Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another year gone

Brief, and to the point — a year of ups and a few downs, not too unlike previous years.

It's time to focus on the positive things in life, no matter how insignificant you think they might be. As the saying goes, "It could always be worse", and if you take a moment to look around, you'll see that it's true.

Happy New Year to all of my friends and family, wherever you may be. If you're out partying tonight, play safe so you can contribute to the ups of 2012.

Keep the party alive, don't drink and drive!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

iCaved for an iPhone

My cell phone contract was due for renewal in January. My wife's has been expired for a year or two, but she had been waiting for mine to expire in case we could get some kind of deal.

She had been wanting a smart phone for a while. I had one for 3 years, and HTC Touch Diamond, that I've been cursing at for 2 years. I swore I'd never get another touch-screen phone. They're fun for anything but using as a phone. As a phone, they're slow and awkward. Or at least mine was. Probably because it was using an older Windows Mobile as the operating system.

I looked around at some Android options. The touch-screen/keypad combos. I was leaning heavily to those that were free with a contract. Nothing really stood out with my carrier, Telus.

I've always thought that Apple products were overpriced, so the iPhone wasn't even a consideration. At first. But I have an iPod Nano that I won years ago, and I use iTunes to sync my music. If I had an iPhone, I could use it for my music, and as a phone, and to run some apps that I couldn't find on the Android. But it was a touch-screen only phone. And it was by Apple. And it wasn't free.

The upgrade price for a 16GB iPhone 4S was $160, and if I got one, I'd have to get my wife the same. It only made sense to not have to learn two phones to do stuff. I could go for the 4 or the 3GS which were cheaper and also free, but considering the phone would have to last at least 3 years for us, it didn't make sense to get the older technology. I suppose the 4S will be at least two versions old by the end of a 3 year contract.

I Tweeted questions out on the net to see what owners of iPhones had to say about their phone. What they liked and disliked about it. What the battery life was like. Everyone liked their phone and didn't really have anything negative to say about them.

After a little debate with my wife over pros and cons, we decided that we'd get the iPhone 4S. It wasn't free, but it did do everything we wanted it to do and that's imporant when you're "stuck" with it for 3 years. She has always leaned toward a Blackberry because many of her friends have or had one, but I don't think it mattered too much since I was paying for them. :)

I did a little web researching and found that the 3 big carriers, Telus, Rogers, and Bell all offer pretty much the same things at the same prices. Whatever happened to competition?

My wife called up Telus last Friday to see what kind of deal we could get to stay with them, over switching to the competition. We've been with Telus since they were ClearNet (14-15 years?) and we've never really had much trouble with them.

As soon as she explained to the rep why she was calling, she was transferred to someone who could make it happen. Without any trouble at all, she got them to throw in Call Display, Free Evenings and Weekends (after 6pm instead of 9pm), and waive the $25 activation fee. Plus, without any hassle, she got them to add that to my account as well to save me a call. She then called the Telus store at the St. Laurent Shopping Centre to make sure they had a white and a black iPhone 4S in stock. They did, and they put them aside for us.

We stopped by there later that evening and I have to say it was a very pleasant experience.

We were greeted almost immediately when we arrived. My wife explained why we were there and the rep went to find the person my wife spoke with on the phone, Mohamed. Minutes later, he came out from the back with both phones on-hand and escorted us to a quieter area at the back of the store to assist us.

While we were talking with him, my wife asked about the $50 accessory credit that the store offered for new phone purchases. He explained that it was only for new customers, but suggested that we could always call Telus and see if they'd offer us a similar credit. While he processed the paper work, my wife called them on her cell phone. Oddly enough, she spent more time on hold with this particular call than she did when she called from home.

While she was on hold, Mohamed explained the AppleCare Protection Plan. It was around $80, per phone, but gave us coverage for 2 years and a one-time replacement if the screen got broken. That was my biggest fear with the iPhone. I had dropped my old HTC two or three times in the past, and it survived, but the iPhone is glass. We agreed to buy the two plans and after the fact, Mohamed said he'd knock 20% off each one of those as well. Who discounts something after you agree to buy it? :)

My wife finally got through to someone on the phone and Telus said they couldn't give us an additional credit for the "accessories" since we already got credited for some things. Not a huge deal because Mohamed had already said he'd discount accessories 20% for us which was better than nothing.

In the end, we got the two phones, two AppleCare plans and two Otterbox cases. And he also put two additional reusable Telus shopping bags into our bag for fun. All in all, a very enjoyable experience. Mohamed wasn't pushy. It never once felt like he was trying to sell us something we didn't want. He was friendly and joked with our daughter while we waited. Above all, he was patient with us, answering every question we had, and didn't seem to mind waiting while my wife was on the phone with Telus to try and get us the accessory credit. He even spent time showing us the basics of using our new phones.

Yeh, we spent way more than we had originally planned, and it is touch-screen only, which I swore I'd never buy, but after a few days of playing with this phone and the 57 apps I've installed on it :) I'd have to say that it is worth it. The touch-screen does take a little getting used to, but it works way better than my old HTC Touch Diamond.

Kudos to Telus and their store reps, in particular Mohamed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tech Support, the Ubisoft way

As you can see in my previous postings, I love Rocksmith.

However, Ubisoft's technical support leaves a lot to be desired.

I posted a problem in a message thread in their support forum. They have a "sticky" thread there titled: "Rocksmith Official Bugs and Issues Thread". The "forum manager" made the first post, saying:

Please post all bugs, repeatable crashes and any major game play issues in this thread. Do not make new threads since this can result in your problem getting lost and the Topic getting closed.

This is not a means of Direct support but a means to collaborate all issues. You should also report any bugs or glitches directly to Ubisoft Support. The direct link is in my Signature.

Thank you for taking the time to report any issues.

Toward the end of the very lengthy thread, they advised users to submit support tickets for their issues.

I did that, on December 4:

I am unable to pick Tone Slot 2 in the Amp. When I tap the directional pad or left stick on my Xbox controller, it skips Tone Slot 2 and goes straight to Tone Slot 3. So I try to go back and it skips 2 and goes to Tone Slot 1. I thought it was my controller, but if it were the controller, you would think that it would go past Tone Slot 3 to the guitar picker... or it would skip past songs when trying to choose one. I also tried another controller just in case and it does the same.

I posted this same problem in your forum and it appears that others have the same problem. I'd love to see this fixed in an upcoming patch as it makes this feature somewhat useless.

As you can see, it has nothing to do with my guitar or playing the guitar. It has to do with selecting an option in the game's menu.

I first received an auto-response from the support system with various links to commonly asked questions (aka FAQs)

The next day, I recieved what I believe to be a human response from a rep:

Hello Scott,

Please follow the instructions in the following FAQ for assistance with this configuration issue: http://ubisoft.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/15549

I'll save you a click and tell you that their suggested solution explains how to adjust my guitar's intonation. This is completely unrelated to my problem. Not to mention it could result in me messing something up with my guitar. The issue was also closed as "resolved".

I reopened it with this response:

Your suggested solution has absolutely nothing to do with the problem I reported. In fact, my problem has nothing to do with actually playing the instrument. The problem is with selecting an option in the game's menu, using the game controller. Please re-read the problem that I reported and perhaps try it yourself. Like I said, it has nothing to do with the guitar.

A couple of days later, they closed the incident as resolved, without explanation.

That's right around the time a new thread started in the Ubisoft forum, titled WTF kind of answer is this Ubisoft support criticizing the response that someone else had received. I replied with my experience. The Ubisoft Forum Manager replied, telling me to re-open my incident if it wasn't resolved, and they explained that the first response may be a simple FAQ. Why there's a need for multiple FAQ responses is still a mystery.

So I did, with a strong suspicion that it would be closed again within days, without a response. I sent:

This problem is not solved.

It was closed a day or two later.

I posted an update. The topic died off after a few people responded to my update.

Yesterday I decided to re-open my incident. It irks me that some companies feel it's ok to treat their customers like this. I used to work in tech support and this was never acceptable. I sent the following message:

I don't know why you keep closing this. Closed means resolved, and as you can see, there is no resolution posted by you in this incident.

Surprisingly, I received a response the same day.

Hello Scott,

Please follow the instructions in the following FAQ for assistance with this configuration issue: http://ubisoft.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/15549

Deja vu? It's the exact same thing that they sent me the first time.

I responded with:

Is this a joke? You can't be serious. Did you even read what my problem was? Or read the reply I made when you first suggested this same "solution" which is completely unrelated to my problem?

My problem is NOT a configuration issue. If you feel so strongly that this is a solution to my problem, can you please explain to me how adjusting the intonation of my guitar affects TRYING TO SELECT AN OPTION in the game with a game controller.

Thank you.

I couldn't hold back. I posted a complete summary in their forum with an admittedly sarcastic  ending:

I have a sneaking suspicion that the link they sent me is also the solution to world hunger.

Within a couple of hours, I received a private message from someone whom I assume is directly involved with the development of Rocksmith, apologizing for the lack of response from support and reassuring me that my problem was a rare issue related to DLC and said that it would be fixed in the upcoming patch.

I thanked them for the reply.

Now when I posted my "summary", I admit that I did do a faux pas, and named the rep in my posting. Only their first name, and to be honest, I'd be extremely surprised if it was their real name.

The Forum Manager didn't like that, and edited my message and the replies of a couple of other people. They also posted:

Like I have stated previously, the first reply may be a simple FAQ. If your question has not been solved there may not be a solution to your Ticket. Even if the answer is not to your satisfaction, the details have been logged and if others report the same situation a fix is more likely.

Trying to call out Ubisoft Staff whether it be Forum or Support will only lead to further action.

Can you please PM me your Incident Ticket number?
Thanks

Here is my entire reply to that:

First, I apologize for naming the rep, there was no intent to "call them out". I was simply putting a name to the "bizarre" responses I received.

Secondly, what purpose does sending a completely unrelated FAQ response serve, AFTER the support system has already sent an auto-response with links to FAQs? That's rather pointless, don't you think? The only thing it does is make the company look like they don't care about the customer.

I worked in software technical supprot for 6-7 years and we used the same support system that Ubisoft uses, so I know how the back end works. I know the real reason why they close them off, but I won't get into that.

If there was no answer to my problem, then they should be straight forward and say so and at the very least reassure me that the issue was forwarded to their engineers. The incident should not simply be closed with the hopes that I'll just go away.

Having said that, I did receive a private response from someone at Ubisoft (or from Rocksmith) shortly after I posted my message, apologizing for the trouble and they reassured me that my problem is a rare issue somewhat related to DLC and will be fixed in the upcoming patch. I thanked them for their assistance.

That is how support should work and if it did work like that, this entire message thread wouldn't even exist and you wouldn't have to threaten your customers with further action for being rightfully upset.

If you still want the incident number, feel free to PM me, otherwise I no longer need a response as I did get one from someone who cared enough to give me one.

I wasn't sure if I should post that because I thought it might touch a nerve, but thankfully it didn't. I received this response from the Forum Manager within the hour:

We do care and I understand your frustrations. This is why I asked for you Ticket number. I still have to uphold the rules though.

I am glad you were contacted about your issue and given an answer. Please let us know if you are still affected after the patch release.

Seriously, Ubisoft, you have to do something to improve your technical support. Why couldn't I have received an answer the first time I submitted the support ticket? Surely, your first level tech support people must have some kind of escalation route for problems that they can't resolve or at least provide some assistance for?

I suppose it could be worse — I could be a PS3 user. The PS3 version appears to be plagued with problems. There are endless reports of crashes and lost progress.

This is the second Ubisoft game that I've had a poor technical support experience with. My patience is wearing thing, Ubisoft.

 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ford doesn't believe in preventative maintenance?

A couple of months ago we took our 2008 Ford Escape to the dealership to get some front end repairs done under the extended warranty. In that same visit, we reported another problem where it felt like either the brakes were slipping, or the automatic transmission wasn't dropping down a gear when braking. It's hard to describe unless you actually feel it happen.

Anyway, the front end work was done and the second problem could not be reproduced. Admittedly, it was somewhat intermittent. Our extended warranty repair cost us $100 deductible.

Over the last few weeks, the ABS light and traction control lights were coming on, and staying on for anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour.

My wife made an appointment with our Ford Dealership for last Friday and brought it in. I did a little searching on the web and found that this is actually a fairly common problem with the Ford Escape. Nearly all of the posts that mentioned this problem said it was due to a cracked "tone ring". 58,500 hits when searching for "Ford Escape" and "tone ring".

Sure enough, one of the tone rings was cracked. They replaced the tone ring and the ABS sensor. This visit also cost us $100 (plus other charges for an oil change that we had done in the same visit)

During my internet search, I found one posting that said if you experience a slipping feeling while braking, it was likely due to a cracked tone ring.

That got me wondering if the tone ring replacement might also fix the other problem that we reported.

In the last two days of driving since it was replaced, we have not experienced any of the "slipping". I'm very confident in saying that the tone replacement did in fact fix it.

Now, I'm a little disappointed that this could have been fixed in the first visit, saving us the $100 deductible. But, seeing as how it was somewhat intermittent, I guess that could be excusible.

However, there are two tone rings and only one was replaced. It was explained to my wife, when she asked if both were replaced, that they could only replace one because they have to send the damaged part back to Ford. Since the other is not (yet?) cracked, they couldn't replace it.

That's a bit upsetting. The fact that this problem seems so common, it's probably safe to assume that the other will eventually crack. If it happens while our extended warranty is still valid (until August) it will cost us another $100 deductible. If we're not lucky and it cracks after the warranty is up, who knows what it'll cost us?

Some say that they were told the entire front axle needed replaced at the same time, costing them $500-$600 for the repair.

It would have been nice if Ford and/or the dealership were a little proactive in preventing a future visit and expense.