Ok, this is what it takes to sign up to get eBills from AT&T (for phone and Internet service — don’t ask) delivered to my bank.
First, you click “get bills online” on the bank site. When you do this with, say, Visa or Verizon, you get a pop-up asking you to verify, which you do, and the e-bills show up a couple of cycles later. Not so with AT&T. You get the same verification pop-up, and you click ok, and it seems like you’re off to the races.
A few days later, you get a call with an 8-digit activation code. Personally, I had no idea what to do with this code other than write it down until I got an email, about a week later, reminding me to verify my third-party eBill service provider. Finally! A link!
Now, to verify the provider, you first have to create an Account Manager account (I’m not making this up) with AT&T. To do this, you enter your phone number, then you can verify with either the last 4 of your SSN, or a 3-digit code found on your bill.
But even after all that, in order to create the account, you have to get an online registration code. To request an online registration code, you click “request an online registration code,” (natch). But there’s nothing online about the online registration code. You have two options for receipt: AT&T will either MAIL IT TO YOU VIA U.S. POST (seriously!) or call you with it 10 minutes later.
Once you have THAT 8-digit code, you’re ready to create the account that will let you enter the other 8-digit code to verify that you do, in fact, want online billing. Right?
Oh, no. Once you have the code, you can, in fact, sign up for the account, and sign up for electronic billing from AT&T. But by this time, the site has completely forgotten that you want to verify a third-party eBill provider.
To do that, you have to go back to the email they sent, click the link in the email that takes you to the verify page, even though the link is labeled, “create an Account Manager account,” log in again with shiny new account credentials, and THEN verify that you want them to send third-party eBills.
That last step, by the way, did not involve the 8-digit code that they originally gave me, and insisted I would need.
Of course not. Why would it?
By the end of this process, the only thing I wanted to verify was my new Comcast service.
I’m just downloading my free digital copy of The Hangover from Warner Brothers and … wow. What a bad process. The download itself is a Windows Media Player format. It’s not compatible with iTunes, PSP, or Zunes. The installation process also includes installing Adobe Air. To get the download, you must install a “Digital Copy Manager” that phones home about your “use” of the digital copy (this is not optional). Now, it wants me to upgrade “security components” of Windows Media Player so that I can play this protected file on my computer. All of this requires constant babysitting so that I’m 10 minutes in and can’t do anything else before I’m even ready to enter the authorization code. Oh, and then it auto-launches an ad. Guys. Seriously. iTunes has this figured out. There is no reason your DRM has to be this obnoxiously restrictive and intrusive. If the digital copy is this hard and this limited, it’s not a better option than piracy. And that’s not how you win. (Plus, now there’s no WAY this download will be done by the time I have to leave for the airport. Boo.)
Many of you know that I recently broke up with my iPhone due to the sad fact that AT&T didn’t seem to have coverage at my house, my office, or anywhere in between. Since then, I’ve been on a CNET-provided BlackBerry Curve, which I found perfectly serviceable, but I’ve been waiting for the perfect iPhone replacement to come along, hopefully on the rock-solid Verizon network. And lo, along came the Motorola Droid. Which I bought. So, I’ve spent a few days now with the Droid as my personal phone, and while it’s certainly a good rebound phone, it’s definitely not true love.
Here’s what I like about the Droid: it’s a nice, solid piece of hardware with an incredibly gorgeous screen. The touch-screen is responsive, the phone itself is really, really fast, and so far, I’ve been able to download pretty much all the apps I used with any regularity on the iPhone: Pandora, Facebook, Amazon, a Twitter app, a weather app, and a movies app, plus a handy little mobile version of Wikipedia. So far, the call quality is pretty good, the battery life seems to be surprisingly strong, I like the three customizable “home” screens, and the way it grabs and integrates contact information from across Facebook, Gmail, and Exchange is really nice. And I like the way new notifications of any sort appear at the top of the screen — calendar reminders, new emails, app updates, new texts, etc. It’s a great at-a-glance feature for push notifications.
Media-wise, I bought a few songs from the Amazon MP3 store and while I found the process to be a tiny bit slow (you click the Buy button and … nothing happens for a few minutes, which made me panic a bit), I think the media player seems serviceable. I haven’t figured out how to create a playlist, but I can shuffle and I actually find the Droid’s slider, which scrolls up and down a long list of songs or artists, to be easier to use than trying to tap the tiny alphabet letters of the iPhone’s song/artist list. In terms of playback, the speaker quality of this phone is amazing. It’s both loud and clear — I put on my Spanish guitar Pandora station, set the Droid in the upstairs loft of the 2,000-square-foot apartment where I’m house-sitting, and I could hear it all throughout the house. In a pinch (as long as it’s plugged in), this thing is a little portable stereo. Also, I really don’t mind mounting the Droid as a drive and dragging music to it without having to load the monstrous beast that is iTunes. I managed my iPhone with drag and drop, so I’m not missing syncing at all.
I like the auto-suggest/complete of the virtual keyboards, although it’s a bit aggressive, and I like that it sometimes gives me the “.com” key when I’m typing in an email address. I also like that when I’m texting, I have a emoticon key. Cute touch. I love the integrated Google search bar at the top of the home screens, which searches both the phone and the Web, and I also love the Maps. The GPS is quick to find a signal, the maps are fast, and the turn-by-turn direction feature is truly killer. Oh, and I love the application switcher — I just hold down the Home button and go from browser to Facebook to email to Twidroid. Awesome.
But enough drooling. Here’s what I don’t like. I don’t like the physical keyboard at all. I know that’s not a new revelation — no one likes it. The Droid is slightly too wide for me to type comfortably on it, especially since the keyboard is flush left and not centered on the phone (this is to accommodate the phone’s mysterious “lip” on the bottom — why is that there!?). After using it for even a few minutes, I actually feel physical pain in my right hand and wrist from stretching so far across the hardware (granted, I suffer from nagging RSI). So, I pretty much only use the virtual keyboards, and I use them in portrait or landscape mode roughly evenly. It’s nowhere near as fast as the nubby little BlackBerry keyboard, although I’m seeing a gradual increase in my speed.
The Android 2.0 interface is good but not great. I don’t understand why I have to tap a text field to get the keyboard to surface every time — if I put my cursor in a text field, shouldn’t the keyboard pop up automatically? And in landscape mode, the screen real estate with the keyboard gets weird, so when you “tab” to a new text box, you can’t actually tell what you’re supposed to type there. Awkward. Also, I love how I can customize the home screens, but the OCD in me doesn’t like how when I add an icon to a screen it shows up in a slightly random location, rather than in a nice tidy row. (Yeah, that’s just me.) I also don’t like that I can’t easily move icons from one page to the next, the way I can with the iPhone “jiggle” for rearranging icons. (CORRECTION: You can do this if you tap and hold the icon — it just takes a bit of precision to drag over to the next page. Thanks, Vance!)
The Droid’s vaunted camera and LED flash are a little overrated. Compared to the iPhone, yeah, it takes better photos in low light, and in general, the picture quality is good. But the LED flash casts a very specific blue glow so that everything within the immediate, small area is illuminated, but everything outside of it is abruptly dark — there’s no soft illumination as with a normal flash. Full disclosure: I haven’t taken any video. Also, the little button on the side that is supposedly the camera button doesn’t seem to do anything. Maybe it’s broken.
Other nitpicks: the screen, gorgeous as it is, couldn’t be less oleophobic. That thing picks up fingerprint smudges like you wouldn’t believe, and once it’s coated with unattractive schmutz, the screen itself is completely invisible in bright sunlight. Not cool.
On the app front, the Facebook app is a dog, and that is serious business. I can’t filter my news feed by friends lists or even view friends lists at all, which is a major bummer. Oh, and in other nitpicks, I don’t really love the built-in ringtones. But ok, now I’m just being annoying.
No technology is perfect, and the Droid is no exception. But I like it a lot, and I like it enough to port my number to it. It’s a keeper. Plus it’s only going to get better as the software and firmware upgrades roll out. (Seriously, somebody at Facebook? Help me.) But if you came to me and you weren’t super tech savvy and AT&T worked fine at your house (a long shot, I know), I’d probably still tell you to get an iPhone. It’s still just a hair more elegant and easy to use. For now.
I recently had a conversation about vaccines that left me frankly stunned. A friend I respect and an older Marin couple were matter-of-factly agreeing that the H1N1 vaccine was, if you’ll pardon my language, “bullshit.” Their conversation happened as the Marin couple was running down a checklist of items that make one an acceptable conversation partner in their book: are you for or against Obama’s health care plan (against, because it’s useless without a public option); do you agree that health care in this country is a disaster, mostly thanks to Bush (of course); and so on and so forth and then lastly, “what about vaccines?”
“What about vaccines” has, for a certain segment of the population, become part of the knee-jerk rhetoric that marks whether you are or are not part of the educated liberal elite that’s progressed so far and so high that they’re actually above the need for medical intervention. At least if that medical intervention comes in the form of a vaccine, any vaccine, and particularly the H1N1 vaccine, which is considered “bullshit” because it, apparently, hasn’t been sufficiently tested and is more dangerous than the virus itself, according to articles like this one that cheerfully take entire paragraphs out of context (while helpfully linking to the original article), uses pseudo-science to terrify readers, and plumps up relatively obvious statements by health officials (e.g., “you should test vaccines before you use them,”) to make it sound as though those officials were in fact targeting the H1N1 vaccine itself as the harbinger of widespread death. Oh, and then there are the outright lies.
Here’s the deal. More than 30 years ago, 25 people died from an extremely rare side effect of a swine flu vaccination. So far, more than 100 children have died of swine flu, and more than 1,000 overall, in the United States alone. To put it mildly, we’re already trending ahead of that bad batch of vaccine that happened 30 years ago when science probably wasn’t quite as far along as it is now. Countless experts now say the vaccine is safe, and produced in the same way as the standard flu vaccine, a product that’s pretty well vouched for at this point.
I took my 2 and a half year old son in for a swine flu vaccination today (and I’ll get it myself once they’ve gotten all the kids and pregnant women — the ones most at risk — safely out of the way). I asked the doctor if she’d vaccinated her own children, ages 6 and 4. She said she had. She also said my son’s pediatric practice had three child patients in the hospital right now with “complications” from swine flu. Meaning, she said, “chest tubes.” That’s just in my town. On the other hand, I can’t find, and neither can anyone else, any confirmed cases of death or serious illness linked to the H1N1 vaccine thus far, anywhere in America.
And I wish I could say that anti-vaccine insanity was limited to just swine flu. It’s not, obviously. It’s just that irrational fear of the swine flu vaccine, considered by many health officials to be one of the most important tools in fighting off an increasingly dangerous and growing global pandemic, is the unfortunate culmination of a totally insane public conversation that’s been happening for years. Pediatricians and scientists are under attack for insisting that vaccines save lives (they do). Children with compromised immune systems are at risk from their classmates who haven’t been vaccinated against what should be, at this point, completely neutered diseases like measles, meningitis, and pertussis. Yet un-vaccinated kids are contracting, spreading, and even dying from those diseases at an alarming rate.
I don’t know how much more clearly to put it: that’s utterly ridiculous. There is ample science to show that vaccines save lives. Hundreds of millions of lives, people. There is zero hard data to show that they cause rampant autism, kill or cripple people in alarming numbers, or any of the other fear-based claims that are keeping people out of the doctors’ office. And I don’t have to, in the touchy-feely way of 21st-century America, “respect your beliefs” when your beliefs are not only utterly scientifically unfounded but also lethally dangerous!
This refusal to acknowledge human progress and scientific fact is a uniquely and bizarrely first-world problem, too. Wired points out that, “counterintuitively, higher rates of non-vaccination often correspond with higher levels of education and wealth.” It’s as though the Marin dwellers (where, unbelievably, non-vaccination rates are nearly 6 percent) and those like them have gotten so comfortable, so complacent, so alienated from the actual impact of widespread disease, that they feel they can reject the need for vaccination because they’ve never seen the effect of the lack of it. They haven’t actually had to see children contract first a fever, then a runny nose, then a full-body rash, then develop complications like blindness, encephalitis, and weakened immune systems that lead to choking and fatal pneumonia. And that’s just measles! Just think if we got to watch polio re-emerge! I haven’t seen that first-hand either, but to take one look at my child and imagine it happening to him is simply unacceptable.
Just because we don’t see the effects of widespread disease doesn’t mean we can stop believing they exist. This is not a subject for public debate. This isn’t a subjective topic. There is hard science and decades of evidence to prove that vaccines save lives and that refusing to get vaccines kills people. Period. So, yeah, you’d better believe my kid got a swine flu vaccine. For his life and the life of the kid next to him. You’re welcome.
Pretty good media tally for me on Windows 7 launch day (so far?)! Here’s the hit I did on CNBC:
And they quoted me like crazy in the news piece they did later, which was funny since I didn’t feel like I said anything much at all.
I was also on NPR’s Marketplace this morning, which was a personal thrill (I love that show). Listen to it here (click “Listen to the latest shows”). And I taped an interview with CBS News Radio this afternoon that you may or may not hear on your drive home.
And I apologize in advance if I’m inescapable today!
UPDATE: Wow, apologies to everyone who got spam from the RSS feed! I upgraded WordPress, and I hope that fixes it. What is that?
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal ran, as its top story in the weekend print edition, a piece about how Steve Jobs was still in charge of key decisions at Apple, and that story was re-worded and rebroadcast across the Web all weekend long. Well, let’s have a look a the first two paragraphs, emphasis mine:
More than three months into a medical leave from Apple Inc., Chief Executive Steve Jobs remains closely involved in key aspects of running the company, say people familiar with the matter.
Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook runs the day-to-day operations at Apple, these people say. But Mr. Jobs has continued to work on the company’s most important strategies and products from home, they say. He regularly reviews products and product plans, and was particularly involved in the user interface of the new iPhone operating system that Apple unveiled last month, these people say.
The story goes on in essentially that same vein. Mr. Jobs does not comment. A spokesman who is named says Steve Jobs “continues to look forward to returning to Apple at the end of June.” And then the story itself points out that Apple’s stock price tends to suffer when shareholders are feeling uncertain about whether Jobs is at the helm.
Hey, you know what happened today, the first Monday after the story appeared? Apple’s stock was up almost a full percent. Also today, analyst Shaw Wu raised his target price for Apple’s shares, three weeks after he publicly downplayed Apple’s stock potential. The rest of the major analysts followed suit, further helping to buoy the share price … and all of this happened a little over a week before Apple’s earnings report, scheduled for April 22. Handy.
Now, here’s what I know about Apple’s PR machine, having been on the receiving end of it off and on for nigh on 10 years now. It’s relentless, and it’s quick on the draw. This is a company that insists on a 90-minute phone briefing for editors who are going to be reviewing the Apple iLife suite. They’re so good at the overwhelming PR assault that their phone briefing talking points even show up in USA Today reviews and the like (it’s the line about how iPhoto’s face recognition technology is “still in its infancy” — a pretty convenient way of excusing any flaws the software might have). Apple PR will call you on the carpet for long, impassioned briefings if a reviewed product gets anything less than, say, an 8. They regularly ask reporters and reviewers to change ratings, change stories, and take down reviews and reports that they dislike. Ask any reporter who covers the company regularly: this is a well-oiled, aggressive PR machine and it will hammer and hammer and hammer and hammer in hopes that you’ll eventually say what it wants you to say.
So, look at this week’s news. If Shaw Wu took Apple stock off his “Focus List,” effectively declaring a vote of no confidence in it three weeks ago, you can bet that Apple’s PR machine hit the phones, and hit them hard. Suddenly, Wu is bullish on iPhone 3.0, the Snow Leopard launch, and â€œ[t]he potential for a new form factor, perhaps Appleâ€™s answer to the netbook, with a large screen iPod touch-Mac hybrid.â€ You think he’s just reading Mac Rumors? Other analysts are suddenly warming (again) to the potential of the iPhone App Store. And the Wall Street Journal just happens to get a couple of anonymous insiders to dish about how Steve Jobs is sitting at home in his own personal Apple Situation Room, pulling all the strings at the company (subtext: everything is fine). No. Come on. Apple insiders do not randomly dish.
It’s not a crime for a company to have a good PR machine. It’s working for Apple and it has for a long time. But this is a nation that is, at the moment, finding itself in quite a pickle because we blindly believed everything that companies were telling us. So, if we’re trying to be skeptical about, say, large financial institutions and their outlandish and/or reassuring claims, shouldn’t we also cast the same critical eye on a convenient flood of information that does little other than improve Apple’s stock price a week before they have to answer to angry and worried shareholders? Or, hey, maybe the Wall Street Journal just trying to boost the Nasdaq on purpose. You know, to help the economy.
Journalists are supposed to be watchdogs. Let’s watch some dogs, shall we?
I got to spend last weekend driving around in a 2009 Ford F-150, which I now really miss, so I could do a rare Car Tech video for CNET. It was awesome, Eli needs that truck, and I found a great new place to go horseback riding!
On my drive in to work tomorrow, I’ll be trying out this little doohickey:
Don’t immediately recognize it? Why, it’s a “charging adapter” for iPod and iPhone. What it does is take an iPod accessory that uses the dock connector that doesn’t work with your brand-new iPod, iPhone, or iPod Touch and turn it into an iPod accessory with a dock connector that does. Even though these dock connectors are physically identical and oh-so-standard and found everywhere and super universal to Apple products, you still need a $30 adapter just to make your old one charge your new iProduct. And even though this accessory will, for $30, turn the iPod dock connector on my 2004 BMW X3 into one that will recognize and charge my iPhone, it still won’t make it actually play music through my car stereo. It’ll only charge it — which, I concede, is better than the useless pile of nothing I currently enjoy.
So, if I need a $30 accessory to partially enable an old dock connector to act like a new dock connector, tell me again why Apple couldn’t sign on to the universal phone charger and reap the benefits from a whole new collection of $30 dock-to-mini-USB connectors? Suck it, Apple.
Warning: contains action-related spoilers.
Ok. The “Watchmen” movie includes all of the following scenes, and more: a man being beaten and thrown out of a skyscraper; dogs chewing on the leg-bone of a little girl who’s been raped, butchered, and murdered; the subsequent death of those dogs; a man’s skull split open multiple times with a cleaver; the point-blank shooting of a pregnant woman; the brutal beating and attempted rape of another woman; several people being burned alive; a man’s face melted by boiling-hot oil; a man’s arms severed with a circle saw so that he bleeds to death on the spot; innumerable head-shootings; and multiple people who are literally blown apart into bits, whereupon those bits splatter onto walls, bystanders, and hang, dripping, from ceiling grates. And yet, the most frequent complaint about “disturbing imagery” that I’ve heard leveled at this movie is that there are too many scenes of (un-erect) full-frontal male nudity involving a glowing blue cartoon character.
America? You are seriously messed up.
I’ve been following Jimmy Fallon on Twitter for several months now, and I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon developing (at least in my own mind). Jimmy Fallon on Twitter, as a marketing experiment, is totally working! Fallon and team reached out to the Web early and often as he prepared to take over “Late Night,” with online content and lots of honest, earnest Twittering. And now I really feel like he’s One Of Us — and I kind of want him to do well, and I kind of want to protect him from those who would tear him down. So, even though I watched the first “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” episodes, and they weren’t, you know, awesome … I find that I want to like them. And I get the sense that the Twitter community has been mostly (although probably not completely) supportive, and will keep supporting him as long as he keeps on being a regular dude on Twitter. And that could help the show, and that means that the whole crazy thing might just work!
I have the same generally warm feelings about Rick Sanchez from CNN, who basically re-tooled his entire show around online contributions in real-time, and who isn’t just a little bit in love with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh? I guess the point I’m getting at is this: we all know how the Internet often causes people to be really mean, but when the Internet actually personalizes people, I think it can also make us act a lot nicer. (I definitely found that once I started Twittering and interacting with people on Facebook and generally being a real part of the online community, people started being a lot nicer to me in public and in print, partly just because it’s humanizing to hear about someone’s day or see photos of their kid all the time.)
That’s where Fallon is winning. He seems kind of cool. You want to like him. On the other hand, if he debuted on “Late Night” as your average, one-step-removed famous person with a new show, no matter how lovable he was on SNL or in movies or whatever, we’d still shred the show. And it’d be even worse than when Conan O’Brien debuted on “Late Night” and kind of stunk it up, because this is the Internet age, and the Internet can be mean as hell. You have to win over the Internet, or it’ll be a whole lot worse and more unforgiving than it ever was to poor Conan. He survived his early, terrible episodes. Fallon, without a lot of blogging goodwill, might not. Echo chamber being what it is these days, it’s harder to overcome bad press.
But don’t go thinking that simply Twittering will make people like you more, famous people and big brands. Fallon, Sanchez, Tony, and other affection-inspiring Twitterers like MC Hammer, and Shaquille O’Neal are not necessarily the norm. Many of the Twittering celebs that are capturing media attention lately are banal, mostly just talking to other celebs, mainly bot-posted, or just kind of baffling. I think the lesson is simply that in these online communities, just like in life (all due respect to Arrington, here), you get back what you put in. The Twitter winners are interesting, genuine, and legitimately engaged in their communities, and that’s why we’re inspired to be nice to them when we get the chance. The less human the attempt at humanizing, the more likely it is to fail. Jimmy Fallon on Twitter is a successful experiment, at least so far, because it’s let a broader audience see, first-hand, that Jimmy Fallon seems like a good guy who says funny stuff. I guess in that way it just reinforces what we already know: people will be inclined to like you if you’re nice to them and you seem like a decent human being. I know. Shocker, right?