Blog: September 2016

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Not the customer experience I expected

There is an old joke that goes something like this:

A man in a helicopter has become lost in a heavy fog. He finds an office building and pulls up alongside a window. He leans out and asks the person inside "where am I?" (Yeah I know; office-building windows usually can't be opened. Work with me here.) The person inside says "you're in a helicopter 500 feet in the air". With this information the pilot is able to proceed directly to his invisible destination. When asked how that answer helped, he said "I got an answer that was completely true and utterly useless, so I knew I was outside the Microsoft customer-support building".

Microsoft is the traditional butt of that joke, but today I've had that experience with Apple, from whom I expected much better.

I got a new(er) refurbished Mac Mini this week (having given up waiting on Apple to update their product line; my 2009 Mini is showing its age). I plugged in the ethernet cable, booted it, and was greeted with a prompt to migrate data from my current Mac. Great! I've heard good things about that tool. So I went through the prompts to start, and just after the point of no return, it announced that this would take 16 hours. It had completely ignored the ethernet connection and was using wifi. (I should have been more suspicious that earlier in the start-up sequence it asked for a wifi password, but I figured they just always did that as a fallback. I don't remember setting up wifi on the other machine, but I guess I did.)

Everything I found on Google with my phone (you can't use either Mac while this is happening) said that aborting this is bad and you might have to reinstall the OS on the new machine. Since my new machine came with neither installation disks nor a CD/DVD drive, that was going to be tricky. The Apple store was by this point closed, so I tweeted to Apple support asking for guidance.

They responded pretty promptly (good) with a link to instructions about how to run the migration tool (bad). Here's what followed:

Me: Thanks, but that doesn't tell me how to recover from where I am. I plugged new mac into ethernet (old was already), booted, & followed prompt to start migrating. It ignored ethernet & used wifi. Looking at 16+ hours. Am I stuck or can I restart with ethernet not wifi?

Nine hours later:

Apple: The best way to be 100% sure it's using ethernet for migration is to disable Wi-Fi on both computers before starting the migration process.

I repeated that I had already started and asked if there was anything I could do now, as opposed to have done differently earlier. Their answer to that was that I could turn off the machines but I'd probably need to erase the new machine, so I should probably just let it run.

I'm disappointed that the migration tool (a) didn't use the ethernet connection and (b) didn't tell me it was going to use wifi (or give me the time estimate) and give me a chance to bail before it started. But I'm even more disappointed by responses from Apple that make me think nobody was actually reading my messages. Was I talking to a bot?

My past experiences with Apple support have been good. (Also rare, which is good for me but bad for data sampling.) I hope this experience is an anomaly.

Home from Europe

I've been away for a couple weeks (and thus haven't seen anything on LJ or DW); we spent a couple days in Barcelona and then a week in Rome and environs. I expect to post more later (including pictures, once I sort through them), but some short bits for now:

When we booked English-language tours we were not expecting them to actually be bilingual or trilingual. A guide repeating things in multiple languages has one of two effects: either not everybody hears everything, or the bits are small so there's time for all of them. We experienced some of each. I'm not sure how one looks for an English-only tour, but next time I'll know to look. (All of our experiences in this regard came from a single company, Green Line Tours in Rome.) Yes, I know how Anglo-centric this makes me sound, but I'm probably never going to be fluent in Spanish or French.

We took a small-group tour (eight people) of Barcelona. That worked very well. But the bigger surprise was our half-day trip to Montserrat; we didn't know what to expect or how interesting it would be, but our guide was very good, and when he gave us some free time he gave a good overview of options for spending that time and how long they should reasonably take. (For example: you can hike up to that point for a nice view and it should take about 15 minutes, and if you go another 10 minutes up to that other point you'll get an even nicer view.)

We saw the Pantheon on our last day in Rome. We almost didn't (we were getting tired), but we figured we'd seen all the other archaeological sites so we should see that one too. I was expecting a shell of a building, like the others. There's less inside the Colosseum than you think from the outside, and ditto the Forum. With the Pantheon, though, there's lots inside. Some of it is church do-overs of the original structure, but some original parts remain. Very impressive.

The church is everywhere. There was a pervasive assumption in the parts of Italy we visited that of course everybody is Christian (and probably Roman Catholic). One tour guide referred in passing to a synagogue (that we didn't get to see) as a "Jew church". I knew that Italy is a Christian country, but its implications were more extensive than I'd anticipated.

We went to Ostia Antica, which was described in one review as "Pompeii done right". We also went to Pompeii. Both were interesting. Ostia Antica did more with less; Pompeii is better-preserved but the tour was more shallow. (A different tour might of course go deeper.)

The hotels we stayed in had wardrobes or clothing racks but no drawers, and had no alarm clocks (or clocks at all). We were surprised.

The Vatican museum sure is big. You walk a while just to get there, and then a while longer to get from the ticket office to the actual entrance, and then a long while inside (and we didn't see anywhere near all of it), and then a while longer to get out... I think we walked five miles that morning.

I drank a beer in the Munich airport, but it was not a new Oktoberfest offering, just a weissbier. Oh well; at least I've had beer in Germany. :-)

Meals in Italy take at least an hour and a half. Universally, in our experience.

I've seen cab drivers in other countries claim the meter doesn't work, but I've never seen one outright lie about the fare before this trip. We saw the price on the meter right before a driver in Rome cleared it and told us a higher number. Sheesh.

Our flights were all fine. (Lufthansa, operated by United.) I was a little surprised not to go through passport control when going from Barcelona to Rome; sure, EU citizens can move freely, but I thought everybody else had to get stamped on the way in and out of each country. But no, my Spanish entry stamp and Italian exit stamp both have EU logos in them, and not having an Italian entry stamp was not a problem for getting out. Huh.

I had previously had a very good international-flight experience at Newark. This time, on the way back, it was hard to find where we needed to go. A little investment in better signage would pay big dividends.

New games

A friend brought some new games home from GenCon and brought them over this past weekend. We played each of these games once, for three players.

Mystic Vale is a deck-building game (like Dominion, for example), but instead of adding cards to your deck you augment cards. Your deck always has 20 cards, each of which has three "slots". Some are blank and some start with one slot filled. Slots produce resources, which you can use to buy overlays. Each card is in a plastic sleeve and each overlay is a transparent sheet of clear plastic with one of the three regions filled in; you slide the overlay into the sleeve to use it. On your turn you deal out some cards (the exact number varies), use the resources to buy overlays (or some other special cards), and then discard all those cards. You go through the deck a lot, gradually building up resources so you can buy better stuff. Some of the cards grant victory points, which is ultimately what matters.

The game is very pretty, and it's pretty in a non-invasive way. (I often find pretty games to be hard to play, because the art overruns the function.) I think our game was about an hour, though the next one would be faster because we were learning. I liked this game a lot and would gladly play it in preference to Dominion; Dani thought it was ok and much prefers Dominion.

Next up were two quick games from Perplext. These are tiny games with few moving parts; they're designed to fit in a pocket and be playable, for example, on a table at a restaurant while you're waiting for your food. In one game, Gem, you bid to buy cards with gems on them, which you can use to buy more cards; goal is to corner the market on particular gem types. There are six gem types in the game; you get points for having the most of any type, and one point for each gem you have at all. It's a lightweight auction game that calls for some planning and strategizing. I'd like to play this one again, too.

The other Perplext game was Bus. You lay out a (randomized) grid of city streets with some bus stops and some destinations (color-coded). At bus stops you can pick up fares, which you score when you deliver them. A fare card has a point value and a speed limit and they tend to add up to the same number -- so the more benefit you get from a delivery, the slower you'll move to do it. There was one usability problem with this game: the red and pink passengers/destinations were quite difficult to distinguish from each other. It was a cute game but not one I'd seek out again.

Somewhere in there we also introduced our friend to Roll Through the Ages: think Advanced Civilization distilled down to a dice game and abstract commodities and improvements, playable in about 20 minutes.

The last game we played, and a clear winner for all of us, was Fantahzee. The similarity of that name to "Yahtzee" is quite intentional. Players are defending a town that's under attack by an army of monsters; on your turn you can play heroes from your hand, then (try to) activate them this round, then attack monsters. If you don't kill the lead monster you lose part of the town (negative points to you). You get victory points for killed monsters.

The activation is dice-based. Each hero has an activation cost represented in die rolls -- "4", or "2 of a kind", or "1 2 3", and so on. The powerful ones are harder to get. You start with five dice and get up to three rolls; after each roll you can allocate any dice you want to activate heroes and then reroll the rest. Some of the heros, once activated, grant you extra dice or extra rolls, which is essential. Many of them have other special abilities, like extra defense. There's a lot of randomness, but you also need to plan your party of adventurer heros to balance between power and ability to actually activate. I think this one took about an hour.