September 2007

So, I bought an iPhone. Setup was a dream, etc., etc. It took all of two minutes to activate it. Activating it through iTunes was a little weird – a little too tunnel-of-brand-identity for me – but whatever. The first time it synced it warned me that it was on version 1.0 of its firmware and to upgrade to 1.0.2 and doing so was a breeze. The interface is perfect, selecting what to sync was super-simple, using it with Wi-Fi is fantastic. I was an instant addict. I was already an AT&T customer so I already knew how my signal is. Where I am, the signal is great. No problem. No change there; if anything the iPhone gets better reception than my RAZR did.

Now, the problem: it wouldn’t receive calls. It would make them, sure, but the phone just would not ring. If I woke it up to look at it then it would say, hey! You missed some calls! At first I wasn’t sure I minded that, to be honest, but what if The Boyf needed to reach me in an emergency and what if if if, etc., so I called the AT&T store on Wednesday after having run some tests on it. Deadblob and Jos had listened to me bitch about this for some time and we’d read about it online and I wasn’t the only person with this problem. None of the suggested fixes seemed to work and so, it appeared, I had a dud iPhone.

I called the AT&T store to explain this to them and find out about doing an exchange. They cut me off immediately, put me on hold for a while and then came back and said I’d need to call the Apple store.

Fine, whatever.

I call the Apple store and the guy (a) listens to me and then (b) says, “OK, you just need to make an appointment with the Genius Bar and we’ll do an exchange. The AT&T store could do this for you, but they never do.” Point for Apple! They listened and they slagged on AT&T right out of the gate. As a former employee of Ma Bell, I can appreciate this.

Long story short, the Apple store did an exchange for me and tested the new one with me. It took – maybe at the outside – ten minutes to get everything taken care of and walk out with a new, activated, working phone.

So, I have mixed feelings. I’m not terribly surprised that the customer service experience at AT&T was less than stellar. Not terribly surprised at all. I’m not terribly surprised that the Apple store would just fix the problem without any hassle and stick around to make sure I was happy. It didn’t especially surprise me that I got a dud, either, to be absolutely honest; no technology is 100%. What did surprise me was the honest frustration with AT&T exhibited by every single Apple store employee with whom I spoke. What did surprise me is that the phone the AT&T store sold me was from launch. That 1.0 firmware? Yeah. I guess they really haven’t sold as well as hoped if the AT&T store at South Square is still sitting on launch-day inventory.

On the one hand, despite five of the seven days I’ve had an iPhone being filled with technical problems – the night before I exchanged it the phone also stopped syncing and stopped being capable of setting its clock correctly, coming up with random-ass times completely on its own – I wouldn’t go back to my RAZR for anything short of a small fortune. On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend anyone pin much in the way of hopes and dreams to the iPhone. It’s awesome to use. I love mine. I also know that I’m not the only person who’s had the problems I’ve had and that the only reason I had any success getting my problems dealt with is that I live five minutes from an Apple store.

I’m currently halfway through the third book in the series. I said earlier that I had found the character of Harry Dresden to be a little thick but here’s what I think now: he’s a blithering idiot. He does things – magical things, stupid magical things – while out fighting monsters that I wouldn’t do in a prayer circle. He also is a little slow on the uptake regarding some of the more salient points of the mysteries he investigates.

That said, I do really, really like him as a character. I like him so much that I actively wish he were smarter. Chandler created Marlowe as something of a sad sack but a competent sad sack. I would like to see a little more day-to-day competence from Dresden. If he’s one of the best wizards of his generation then gods almighty but I’d love to play game of Trivial Pursuit with these people and have some money riding on the outcome.

All snark aside, I like the third book a lot more than the first two. I think the author needed to shake some bugs out of his writing and his story-world in the first two. I feel like he’s making progress with that by book three. Given that there are, what, nine? of these things, I’m figuring he’s got it mostly worked out by now.

I have also been mulling over the Harry Potter series, as I wrapped up Deathly Hallows a couple of weeks ago. I still am not quite sure what I think of it. Glad I read it? Yes. Satisfied with the outcome? Mostly. Do I like the fade-out-fade-in epilogue? Yes, actually. Do I still loathe Dumbledore? Yes and no. Do I like Harry? Yes but not like like. Do I like the whole series? Not sure. Do I hate Snape? Yes, terribly, and a part of me realizes that it’s because I had days when I was the greasy weasel of a kid that could have turned into that guy (though mostly I still identify with Lupin). Is it impossible, at 32, to identify at all with the kids? Sadly, yes.

It was a bit overwhelming to plow through that many thousands of pages in short order, just one right after the other, non-stop. I think that may have made it harder for me to process my reactions into lengthier statements for now.

Thought #1:

I bought an iPhone yesterday. My much-loved RAZR v3xx up and died on me. I mean died. They told me it was going to take a warranty return to get a new one and that Motorola would mail me a new phone and I said to hell with it and got this. It is pretty ridiculously awesome.

Thought #2:

I am enjoying the Harry Dresden novels, which I’m currently reading, but Harry isn’t exactly the sharpest tack in the box. Still, it has the best description of magic that I’ve seen in pretty much any book. I dig.

Thought #3:

It occurs to me to wonder whether the relationship our society has with geeks, with people who really understand technology and are frequently called upon to correct or repair it, could be compared to the relationships of tribal societies to their shamans. I don’t know enough about traditional shamanism in various cultures to know if that’s a valid thought, though. I’ve read plenty of “modern shaman” books of theory but done nearly zero real scholarship of shamanism in the world. Still that angle of the geek being the outcast to be held in slight, continual suspicion as almost dangerously Other while being a vital healer and visionary and working to intercede to heal the rifts between the population at large and the world of almost-spirit which technology inhabits might be a useful angle to consider. If it’s true that society treats geeks in the way shamanistic societies have treated those healers then what does it say about our own culture’s latent animism and the human tendency to turn things into entities?

Thought #4:

I would really like to see a true-to-text film adaptation of The Long Goodbye with Vince Vaughn playing Marlowe.

This post is going to stand a chance only with those people who have gamed with me and even then most likely only the half-dozen or so folks from one specific game. Take that, general public.

This weekend I wrote the background for my next D&D character, Jonathan Vaz. For folks who knew him, this is the adopted human brother of my old character, Leeritan Vaz. I’ve retooled and fleshed out some of his back story and come up with a way for Jonathan to turn out to be a Tiefling. I know, I know, but here is the thing: I am addicted to playing enormous freaks.

If for some reason you don’t know anything about Faerun or Thay or Tieflings and you’re still reading, a brief primer: Thay is a nation ruled by aggressive and malicious wizards who worship Kossuth, the god of fire. They are continually trying to invade everyone around them. Lee and the rest of the gang (Dyson, Trover, Pele, El, Abdul, etc.) were in Thay to rescue El and Pele and in the process rescued two “human” street urchins. As an act of contrition for using fire magic (Lee is a druid of Meilikki), Lee took them to be adopted by his parents and give them a better life in Amn. Lee’s parents live in Athkatla, the capital of Amn, a city in which arcane magic is borderline taboo due to a long history of evil wizards trying to blow up the place. If you’ve played Baldur’s Gate II then you’ve spent a lot of time in Athkatla, actually.

In considering Jonathan as a character, I couldn’t decide whether Jonathan was going to be a Warlock or a Hexblade. Eventually I decided he’s to be a Hexblade (with a few Rogue levels as they make everything tastier) because I have spent years wanting to play a Hexblade and his sister will be the Warlock. That makes his incredibly kind, good-natured elven parents, who really are just ordinary merchants living in a human city, the proud parents of a sarcastic and destructive Druid/Rogue (Leeritan), a tiefling Hexblade/Rogue (Jonathan) and a tiefling Warlock/Rogue.

This is a family that has one very interesting Midwinter feast when they all get together.