Archive | October, 2008

Maybe I should have gone with Apple…

29 Oct

Earlier this week, I turned on our brand-new laptop.  Scratch that – our almost-brand-new laptop.  We bought it in late August to use at our wedding.  The first time I turned it on, in mid-September, I got an error message that the copy of Windows Vista on it couldn’t be authenticated and we were using an invalid key.

Now, first of all, the thing came pre-loaded with Windows Vista.  Secondly, I’d just barely turned it on.  I hadn’t played with it, I hadn’t added to it.  I hadn’t loaded a pirated version of software or hacked into something.  I’d hit the power button and turned it on.

So I spent three hours on the phone with three different representatives from Toshiba tech support, wiped the hard drive clean, and reloaded everything.  After three excruciating hours of explaining the problem and trying every single stupid “solution,” over and over, we seemed to have gotten it right.  Up popped a message on the screen that everything was taken care of.

So imagine my surprise and frustration when it happened again this week.  I was halfway through loading our wedding photos on there so we could show them off at a family birthday party (because, of course, Costco wouldn’t let us print “professionally-done” photos without a written note from our photographer, but that’s another blog for another day) when up popped an error window.  “This copy of Windows is not genuine,” it said.  “The pass key you typed is invalid for activation.” 

WHAT???

 

Sure enough, when we went to turn it on again, there was nothing but a black screen and a window saying I’d been the victim of counterfeiting.  Nice job, Microsoft.

So my husband took the computer in to Best Buy (where we bought it – see?  no counterfeiting happening here!) to see what they would say.  He and the tech called me at work.  “Well, see, the copy of Vista was preloaded on your computer by Toshiba,” the tech explained, “but this is a Microsoft authentication error.  It’s Microsoft-based.  They probably just have to reset it, or give you a new one.  It shouldn’t be too hard.  But you’ll have to call Microsoft.”

My heart sank.

 

Six months ago, I spent almost four hours on the phone with tech support at Microsoft.  I had a three-month-old Zune .mp3 player that had suddenly stopped being recognized by my (Windows) computer.  From tech to tech I bounced, with varying Southeastern Asian accents and levels of understanding my problems.  After trying every trick they could think of, someone had me wipe my Zune’s hard drive clean.  Which resulted in the thing completely freezing and not being able to turn on or off.  I finally got to a second-level tech with an American accent who confirmed that, yes, the thing was indeed beyond their telephone-based capabilities.  Unfortunately I would need to send it back for a replacement.

Which is, of course, what I had figured from the beginning.

 

This week, I again found myself on the phone with Microsoft.  I called the number listed online for Windows Vista support, gave them my name, my phone number, my zip code, and explained my issue.  I told them that it had been a floor model and I suspected that someone had stolen the key and used it on their own system.  And that I thought we really just needed a new key.  “Oh no, ma’am,” the person on the other end of the phone said, “you need to call customer service.  This number is for people who have already authenticated their software.  Your copy isn’t authenticated.  I can’t help you.”  Umm…  Okay.  So you can’t tell me why my copy won’t authenticate?  And you can’t just give me a new code??  A lot of help you are…  “Thank you for calling Microsoft.  Have a great day.”

I hung up and called the number she’d given me, once again having to spell my name and give my number and zip code before anyone would talk to me.  “Oh no, ma’am,” said the next person once I explained the problem, “you need to get in touch with our Genuine Authentication department.  They’ll be the ones you can help you.  I’ll transfer you.  Thank you for calling Microsoft.  Have a great day.” 

One failed transfer later, I’d gotten the direct number off the third person who picked up the phone in the customer service department.  I gave my name and number a third time and explained the situation again.  “Okay ma’am, can you read off to me your key?”  It was 35 painfully slow digits, repeated back and forth twice.  “Yes, that’s a valid key,” explained the tech in the Authentication department.  “But it’s a technical problem.  I can’t help you.  I’ll transfer you back to customer service.”

Wait…  No!

“Well, I can’t transfer you directly to the technical support department.  I have to transfer you through customer service.  Thank you for calling Microsoft.  Have a great day.”

 

Fuming, I waited on the line for customer service to pick up.  “Hi, this is Paul in Customer Service.  Can I have your first and last name, please?”

Through gritted teeth, I told him all the information I’d imparted on the last four telephone representatives.  He told me it would be a nine to thirteen minute wait for a technician and could I please hold.

Like some nonsensical farce, I was stuck on the line with awful, repetitive on-hold music while Microsoft’s minions laughed about how often I had to give them my name and plotted ways to make me go crazy while still not fixing my computer.  And I was stuck in scripted response hell.

 

The technician picked up.  And asked me once again to provide my name and telephone number and tell him about my problem.   I tried to stay calm – I really did.  But my husband came into the room halfway through my description of the problem (which included a lot of “I’ve been on the phone with you people for more than an hour!!!” exclamations) and told me to calm.down.

The technician decided at last to take pity on me.  “Restart the computer,” he said, “and as soon as you see the Toshiba logo, hit F8 repeatedly.  Don’t stop hitting it.”  Enthusiastically, I clicked the key until a DOS screen appeared.  “Now,” he said, “hit ‘repair my computer.'”  I did.  The computer whirred for a moment and stopped, saying that there was nothing to repair.  “Okay,” the technician said, undeterred, “now hit ‘restart my computer in Safe Mode.'”  I did.  Now the tech took me through an automatic recovery process.  Only the computer was too new.  There were no safe recovery points.  “Can I put you on hold for three or four minutes,” asked the tech, “while I check my resources?”

Sure.  Why not?

When he returned, he took me through a series of command prompts that I couldn’t possibly hope to ever repeat on my own.  Each one returned the same result – that Windows was working fine.  He had me restart the computer.  The error message popped up.

“Okay,” he said, “I cannot help you.”

“Excuse me?”  I said…  Er…  screamed…

“This is an authentication issue.  I need to transfer you over to the authentication department.”

“But I was just there…  They transferred me to you!!”

“Yes, but it’s not a technical issue,” he chided.  “Please hold while I transfer you.  Thank you for calling Microsoft.  Have a great day.”

 

I walked, phone on my shoulder, into the kitchen to get a drink of water, wishing I had something stronger.  “Crappy on-hold music!!” I mouthed to my husband, sitting agape at the fact that I was still on the line.  “Tech number seven coming right up!!!”

Tech number seven picked up.  Her name was Priya, I remember, and she had a pleasant voice.  But nothing could save her from my wrath when she asked me again for my name and my problem.  “Didn’t he tell you?  I’ve explained it over and over!!!  What is wrong with you people???”  Undeterred, Priya started taking me through a series of steps.  “Restart the computer,” she said, “and as soon as you see the Toshiba logo, hit F8 repeatedly.  Don’t stop hitting it.” 

Sounded familiar.  “What are we going to do here?” I asked.  “I mean, I’ve already done this, with the last guy.  Are we going into Safe Mode?”

“Yes,” she answered, “I’m taking you into safe mode so that we can check that all the settings are correct.”

“But,” I argued, “we already did that!  The last guy was from technical support and he took me through all these steps already…”

“I’m sorry ma’am,” she answered, “but I need to do this with you now.”

Okay.  Fine.  I hit restart.  I hit F8 repeatedly.  We started the machine in Safe Mode.  “Now,” she said, “we’re going to use the automatic recovery program to take the computer back to a safe recovery spot.”

“Wait, no,” I said, “we already did this.  It didn’t work.  The computer is brand new.”

“So do you see a safe recovery point in the box?”

“Did you hear what I said?” I asked, “The computer is brand new.  There are no recovery points.  None.”

“Can I put you on hold for three or four minutes while I check my resources?” she asked.  Scripted questions for when you don’t know what the hell is going on.  Fabulous.

“Sure, go ahead,” I spat.  “Everyone else has today.”

I tried dancing to the on-hold music this time, to pass the “three or four minutes” that she was gone.  The music clicked off.  She clicked on.  “Okay,” she started, “can you tell me what screen you’re on?”

I tried not to groan.  “I am on the automatic recovery screen.  Right where you left me.”

“Great,” she started.  “We’ll need to find a safe recovery point for you to bring the computer back to.”

 

That was it.  I lost it.  I got eerily calm and quiet.  My husband can attest to the fact that if an Italian stops yelling when she’s mad, you really don’t want to be within a three-mile radius.  Or on a phone call with her.  “Can I talk to your second-level support, please?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t think I understand you…”

I took a deep breath.  Started again.  “I need to speak with someone who knows more about this than you do.  Your higher-level support.”

“A manager?”

“Yes.  A manager.  I need a manager.  I need to talk to someone who can actually do their job and help me because I have been on the phone with you people for almost two hours now and no one has been able to do ANYTHING.  This is rediculous.  I need to speak with someone who can help me NOW.”

“Okay,” Priya said.  “I’ll transfer you to my manager.  Thank you for calling Microsoft.  Have a great day.”

The manager came on the line.  When he asked me what the problem was, I almost reached through the wire to strangle him.  “Did she not give you the summary?” I growled.

“Oh, yes,” he answered, and paused to read it.  “Okay,  well.  Yes.  I see what’s wrong,” he began.  I hung on every word.  “You see, this copy of Windows Vista was pre-loaded onto your computer by Toshiba.  It looks like something has been corrupted, so even though your key code is valid, it’s showing up as invalid.  But it’s a copy of Windows that has been created especially for Toshiba, so we really can’t do anything with it.”

“Hold on,” I said.  “You mean to tell me that I need to call Toshiba now?  That I just spent two HOURS on the phone with people from Microsoft, being pushed from department to department, only to find out that it’s Toshiba’s problem?  When Toshiba already told me that all they could do for me was all they already did??  Are you SERIOUS??”

“Well,” he said, “I guess we could generate a new key code for you.”

It took another twenty minutes before Priya called me back.  And then the internet suddenly didn’t work on the laptop – so once I had the new key code, I had to authenticate it over the phone with her (108 digits this time – 54 on my computer screen and another 54 generated by her system).  But, after all, the computer finally blinked happily, Vista authenticated.  Priya asked if there was anything more she could do for me, and I said no, exhausted from the effort.  “Well, then, Elisa, thank you for calling Microsoft,” she said.  “Have a great day.”

I couldn’t help but wonder, by the end, whether Apple has scripted customer service calls…

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Must be something in the water…

28 Oct

On any given day, somewhere between two and twelve of my colleagues and I visit Starbucks.  At least once.  It’s convenient – less than a block down the alley behind our building and across the street – and the people know us.  We feed our caffeine habits with gallons of mochas and lattes and the occasional frappuccino.  Last month, I was ecstatic to note that I could get the same flavor in a coffee misto with vanilla flavoring as in a vanilla latte for one dollar less.

But the darn thing is still two dollars and thirty cents.

Now, I am on just as much of a budget as anyone else – in fact, because I work for a nonprofit, I am probably on a tighter budget than most people I know.  Yet, time after time, I fork over two or three bucks just to get my pick-me-up.  As do all my coworkers, some of whom are on an even tighter budget than I.  What’s worse is that at least once a week (and more often, now that the pumpkin scones are in season), I find that I can’t resist the call of the pastry counter.  Cha-ching – another $1.95.

So what is it about Starbucks that makes us willingly plunk down three dollars for twelve cents worth of coffee and milk, a four cent shot of artificial flavoring, and a cup?  Why can we not break this addiction?  Why is it so tempting?

And who wants to make a Starbucks run?  I’m in need of a fix…

And so it continues…

27 Oct

You know how when you are single everyone is always asking you, in Bridget Jones fashion, how your love life is?  Have you met someone?  Been on any dates lately?  If you’re not dating someone, are you secretly gay (or straight, I suppose, in the spirit of equal opportunity!) and trying to hide it from your family?

Then once you meet someone and start to date, the air is suddenly full of more questions.  Is it serious?  Is he/she the one?  And even fun personal questions like “so, how is the sex?”…  Soon, your friends and family are starting to push.  Have you talked about marriage yet?  Do you think he’s getting ready to propose?  My favorites were when people would tell me that he was never going to decide to commit, so I’d better just break up with him.  Honestly, there were times I felt like they might just be right.  But who’s to say what’s the best thing for me?

Then, the very second you get engaged, that very day before you can even really tell everyone the good news, the next set of questions begin.  When’s the big day?  Where are you going for your honeymoon?  What’s your dress like?  We literally were asked within one day of the question “being popped,” so to speak, whether we’d set a date.  Like it’s simply unacceptable for anyone to enjoy where they’re at in life without scheming about the things to come.

Once we set the date, we started to get subtle pressure (mostly from my elderly female relatives, and I suppose with good reason) surrounding the whole question of when we were going to start a family.  We weren’t even married yet and already there was fierce discussion as to whether my husband would be celebrating Father’s Day next year!!!  (By the way, the answer is no – as much as I adore the grandmother figures in my life, I am not yet ready to produce and care for a great-grandchild).

Of course, since we’ve been married, the questions have good and truly started to fly.  It’s as though I’ve morphed overnight from a woman – complete in myself, intelligent, and able – to a baby incubator, good for only one purpose.  Oh, and a husband feeder – as though it’s my only other purpose in life to put some meat on those skinny bones (despite the fact that he eats a mountain more than I do on any given day and I’ve been cooking for him for years – but that’s another topic for another blog).

It started with the grandmother figures.  Then a colleague asked me (not so delicately, I might add) when the first baby was expected.  Of course my mother has a softer touch, but her first reaction to seeing photos of my husband as a child was “I will have the most adorable grandchildren!”  (Of course, I tend to agree with her!)  Now I suspect that the rest of the world is in on it.

You know those targeted ads?  The ones on Facebook or MySpace or your e-mail that get into your internet history and show you only things that they think you’ll be interested in?  I see them daily – ads for Cole Haan shoes and Lane Bryant and Avenue, for the San Diego Symphony and (inexplicably) Betty Crocker cake mixes…  When I was wedding planning, I had constant ads for photographers, David’s Bridal, various wedding websites, and even wedding blogs.  Even up until last Friday, I was getting a few “wedding” targeted ads a week. 

Well, it’s offically begun – the rest of the world is in on the pressure, the joke.  I opened Facebook this morning to check my messages, and there, as clear as day, was an ad with a giant pregnant belly.  “Trouble getting pregnant?” was the caption underneath.

No, thank you.  Just trouble with everyone thinking I need to be.

An Unhealthy Love of Photoshop

23 Oct
We got our professional wedding photographs on Sunday.  Per our agreement with the photographer, most of them came to us in their raw form.  Most people would see this as a disappointment.  Me?  I’m more than up to the challenge.  I adore working with Photoshop.  In fact, you could say I’m quite the Photoshop geek!

I’ve been spending countless hours – lunchtimes, breaks, after dinner when Hubby’s watching TV, times when I can’t get to sleep – staring at these photos.  And I have to say I’m pretty proud of the results.  I’m by no means finished with them, but I’ve edited about three dozen (of approximately 300 decent shots).  Many of them need only a little cropping, or some simple color correction.  Others need a bit more.

So today’s blog is all about sharing my geekiness with the world!  I’m not trying to brag here – Lord knows I’m no professional – but I am having way too much fun and I’m way too proud of myself to keep it all under wraps…  The other thing is that I think our photographer Beverley did an amazing job.  Every photographer crops, color corrects, and switches and smoothes things out – we just don’t usually get to see it!

The first photo just needed a good cropping.  It was a fun photograph, of the bridesmaids being goofy, but it lacked focus.

Original Photo

Original Photo

 Now, the cropped (and slightly color corrected) version:

Cropped photo

Cropped photo

In the next photograph, I noticed that the dark circles under my eyes were prominent.  I’m sensitive about them (they’re hereditary and despite my trying every single product I can get my hands on, they never quite go away), and even though I’m sure no one else would ever notice, I wanted to brighten them up.

Original photo

Original photo

It’s already a great photo, but just a little tweak and:
Photo with minor undereye brightening

Photo with minor undereye brightening

Then there’s the matter of taking out unwanted blotches.  I’m too vain to show the closeup of my face that was corrected by our photographer, but let’s just say that this sort of thing is a really common fix.  In this closeup of my back, I could see a couple of nasty little pimples…
Original photo

Original photo

To make the photo as gorgeous as possible, I took them out!  See?  Niiiice and smooth…  Now if only I could do that on the real-life back as well!
Photo with back smoothing

Photo with back smoothing

The next photo was a bit of a challenge.  My photographer had already worked hard to get it corrected.  The room where we took the picture was very dark and the original photo was very grainy.  But I wasn’t 100% crazy about her correction, because I felt like I looked a little like an oompa loompa.

Original photo

Original photo

I played around with my new friend, the Curve, until I got just the right color balance.  It’s still not the clearest picture (I think she used a soft light filter), but my skin color is far more true-to-life.

Color-corrected photo

Color-corrected photo

My next challenge was to correct a photograph of our neice.  In the original, she was washed out because she was so close to the camera. 

Original photo

Original photo

So my solution was to pump up her color and fade and blur the background.  Then I used Curves to ensure that her beautiful blue eyes stayed blue! 

Photo with color corrected and background blurred

Photo with color corrected and background blurred

 And some more playing with contrast, and cropping, in this photo of us in the limo on the way to the reception:

Original photo

Original photo

With a little contast correction and some cropping:

Photo with contrast corrected

Photo with contrast corrected

Now, of course, one of my favorite tricks in Photoshop is to switch out closed eyes and weird-shaped mouths.  In photographs with a lot of people in them, you’ll always have someone making a funny face.  The trick is to take lots of photos in succession and pick out the one with the least strange faces and work with that!  So, here’s a photo of us with our bridal party:

Original photo

Original photo

But, as you can see, I’m closing my eyes.  Several other members of the bridal party are making strange faces as well.  But if this is the one photo I’m going to have in our album, I want everyone to be looking at the camera and smiling.  So I went back to the other photographs taken at the time and copied and pasted eyes and mouths as necessary…

Photo with eyes and mouths corrected

Photo with eyes and mouths corrected

 

Now for the hard stuff…  In this photo, Hubby is unsuccessfully hiding his chapstick in his right hand.  But it’s a beautiful shot, of the wedding gift I gave him (engraved cufflinks).
Original photo

Original photo

So I had to use the clone stamp and pray.  It turned out pretty well…
Photo with the chapstick removed

Photo with the chapstick removed

The last photo is one that I’m really proud of.  It took all sorts of different techniques and skills.  First of all, here’s the original:

Original photo

Original photo

It’s a nice shot but it’s a little flat, quite overexposed, and shows a lot of the sidewalk.

For this correction, I had to take each piece individually.  I fixed the contrast on the car separate from the contrast in my dress, and faded and blurred out the background so that it would allow us and the car to be the focus of the photo.  I then saturated the colors in the focal points of the picture and cropped the whole thing.  I love the results!

 

Photo with color and contrast correction, background blurring, and cropping

Photo with color and contrast correction, background blurring, and cropping

Another Distraction

20 Oct

So it’s one month today that I’ve been married.  The living room is still full of boxes – wedding supplies, wedding gifts, things we’ve attempted to clear out of the cupboards…  The office is still full of Hubbys books and paperwork…  My clothes are everywhere as I attempt a wardrobe update.  I haven’t written my wedding vendor review, printed my photos, or written a single thank you note.  In fact, my name is changed on my Social Security Card but not yet on my Driver’s License, the utilities, or my insurance.

But of course I need one more distraction.

I’ve thought about starting a blog for a while.  But would I have anything interesting to say?  Then one friend started hers.  And another.  And even when they didn’t have “something” to say, it was still interesting.  So I’m going to make an attempt at expressing myself verbally online and see if it’s worth reading.  This may last a week, or a month, or a year.  I may never write a single entry again.  I may hide every entry I make so I don’t get yelled at by friends and family.  I may be all full of hearts and flowers (I am a newlywed, after all!).  I’m just not sure.  But if you’re willing to read, I’ll do my best to keep writing!

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