Archive for February, 2008

Spectrum Brands – Investing in customer satisfaction

No, Spectrum Brands isn’t a company that sells the newest, fastest router around. They are a common consumer products company. You probably know them by one of their many brand names. In my case, Remington. Not the gun company, but the shaver company.

Normally, I try to steer clear of non-I.T. related posts, but there is a tie-in at the bottom of this post, so I’m going with it.

A little over a year ago, I got a Remington shaver for Christmas. It’s one of the new styles that is “self cleaning”. A few days ago, it developed a problem with the base. The base unit was placed in the corner of my bathroom, moved only to change the filter and add cleaning fluid once every few months. I can not recall any time that it had ever been dropped, knocked over, or otherwise mishandled. Since it was just over a year old, I went to the Remington website and filled out their customer service form, explaining my issue in great detail. I thought that if I was lucky they might replace the part that was now a problem.

Days passed with no reply. Just yesterday, I thought about the situation and decided that the brand of shaver I’m getting to replace this Remington will probably be a Norelco.

Today, I arrived home to see a small box on my front step. I opened it, and behold, I now definitely know the brand of the next shaver I’m most likely to buy. Remington! Inside the small box was a brand new retail package of the model shaver that I have. Not just the individual part that I was having a problem with, but the entire retail package.

I was shocked. I expected an email reply stating that the warranty period had expired, or that this type of problem hadn’t been reported previously, or something along those lines. At best, I thought they might send me a new part. But a whole new complete product? Wow!

The “investment” that Spectrum Brands made in customer satisfaction in my case will probably pay off for them. Knowing their commitment to their customers, I’ll probably end up buying their highest-end product next time I need a new shaver.

Now, how does this relate to the I.T. field? Easy. I frequently deal with I.T. companies that wouldn’t know good customer service if it bit them on the bum. I.T. is terrible about customer satisfaction. Want to buy hardware off of ebay to use in your business? Chances are the hardware vendor (Cisco?) may have a provision in the software license that prevents the license from being sold. So, even though you may legally get the hardware, you can’t legally run the software without paying for a new software license. Some are even worse, requiring you to get a new license key when you change IP Addressing or such (as you would when you buy a new device off of ebay). And what happens when they End-Of-Life a product licensed in this way? Forget getting any new license keys! That $200,000 box is now a paper weight. You must buy a whole new box to do the job.

In my company’s situation, F5 is cutting their own throat. We need to expand our current load-balancing solution to handle our business continuity plan. (How our business will keep running if there is a fire, flood, etc. at our headquarters location.) The F5 hardware we have is End-of-Lifed, so we can’t buy any more from them. We could buy some used from ebay, but F5 won’t issue us new keys since it’s an EOL product (and I think they would want the software re-licensed anyhow).

If F5 were more like Spectrum Brands, they would work with us. Since we are looking for hardware that we’d only ever use in an absolute emergency, why not let us buy some used hardware and transfer our other licenses over to it if we ever need to use it? If only one is in use at a time, what does it matter? Heck, if they offered special “Business Recovery” licenses that were significantly discounted and limited in terms of how much traffic they’d pass per second (able to be quickly upgraded to full licenses in an actual emergency), we jump on it. So far, all they are offering us is huge price tags for their latest hardware. If they were smart, they’d take care of us now, and when it was time to upgrade, we wouldn’t even think of going with anyone else. Since they’ve been so inflexible about this, we are now looking to come up with a completely different solution that doesn’t involve their hardware/software at all.

February 28, 2008 at 9:15 pm Leave a comment

Health and Exercise

This post isn’t directly related to I.T. but I imagine that it’s a problem that most I.T. workers have at some time during their career, what with the relatively sedentary job.  As such, I figure it’s fair game for my blog.

Over the last few years I’ve, well, let’s say that I’ve gone on the typical male diet plan:  Bought bigger pants when the current ones have gotten tight…

Back a few months ago I weighed myself for the first time in quite a while and found that I was closing in on 200 lbs.  This was a big surprise to me, as I thought I was in the low to mid 180’s.  I tried the “head-in-the-sand” routine, trying to ignore the problem until this past week.  I weighed myself a few days ago and was happily suprised that I had actually lost a bit of weight, down to about 192.

At the same time, I had my blood pressure taken and found that it was about 142 over 93, or just barely into what is called “Stage 1 Hypertension”.  I’ve read a bit on the subject and found that regular exercise is supposed to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol (another issue I have).

So, I’ve decided that I will exercise.  My exercise of choice?  A stationary bike.  I picked one up today from BJ’s Wholesale after looking at a range of bikes starting at around $199 (Rickety!) all the way up to about the $549 level.  The one I selected was middle-of-the-road price-wise at $379.  It’s the ProForm 5.0R.  I also plan to record how I’m doing so that I can see my progress.  Having small goals that I continuously set for myself should help me to keep it up.

Now, before I made this purchase, I thought a good bit about it.  Knowing that I don’t have a whole lot of time each week to devote to this, I wanted to insert it as an activity that I’ll perform while doing something I already do.  Initially, I wanted to be able to use a computer while biking, but that is very impractical, especially since I don’t have a laptop computer, or even an iPhone.  After some more thought, I realized what I think is the best time for me to squeeze in some exercise:  While watching TV with my wife.  Typically, we watch TV together just about every night for probably an hour or two.  I figure that if I can exercise while watching each night, I can get my endurance up, then slowly increase the resistance to ratchet up my workout.

I’ve read that when starting a regular exercise regiment you may see an effect on your blood pressure in as little as three weeks, so I’ll try to post back here to let you know how I’ve progressed, though I probably won’t check into it quite that soon.  (If I don’t see an improvement, it might discourage me.)  From my reading, it can be pretty dramatic in the long run (6 months), so here’s hoping that I can lose some weight and get in better shape.   Heck – Maybe I’ll get back into my 32’s again!

February 23, 2008 at 12:38 am 2 comments

SpeedDownload 4 Mini Review

Way back in January, I purchased the MacHeist II bundle, which included SpeedDownload 4, an app from Yazsoft.

SD4 appears to be a decent application.  I’ve actually used it now for about a month and it is nice.  I can’t say for sure that it has actually increased the speed of my downloads, but I do really like the organizational features whereby it will place apps in an “Applications” folder, likewise with Documents, Images, Music, and Video (all beneath your Download folder, by default).  You can even add your own rules to place other file types together based on file extension.  I also like the fact that it shows on the dock icon when you have downloads or uploads in progress.  I don’t particularly like it taking up space in the Dock, though.  If it ran on the menu bar near Spotlight’s icon, that would be preferable.

It does enable you to download from multiple servers at the same time (if you download from FTP servers, for example), which would likely increase the speed significantly.  You can also throttle your downloads, so that your downloads won’t take up your entire pipe.  This is useful if you are using VoIP, or just don’t want downloading to take up a majority of your bandwidth so your surfing won’t be slowed down.

If you download lots of music, Speed Download has iTunes integration, so your newly downloaded tunes are automatically added and ready to go.  Music isn’t really my cup of tea, though, so I didn’t get any use out of this feature.

As odd as it sounds for an application called “SpeedDownload”, it even lets you upload, so one could theoretically use it as an FTP client (though I’ve not tried using it in this capacity).

It has a ton of other options, letting you customize things way beyond things the typical user probably has a need for.  If you are a real power user, you will probably enjoy the flexibility it allows.

On the down side, I consider Speed Download to be more of a “luxury” application and not an something that the vast majority of users genuinely need.  (Unless you are on dial-up.  In that case, a download manager of some kind is practically a MUST.  Ever tried doing a software update of Mac OS X on a flaky dial-up line without one????  Talk about frustration!)

Having said a lot of positive things about the application itself, I would personally suggest that anyone looking for a download manager keep looking.  This software product is put out by Yazsoft, a company that seems to be all about the dollar and not about building and keeping customer satisfaction.  See my previous entry if you are interested in why I have this opinion.

If that doesn’t scare you away, though, and you are in need of a decent download manager, SpeedDownload may just be for you.

February 20, 2008 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

MacHeist II and Yazsoft

This special RANT edition of “Jack of All I.T.” is brought to you by Yazsoft, makers of Speed Download 5.

As I have mentioned in at least one of my previous posts, I bought the MacHeist II bundle back in January this year.  One of the main things that I liked about it was that this year all the licenses were considered “normal” licenses, not the non-upgradable licenses like with the original MacHeist.

Now, this was actually a big factor in my decision to purchase the bundle.  I almost purchased the original MacHeist bundle, but didn’t for this reason, even though I really wanted it for TextMate.  After weighing my options, I felt it would be a wiser investment to just get a license of TextMate directly from the developer.

I am not naive, of course.  I knew that major updates would require a paid fee, but thought that as long as my license is treated just like any other licensed user, all was well.  So, if someone did come out with a new major version of their software within weeks of the MacHeist ending, I expected to be under the same rules as anyone who purchased a “normal” license in the same timeframe.  Usually companies give free major upgrades to people who buy within a month or so of the release of the major upgrade. Feeling safe with the knowledge that my investment in this software wouldn’t be out of date for at least several months, I bought the MacHeist II bundle.

Low and behold…  On Feb. 12th, Yazsoft released Speed Download 5.  On MacNN.com’s news item it states this:

“New users can purchase Speed Download 5 for $25, while users who bought v.4.x between January 1st, 2008 and February 12th, 2008 may upgrade for free.”

Great!  Since I bought it through MacHeist in January, I’m golden, right?

Wrong!  It turns out that Yazsoft has a different definition of “normal” when it comes to their licenses than the average person.   I read elsewhere that they consider this to be a “normal promo” license, not a “normal…  uhhh.. normal” license.  (Don’t recall where I read that, but I can’t take credit.)  Users who purchased through MH2 have to pay $15 to upgrade to SD5.

The bottom line is that Yazsoft used MacHeist to get a ton of exposure for Speed Download 4 knowing that they were just about to release Speed Download 5.  I’d even be willing to bet money that SD5 was feature complete and in final testing during MacHeist II.  Yazsoft simply used MacHeist as cheap publicity, knowing that a certain percentage of users would probably upgrade to the latest version.  Heck, I wouldn’t even be surprised if SD5 was 100% complete and out of beta testing throughout MacHeist and they just held onto it until Feb 12th so it would look as bad to people who bought through MacHeist II.If Yazsoft were my company, I would have done one of two things:

1. Assuming I was honorable, I’d honored the MH2 licenses just as other normal licenses, giving a free update
or
2. Assuming I just wanted to try to get a pile of cash, I would have waited until about mid-March to release SD5, and had the free upgrade time for recent purchases go from February 1 and later.

Either way, the bottom line would have been that a license purchased through MH2 would have been exactly the same as one purchased by an end-user directly.  Treating MH2 licenses as a sort of “second class” license is just wrong, since they were billed as “normal” licenses.

One may argue that the support costs for Yazsoft increased as a result of the 43,815 new customers gained through MH2, but guess what?  It was their decision to take part of MH2.  They should step up to the plate and give all MH2 customers a free upgrade and refund all MH2 customers who paid for the upgrade.

My suggestion to the MacHeist folks?  In the future, get a contract in writing with all companies you bundle products for that explicitly states that licenses purchased through MacHeist have the same rights as licenses purchased directly from the developers during the month of the MacHeist sale.

My suggestion to the end user who didn’t get the license they paid for?  Use another app from the MH2 bundle…  Which one?  Why, AppZapper, of course!

This concludes this special RANT edition of “Jack of All I.T.” is brought to you by Yazsoft, makers of Speed Download 5.

February 20, 2008 at 10:51 pm Leave a comment

1Password – Who really needs this, right?

1Password is an application looking for a problem.  I mean, who really needs a password manager, right?  That’s what I used to think.

Last month, it was part of the MacHeist II bundle.  I looked over the demo videos on their website and was happily surprised to see that it supports all the browsers I use…  (Omniweb, Firefox, Safari, and Camino)  I was even more surprised to see that it actually looked very useful, particularly with the password generation and the fact that it has a single database that all of these various browsers can pull data from.

After much deliberation, I bought the $49 bundle ($39 for me, since I had participated in the “Heists”).  So far, 1Password is the only tool from it that I use on a daily basis.

Security experts say we shouldn’t use the same password on more than one website.  I had a real hard time with this.  I mostly used the same base password with one or two characters different, but only if it was a site that I felt needed to be secure.  For most of the “forum” sites that I visit, I used the same password.  With 1Password, I’ve seen the light.  1Password has a feature that generates random passwords for you.  Just set the password length, along with how many special characters and numbers to use, and it creates passwords for you that anyone would have trouble guessing.  I’ve visited the majority of financial related websites that I frequent and used this tool to change all of my passwords, usually to the maximum number of characters that the website allows.

A feature that I didn’t know existed is one that looks very, very interesting.  It syncs with the iPhone so you can have password protected bookmarks that automatically log you into your 1Password sites.  Since I don’t have an iPhone (yet), I can’t actually test this, but it sounds like a killer feature.  (If anyone wants to send me an iPhone to test this out, I’d be more than willing to oblige and post the results.)

Now, I still have some concerns about this…  If I have a completely unrecoverable failure with my machine, I’d be in serious trouble since I have no clue what my passwords are since I’ve never even actually typed them.  Fortunately, I’m super-paranoid about backups.  I use TimeMachine, plus have a bootable clone made daily using SuperDuper (now Leopard compatible!).

I also question the security of 1Password.   The Mac platform has been getting some attention from hackers.  It is possible that 1Password will, itself, become a target because of the sensitive information it holds.  I could see the possibility of someone writing a trojan that accesses your 1Password database looking for all the places you’ve saved your passwords off to.   Of course, it is encrypted, but the possibility exists that it could be hacked somehow.

At this point, I’m not terribly concerned.  I honestly feel like my logins are more secure than they would be otherwise.  If only every website offered the RSA Secure-ID option.

February 8, 2008 at 12:34 am 1 comment

Spotlight Experiences

Shortly after the release of Apple’s latest incarnation of Mac OS, Leopard, I posted a little article about Spotlight.   What really sticks out about the newest version of Spotlight would have to be the speed.

In that post, I stated that “If Tiger’s Spotlight was as fast as Leopard, I doubt I would have ever purchased Launchbar.”  Now, I’m certain of it.

After having used Leopard for over three months now, I am saying “so long” to Launchbar for this machine.  Tonight I officially removed it from my dock after noticing that I hadn’t used it in weeks.

When looking for applications, Launchbar is sometimes a touch faster than Spotlight, but that difference feels like it is measured in milliseconds.  Of course, if I’m looking for a document, Spotlight is the only game in town.

Now, I am keeping my Launchbar license because you never know…

February 8, 2008 at 12:09 am Leave a comment


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