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[tech] iPad 3G round 5, end to AT&T fail

Interesting. I had a very good conversation today with an extremely pleasant representative of Apple’s Executive Relations team about my iPad 3G hardware and AT&T experiences. She had been referred to my blog by an Apple employee, and apparently my posts on both hardware and the data plan had been discussed over the weekend at Apple. We talked about the USB cable issue clearing up the hardware problems, and I was very complimentary regarding the service I received at the Genius bar. We then talked about the AT&T problem a bit. She assured me that the PO Box issue had been a surprise to Apple, and their executive team had been working on it since Saturday, and they were looking forward to a solution very soon. Apparently I’m not the only one who complained, but hopefully my words helped.

Shortly thereafter, as I was about to go through the process of filing complaints against AT&T with Visa and with the state consumer protection office(s), an AT&T representative contacted me. He confirmed that as of today, the PO Box ban had been retracted and the data plan sign up process now incorporated a mechanism for providing a street address in compliance with the MTSA law while allowing billing to PO Boxes.

So, erm, all’s well that ends well? I can’t pretend to take any particular credit for this change, but it’s nice to see that a sharp, reasoned, business-focused complaint can produce results. And for whatever it’s worth, everyone I’ve spoken to at both AT&T and Apple has been professional and pleasant. This was only ever a business issue, and I’m quite pleased it got handled appropriately and swiftly — essentially in less than two business days. There were probably some very interesting and difficult conversations over the weekend that I’m just as happy not to have been privy to.

Meanwhile, I continue to adapt to my iPad 3G. And perhaps vice versa. More to come as my experience unfolds.

[tech] iPad 3G, the good stuff, and a few questions

So Apple, via the Genius bar in the Portland Pioneer Place Apple Store, has made good on my iPad 3G hardware issues. As previously mentioned, both the sync problem and the misreported memory allocation turned out to be a bad USB cable. And yes, I know how unlikely that sounds, but so far it’s been demonstrably true. I was lazy when I got the iPad and simply used my existing, identical iPhone USB cable which was already right in front of me, but it’s been around a while and the head was slightly crimped. Component swaps from least-to-most-expensive are Troubleshooting 101, but chemo brain never thought to try it.

As mentioned before, it was a hardware issue with a side of user error. Just not an iPad 3G hardware issue. Also, my thanks to the Genius bar and the very thoughtful lady there who figured this out rather quickly and utterly refrained from in any way telling me what an idiot I was. It must have been tempting…

So Sunday, as my brain was fogged and messy from chemo stress except for the analytical part (which is why I can often blog extensively but not write fiction, for those of you who wonder about that) I pursued the AT&T issue. That is ongoing, and I got a callback yesterday which I will pursue that may shed some further light. I did work with the credit card company to get the address reset so I could turn on the data plan, but have not yet had a chance to work with any of the location-aware services that provides.

I also installed a number of apps. Wolfram Alpha is strange and wondrous, and I will need to spend some time learning how to use it. I’m experimenting with direct apps that do what I’d normally do on a browser on my MacBook Pro, such as the WordPress client and iWiki for Wikipedia access. The browser on my MacBook Pro is essentially a Swiss Army knife tool, that does a zillion things depending on the Web page and data source. The iPad 3G is not-so-gently directing me to a right-tool-for-the-right-job approach via dedicated apps that are easier to use than the Safari implementation on the iPhone/iPad OS.

Philosophically, this trend to specialized apps seems like a step back to me, but functionally there’s some very nice stuff happening. This isn’t precisely the “walled garden” issue that so many folks are complaining about it, it’s more an aspect of the way the OS works in the first place, but I think they’re related. I’ll hold a firm opinion in abeyance until I’ve spent a lot more time with it.

Where it does seem to point to is the idea that the iPad is a computer for people who don’t want to deal with computers. It is literally a one-button computer, though that’s a bit of a disingenuous assertion given the role of the virtual keyboard. Giving people who are not interested in doinking with technology access to Wikipedia or whatever via a dedicated app is a lot friendlier than making them figure out URLs and signing up for accounts via Web interfaces. There’s a completely different paradigm lurking just below the surface, and I’m only beginning to appreciate it.

The apps which have been fully iPadicized, like the address book, are quite impressive. Right now I’m especially enamored of the calendar. I know some people have been dismissive of the extensive book metaphor used in those apps, but by golly it works and it works well. See above about the paradigm. Also, I downloaded iBooks and put Green on my bookshelf, which was gratifying if perhaps a bit pointless.

Overall, the iPad impresses the hell out of me. And I’m not all that easily impressed about stuff like this. It’s facile to say this is a giant iPod Touch, and in many essential aspects that’s true, but the assertion utterly misses the point. This really is a different experience, in ways both straightforward and intangible. I’ll be weeks and months understanding and exploring it, and doubtless I’ll wind up with some rather different opinions and observations along the way.

As for the not-good, I could complain about the lack of multitasking, but release 4.x of the iPhone/iPad OS is on the way, so I won’t bother until I see what’s changed. It’s not crippling, just mildly annoying, and I’ll deal for now. My biggest issue with usability and functionality continues to be the way Safari is implemented. This is as much due to the way I use the browser on the MacBook Pro as anything, so I am somewhat barking up the wrong tree to complain, but the lack of tabbed browsing really does cripple Safari for me.

In the mornings before I go to work I read about 75 Web sites. That’s how I build my daily Link Salad posts, and my equivalent of taking a morning newspaper. I have them organized into six groups in my Bookmarks bar, and I can load each group with a single click, then work my way quickly through the tabs. Safari simply doesn’t support this. So instead of six clicks and some quick tabbing to get through my morning read, on the iPad 3G I have to do 75 clicks.

Um, no.

I’ve tried the Atomic browser, which supports browser tabs, but it doesn’t seem to support single-click loading of bookmark sets, which is what I really need. So one of my biggest hopes for the iPad 3G, which was to use it for my morning browse-and-blog, remains void for now.

Per my comments above, I may be complaining about not being able to hammer a nail with a screwdriver. I don’t think this is what Safari on the iPhone/iPad OS is for. This issue impairs the iPad 3G’s value to me somewhat, but I doubt it matters to 95%+ of the users out there. So I’ll wait and see if my paradigm shifts.

More to come as I use the device and learn more over time.

But for no, one other thing. How the heck to see xkcd‘s mouseover in Safari on the iPad 3G?

[tech] iPad 3G round 4, continuing AT&T fail, minor Apple irony

Now that the iPad hardware issues have been resolved, I did turn my attention back to the AT&T problem. (Which, for those just dropping in, is that AT&T will not allow credit cards with a PO Box billing address to be used to establish iPad 3G data plans.) I called my credit card issuer and had a long talk with a rep there. In the process, we went ahead and did a temporary address change to my street address so I could at least sign up for data and give it a shot. I’ll be changing it right back to my PO Box (they don’t have a provision for permanent reflecting two addresses) so it will be interesting to see if AT&T renews the plan next month.

The rep was astounded that I couldn’t use the card for AT&T. They had never heard of such a thing. (Which confirms I’m not just mistaken here.) They searched their internal database and found no references to disallowing PO Boxes as billing addresses. After discussing it with them and doing some research on the Visa site, I’ll be calling in tomorrow during business hours to lodge a merchant complaint against AT&T. Per the Visa site, I am encouraged to notify my credit card issuer of “any merchant practices that you feel are inappropriate.” Not honoring a card with a legal address and no evidence of fraud certainly counts as inappropriate. I’m also planning to call Oregon’s consumer affairs department, once I figure out which one (there are several) and lodging complaints against AT&T there as well.

In the department of minor ironies, I was trying to view one of the Apple guided tour videos on the iPad section of apple.com, to see if I’d missed anything about how to use Safari on iPad. The lack of tabbed browsing is a real issue. It took about ten minutes for Safari on iPad to stream me the 90-second video about how easy it is to view videos on Safari on iPad. I watched in 5-7 second blocks, repeatedly restarting. Um, yeah. And they say irony is dead.

[tech] iPad 3G round 3, Apple win

Back from the Apple store. The very patient lady at the Genius bar sorted out my hardware problems with the iPad 3G (failure to sync correctly and failure to recognize the full memory available) as being a bad USB cable. I’d been using my existing iPhone cable, but somewhere along the line I’d crimped it at the head. When we used a clean, new cable, that set of issues vanished. Very simple fix that I should have thought of myself, as component swaps are troubleshooting 101. Apple win, with a side of user error.

The problem of iTunes not recognizing the newly configured iPad when it is plugged in for the second time is apparently a feature, not a bug. iTunes does in fact recognize the iPad, but the dialog box is misleading. Seems nutty to me, but it’s also a one-time thing, so I’ll get over it. Minor Apple fail, resolved.

AT&T fail continues in full cry. I will be pursuing it as time and energy permit.

Two more points, for now. This thing really is very cool, but man do I wish it had tabbed browsing. The iPhone’s browser model is tolerable if disappointing on a phone, but for the iPad to really live up to its promise for me, more normal web browser behavior is critical.

Also, I owe a post expressing my depth of gratitude to the shadowy consortium of friends, fans and a few kind strangers who chipped in to buy me this thing. You guys are awesome beyond words.

And yes, I’m making this post from the iPad.

[tech] iPad 3G round two-a, major Apple and AT&T fail

A bit more explanation in response to various comments from last night’s post about the AT&T problem.

Per AT&T, a Post Office Box cannot be used in place of a street address, in compliance with the Mobile Telecommunications Sourcing Act, which I believe is also connected to USA-PATRIOT requirements. (Thanks to for the link.)

However, the MTSA does not require that the payment mechanism (ie, credit card billing address) be a street address, only that a street address must be associated with the account. I am an AT&T iPhone user who gets his bills at a PO Box, and AT&T has my street address on file as part of the account. I have paid that iPhone bill on occasion in the past with this selfsame credit card without difficulty.

The issue with the iPad 3G data plans is AT&T provides no mechanism for gathering the street address in the event that the billing address is a PO Box. My completely uneducated guess was this was done to streamline the registration process, with fewer click-throughs and screens to fill in. But there’s no legal requirement in play with respect to the credit card billing. It’s a business decision on AT&T’s part to lock out PO Box users by not allowing street addresses to be input as a secondary address.

Several people suggested I use my debit card. Problem there is it flows through the same PO Box as every other financial instrument I have. AT&T provides no alternate billing mechanisms such as ACH or PayPal, so I can’t pursue that. The only possibility is for me to call my credit card company, change my account information, wait for that to propagate to the merchant account databases, then rerun the data plan sign up.

No other vendor has ever required me to go to so much trouble to purchase something from them. As Apple has granted AT&T exclusive status here, I have no choices. Neither do the tens or hundreds of thousands of other iPad users who prefer their PO Box address for any number of reasons.

To address a couple of other questions that came up, I use the PO Box because when I’m not on chemo I’m gone from home as much as half the month or more. I far prefer my mail safely locked up at the post office to sitting in my curbside mailbox where any passing meth head can rifle through it. This is a normal thing people do, and it’s frankly better financial security. I’m not some kind of weirdo, and I’m certainly not trying to conceal my street address from my creditors and vendors. I’m happy to provide it on request. AT&T simply doesn’t give me that option on the iPad 3G data plan.

Second, this isn’t really a fraud issue as some have suggested. As it happens, I have quite a bit of familiarity with transaction processing and fraud management through my Day Jobbe. (That’s why, for example, the zip codes have to match up.) AT&T already has my street address through my iPhone account. Even if they didn’t, I’d be happy to provide it through my iPad account if they would let me. This is AT&T taking a nonstandard approach to credit card processing that locks me and thousands of others out.

I’m not going to work this any further until I get my iPad hardware issues resolved. I have a Genius Bar appointment tomorrow which may help, but I strongly suspect I have a lemon on my hands. However, I plan to file a complaint against AT&T and Apple with both my credit card issuer and with Visa, and possibly Oregon’s consumer protection office at the Department of Consumer and Business Services as well. This is a ridiculous restriction of a reasonable and customary use of a credit card, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it violated AT&T’s agreements with them.

So that’s pretty much the summary on AT&T. More on the sync and hardware issues tomorrow. So far, the iPad 3G experience continues to be a serious hassle and a major disappointment.

Thanks again, Apple and AT&T.

[tech] iPad 3G round two, major Apple and AT&T fail

AT&T confirms that iPad 3G data accounts can only be established with credit cards that bill to street addresses. No PO boxes. Like I said, I can buy anything anywhere in the world with this credit card except an AT&T data plan for iPad 3G. Absolutely ridiculous.

Thank you, AT&T, for this particular idiocy.

Thank you, Apple, for trapping us users with the idiots at At&T.

[tech] iPad 3G round one, major Apple and AT&T fail

So my iPad 3G arrived today. This is a result of a very generous gift of a group of friends and colleagues, spearheaded by Marti McKenna and . About which more later, with immense gratitude. None of the following is a complaint about their love and generosity. No, my steely gaze is aimed at Apple and AT&T.

At the moment, I am wrestling with set up and configuration issues. And I have to say, this is the worst new Apple product experience I’ve had in my life.

To be clear, I’ve been a loyal and enthusiastic Mac user since 1985. The first machine I ever touched was a Mac 128 running System 1.1. I’ve owned or used (at work) almost every generation of Mac ever made. My current whip is a MacBook Pro, my current phone is an iPhone 3G. I have unboxed and configured many dozens of Apple products over the years. And all of them put together have not been as much trouble as the iPad 3G. My store of goodwill for Apple magic is ridiculously high, and my personal experience with the nuts and bolts is almost as high.

So…

Problem one. In order to establish the AT&T data plan, I have to provide a credit card. iPad informs me that credit cards which bill to PO boxes cannot be used. Guess what? Every aspect of my financial life flows through my PO box for security reasons. The Visa card in my hand can buy anything anywhere in the world except an iPad data plan from AT&T. I’ve been on the phone to AT&T and Apple, had three callbacks, and no one seems to be able to do anything except tell me to change my billing address with the credit card company. I’m pretty sure this is an AT&T issue, but it stinks, and it’s stupid. How many thousands of iPad 3G early adopters have had exactly that same problem today? Major joint AT&T and Apple fail, as yet unresolved.

Problem two. iPad synced my iPhone apps (which seemed obvious enough) but didn’t sync their preferences. Sorting out how to fix that took me some time, even with my vast fund of Apple experience. If I’d come to this tabula rasa it wouldn’t be an issue, but that a long-time Apple fanboy like me had to struggle to work this out seems very strange. Minor Apple fail, resolved.

Problem three. iTunes throws sync errors repeatedly when addressing my iPad. It then syncs fully (more about this below, however). It also sometimes thinks the iPad has 64 GB of memory (well, about 59 GB), and sometimes thinks the iPad has 4 GB of memory. Something is very wrong here. Moderate Apple fail, as yet unresolved.

Problem four. When I finally unplugged the iPad from the MacBook Pro, then plugged it back in, iTunes wanted to set up as a new iPad. So the hour and half I just spent configuring the iPad would be blown. I’ve rebooted everything, same problem. Again, something is very wrong here. Major Apple fail, as yet unresolved.

It’s late in the day. My chemo brain is fading. I don’t have time or bandwidth to spend the next few hours on the phone with Apple’s tech support. The iPad is actually nicely set up and synced now, whatever iTunes happens to think, so other than the 3G issue, it’s perfectly usable. I’ll deal with this over the weekend.

But right now I have to say Apple has really handed me a lemon. These aren’t the teething problems I had when I first got my iPhone. These aren’t the fixable hardware problems I had with my dual-USB iBook back in the day. This is serious, fresh out of the box crap. I’m really looking forward to using this iPad, but I need it to work correctly with iTunes first, to have the right memory allocations, to sync, and to be able to subscribe to a 3G data plan.

Hey, Steve Jobs. Your magical device is pretty much blowing chunks so far.

[tech] jlake.com is borked

Recently my credit card numbers changed, due to the issuer determining a potential fraud event. I have jlake.com at a presence provider with autobilling to the card. When the old number declined as invalid, rather than contacting me for a new payment method, they simply suspended my account. Working to get this resolved, but for now neither my jlake.com email nor my Web site/WordPress blog is live.

Irked. Irked. Irked.

[tech] Wireless Internet, & the inubiquities thereof

Back when I was in the consulting business, we used to talk about the “Internet dialtone”. The analog is obvious enough — voice dialtone is a worldwide standard that’s almost universally available, given the combination of wireline, wireless and satellite telephones. So long as you’re willing and able to pay your monthly access fees and connection charges, you’re in the voxisphere.

Here in the United States, Internet dialtone has arrived in bits and pieces via wireless Internet connectivity. The access and connection charge model is not universalized as with voice — if you start your day in a hotel, head to an airport, fly to second airport and end your day in a second hotel, you’ll encounter four separate access protocols, each with their own rating schema. Yet, at least within the framework of business travel, wireless is nearly universal.

Except at the Torrance Marriott South Bay. This is the first time in several years that I’ve been in a business-oriented environment where there simply wasn’t wireless access. This Marriott provides in-room Ethernet access for $13 per day. It’s very slow — I’m almost certain this entire 800-bed hotel is running over a single T1 — and it tethered me to the desk in my room. And it drove me nuts.

Likewise LAX. Here the wireless is for-fee, T-Mobile for about $9 per day. Difficult to log on to, and running at about 56K modem speeds. Much like the Torrance Marriott, I think they’re running the entire guest network over a single T1. (To add insult to injury, here in the United Airlines terminal all the wall outlets have been disabled. It’s pretty much a big, hearty “FUCK YOU” to business travelers from United and LAX.)

What I can’t figure out is whether I’m resenting a curbing of privilege, or whether I should reasonably expect wireless Internet access wherever I go. Note I am not complaining about pricing — I can and do, but that’s a rant topic for another time — just about whether wireless Internet access has become such a standard part of life in my slice of America that its absence is notable and even detrimental.

Certainly I’ve noticed the absence. Certainly I feel its detriment. Certainly I’m boggled that a business-class hotel that’s grossing close to $100,000 per night in room charges can’t seem to manage in-room wireless connectivity, fee or no fee. And that one of the largest airports in the world can’t manage bandwidth to 1999 standards.

Do you consider wireless access to be like dialtone, a universally expected service? Or am I so wrapped in my high tech business travel cocoon that I’ve lost sight of reality?

[tech] Email fail

My email was in a fairly critical state of fail today, to the point where some people were getting permanent fatal errors. As of this evening, all is restored, but if you encountered a problem corresponding with me, please resend.

[tech] Continued strangeness

My Mac is back from the Apple store, but they unexpectedly replaced the hard drive. I have *everything* backed up via Time Machine, but that’s behaving oddly as well.

Net-net: continued sparse blogging, and if you’re used to seeing me around on IM, well, mostly I’m not other than periodic spasms of Google chat. Grr.

Good thing this is a week when I am not writing. (I aten’t stupid yet.)

[tech] Mac down

Well, my trusty MacBook is in the Apple store to have its keyboard and faceplate replaced (again!).  Several keys are now blank-faced divots and the /d/ is starting to stick, while the faceplate is splintering.  Just like last time.  They seem to last about nine to twelve months.

That’s what happens when you type a million words a year on a keyboard, I’m thinking.  So I’m on the emergency backup computer which, shall we say, is not a communicant of the Cult of Macintosh.

Grr.  At least it lasted through the drafting of Tourbillon.  And budget permitting, I’ll probably replace the entire computer before I am forced to replace the keyboard again.  Though the space opera project may kill this new keyboard first.