Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Technology hates me

Sad story to follow, and it doesn't directly involve papercrafting, so feel free to ignore this. I just need to vent.

I haven't done a whole lot of anything fun in the last couple of days. Back in early February, I placed an order for two new fairly high-end machines through a company called "iBuyPower". Now, I will admit the name sounds goofy, but I found them through some big box stores, and they have a good BBB rating, so I figure at some level they are a legit operation. Both my computer and my wife's computer have been showing their age, so I wanted to buy something that would be fast, not be constrained by memory, and be able to support some heavy graphics from games and what not. I ended up configuring two identical systems with high end cpus and graphics cards, and 16 GB of memory. Should be just fine for the Mrs. to check email and watch YouTube videos, right?

Their site says typically machines are delivered in 5 - 10 business days, and they claim that the machines go through a multi-step process with emails to me at each step. When I placed the order, I got an email telling me that they were processing my purchase. Two days later, I got another email saying that my purchase was approved, and it was moving onto some validation step where they make sure the parts will work together. That was all I heard for a while. I had waited 2 full weeks before calling them, figuring I should give them the 10 business days they claim before asking for an update. When I called, they said the machines were all set, and would probably be shipped out early the next week. I specifically asked if any parts were back-ordered or if there was anything getting in the way. They said no, and said they'd upgrade me to 3-day shipping for nothing so I would get the machine by the end of the next week. Around the time I expected the machine to be shipped (because they said they were 'all set') I got an email telling me they were entering the parts acquisition phase. That was the first red flag. 'Acquiring parts' doesn't mean 'all set' in my language.

I think it was two days later - a Friday I believe - the day I was supposed to GET the machines according to their sales guy, I got an email telling me some parts were back-ordered. There was no information about WHAT was back-ordered, or how long they expect it would take. Of course, I got this email late enough on Friday that I had resigned to having to wait until Monday to even complain about this. A sales guy called me that Saturday, and told me that it was just the computer case that was back-ordered. Ugh - seriously? They're this late sending me my machines because of the case? So, they "upgraded" my case for free (a $5 value!) and said the machines should be assembled over the weekend and probably ship out Monday or Tuesday, so I should get them by Friday.

I think it was maybe Tuesday that I got the email telling me the parts were all acquired, and so I was in the assembly phase. It was the next day that the machine was assembled, and entered the testing phase. Then from testing it went into a burn-in phase where they are supposed to make sure everything is working. This whole process took several days. Finally I got a tracking number saying my order was shipped.

When the machines arrived, I picked them up at a nearby FedEx store. The shipment contained one monitor, and one computer. Where was my other system?!? I called iBuyPower, and the saleswoman said quite like there was no issue that the other machine was "wrapping up testing, and should ship out in a day or two". What the hell?!? According to their website, the order was shipped and received, and yet 50% of it hasn't even been sent out yet?

Oh well, what can I do? I'm kind of screwed at this point, and I've already waited this long. I got home, and focused on setting up the first machine. I spent maybe 2 hours fiddling with Windows 7 and installing a couple open source pieces of software. The last thing I did was install a game for one of my kids, and went to bed. In the morning, the kids split their time on the new machine. Kid #1 was on the machine for 30 minutes. Kid #2 took over, and started by trying to fire up Firefox to play some web-based game. Firefox wouldn't launch. I came in and tried a couple other programs, and nothing would launch. Ugh. All this before my morning coffee!

I rebooted the machine, and Windows 7 locked up during the little animated Windows logo screen. I rebooted again, and this time I was presented with a welcome-for-the-first-time kind of message, and Windows was acting like I had never configured it. I turned it off, and we had breakfast. When I came back to check it out, Windows went right to a hey-this-windows-isn't-legal-you-pirate! message. I talked to one of iBuyPower's tech support guys about the issue. We started by juggling the memory modules around to see if that was the problem. Then he wanted me to try to repair Windows to see if that was the problem. That failed, so he wanted me to reformat the hard drive and try a clean install of Windows. When THAT failed, he had me run some Seagate diagnostic tools to check the hard drive. 99 errors later, they put in an 'advance RMA' for me to get me a new hard drive. This means they charge my credit card for a new hard drive, and they refund it when they get the bad one back. OK.

It turns out it still took over a week to get the hard drive delivered. In the mean time, the second computer is finally delivered. First thing I do is set up the monitor, and I immediately notice dead pixels. My mood was not good. I figured I'd deal with the monitor issue AFTER resolving the hard drive issue. So, I help the Mrs. get her files and stuff transferred to the new machine, and make sure all the apps are working and what not. I set her up with the monitor that lacks dead pixels, and she's reasonably happy.

Hard drive arrives! I'm thinking things are gonna start working out, so I call their customer service folks to ask about the monitor. I can't really transcribe the conversation, because it was so idiotic. It started with the guy reading some rules about standards in the LCD industry for allowable defects and what not, citing paragraphs and subsections and such. He tells me that he doesn't *want* to let me exchange the monitor, because "what would happen if that one has dead pixels too?" It seemed like a crazy thing to start the conversation with, to me. He suggested I just buy a new monitor locally, and return the monitor I bought from them. I said I'd rather they send me a working monitor. According to him, iBuyPower can make some claims with the vendor if it's returned as defective, but not if they exchange it? That made no sense to me, but at this point the guy was really pissing me off. He was extremely argumentative from the beginning, and contradicting statements constantly, which really bothered me.

A couple highlights from the conversation that make me feel it was idiotic. He claimed that iBuyPower isn't responsible for the defects in the monitors, and that's why they don't "bundle" them with computers. I don't see any indication on my bill of sale that I purchased a monitor separately, or that it's somehow unrelated to the system I purchased. My bill of sale indicates one system that includes the monitor.

At one point, he told me I would be better off just buying the monitor locally. He said that "if I buy something that isn't expensive, it isn't going to be good quality". Now, I bought this *from his company* and he's telling me that what they sell isn't going to be good quality. Also, he's telling me that I've made a mistake from purchasing from them, and that I *should* not buy from them, but instead find another company to buy from.

Fed up, I tell him to put in an RMA to replace the monitor. He says it will take about a week to get a monitor out. The sales guy tells me he's "doing me a favor" by replacing the monitor. This is what being a customer means? It's a "favor" to get working hardware? Wow. Maybe returning the monitor rather than exchanging it is the best they can do, but this guy is so awful at working *with* me... Argh!

When I get home, I have this deja vu feeling all over again - if I can just focus on getting the good hard drive installed, maybe I'll cancel the RMA and live with a couple dead pixels. I don't like having to fight with a company that clearly doesn't care about it's customers. I carefully remove the first hard drive, install the new one, and put the first one back in the exact packaging that they used to deliver the replacement. I call their tech support line to make sure I follow their instructions for installing the necessary software and drivers. I was 4th in the queue... After about an hour, I was next in line to get someone. I had my iPhone on speakerphone while I waited, and when I heard I was next, I went to grab my phone. My palm accidentally hits the "end call" button. D'OH! Can this get any worse? Of course I only blame myself for that. I call back immediately, and find I'm 5th in the queue. Another 90 minutes go by before I talk to a human.

My other exchanges with tech support were good enough that they kind of made up for the lousy customer service and sales experiences. This time, I get a guy on the phone who can't seem to understand why I'm calling. I explain that I received a replacement hard drive, and I wanted to know if there were specific steps I should follow to install the software. His first questions were about why the drive was bad. I recounted the WHOLE hard drive experience to bring him up to speed (though I know this is on-file with them, a previous tech guy told me I didn't have to explain, and he read me the history back to me instead to make sure it was correct!). He then asked if I needed help installing the hard drive. I told him a third time that I've installed the hard drive in the case just fine, and it's the software I wanted to ask about. His response was "just install the stuff from the CDs". I had to be really specific and ask things like "Do I install Windows 7 before installing anything for the motherboard? Or should I try booting off of a CD first to install something before Windows is installed, maybe to do some diagnostics to make sure the drive is OK? Do they recommend partitioning the drive a certain way?" I just wanted to make sure I didn't do something with the machine that would make later support more difficult. The guy was terse: "Just install Windows, then install the other stuff. Ok? Are you all set?"

I had him cancel the RMA for the monitor, and asked about the RMA label I keep hearing about for the hard drive. It turns out they need to email me something to send the hard drive back, and never did. So, he emailed me that, and canceled the monitor RMA. I figure I'm tired of dealing with these people, and will live with dead pixels. I only spent close to $4k with them - why should I expect *all* the hardware to work?

I spent the evening getting Windows installed, and it seemed to go smoothly. I got all my open source tools installed, migrated my email and chat accounts over, etc. I must have spent maybe two or three hours total with the machine. And then.

BLUE SCREEN.

It's late. I'm tired. And now I'm totally demoralized. BLUE SCREEN? Seriously? I give up. I'm planning on reformatting the drive, boxing the whole thing up and asking for my money back.

But what about the other system? Well, the next morning (that's today) I focus on trying to figure out how to get one unified inbox in Outlook. Not something Outlook *helps* you with, as far as I can tell. I won't digress into what a miserable cluster#$%@ the ribbon UI is, but I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out how to translate some blog instructions for performing a "search" in Outlook 2010. I finally found a hotkey that caused a new section of the ribbon to appear, but there's no way my wife would be able to do this. At least with the old menus and toolbars, she could look for stuff and disco... oh wait! See? I'm digressing.

After about 30 minutes of unproductive experimenting in Outlook, the machine froze up. Solid. No mouse. No keyboard. I let it sit for another 10 minutes to see if it would un-wedge itself. Nope. I had to hit the reset button on the case.

So, now what? I've got one machine that blue screens, and one that just froze up. I haven't been able to spend more than a couple hours on each machine, so I don't have a lot of experience to say these weren't just flukes. But a blue screen in Windows 7 isn't a fluke. It's probably that one of the memory modules is crap or something. And, I was running IE and Outlook on the other machine. That's it. No updates were going on. No funny plug-ins were running. What the hell should lock up the machine? I don't know. Could be anything. I write software for a living - I know things go wrong. So, I have to commit to really spending time hitting the machine to see if it's a persistent problem.

But, really, I'm done. I'm thinking I'm going to try to wipe the machines and box them both up. I'll find a local store and pay through the nose so that I can get *working* hardware. Seriously, this experience has been a mental drain on me. It's made me take time away from my work. It's made me take time away from my wife and kids. It's kept me from my hobbies. I spent $4k for that? (and that's why being told they are "doing me a favor" rubs me the wrong way...)

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