomas S. Monson, late president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who was revered by its members as their prophet, seer, and revelator.

Monson

Instead of taking the opportunity to pay tribute to an honorable and humble servant of humanity who spent most of his 90 years of life ministering to the lonely, the widowed, and the forgotten, they took an opportunity to turn what should have been an expression of respect into a reprehensible potshot at the Church and its doctrine, commonly known as Mormonism.

A respected newspaper that is charged with reporting facts objectively and without bias instead decided that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was fair game for mockery and disparagement, and prostituted their reputation for a chance to take a reprehensible Cheap Shot at an organization of 15 million members that has done immense good throughout the world since its inception. Instead of an obituary, the piece became a virtual hatchet job, echoing the complaints of disaffected members and sounding like something that might have been written by Gerald and Sandra Tanner.

The Church is a community of faith that believes in ongoing, modern revelation, that believes in a Church led directly by the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a democratic institution where people can agitate and effectuate changes in doctrine. They are free to participate, or not. They are free to follow their leaders, or not. They are free to remain members, or not. They don’t even have to think the same way as their leaders if they don’t want to, and they can remain members in good standing. If the Church is not for them, let them go where they may and find joy – but a vocal minority that captures the attention of a click-hungry press seems to think that they, not God, are directing the affairs of the Church, and they are bitterly angry about this.

It is these feelings and protesting voices that the Times chose to bring to the forefront of President Monson’s obituary, not his nearly a century of life and virtual decades of compassionate service on a personal level as well as an administrator in the Church’s hierarchy. This represents a gross contravention of decency and reputability, for which the Times owes every Latter-day Saint and every lover of respectable journalism a heartfelt apology.

The Times is a newspaper. There is nothing that says they can’t do all the investigative journalism or “exposé” pieces that they want, as long as the facts they report are verifiable and accurate. That’s what journalists do. But to rest this sort of poison-pen letter on the memory of a good, honest, and decent man, possibly one of the most Christlike individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of associating with, is the ultimate abrogation of all principles of decent journalism that there could be, worthy of a trash publication like The National Enquirer and not one of the nation’s flagship newspapers. Shame, shame, the very deepest shame on The Times.

I trust that they will do the right thing, and express appropriate regret for this horrible lapse of judgment, from writer to editors to publisher. They are, of course, free to choose – but they should remember that every choice has prices and benefits, and choose wisely.

The Old Wolf has Spoken.