Category Archives: Consumer Report

Consumer Reports Vindicates Steve Jobs

I’ve been listening on my cycling commutes to Walter Isaacson’s fascinating biography of Steve Jobs. As a Mac user since the early days, with only minor detours to the PC side when I didn’t have the means to afford a Mac, I’m enjoying the backstory behind some of the products I’ve used and loved (and sometimes loathed), from my first girlfriend’s Mac Plus, through my Power Computing clone, various G3s and G4s (I still own a functional PowerBook G3 “Wallstreet” running OS9), and finally the late-2009 unibody iMac i7 on which I’m writing this post.

I’ve also done tech support for both platforms, which gives me a clear perceptive on which is superior. When asked to recommend Mac or Windows (something that happens infrequently these days), I recommend Windows – that is, if you have a large, responsive, and highly competent IT department on which you can rely heavily. Otherwise: go Mac.

From Isaacson’s bio, we get to see the positions held by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Jobs regarding integration of OS and hardware:

Jobs believed in an end-to-end integration of hardware and software, which led him to build a machine that was not compatible with others. Gates believed in, and profited from, a world in which different companies made machines that were compatible with one another; their hardware ran a standard operating system (Microsoft’s Windows) and could all use the same software apps (such as Microsoft’s Word and Excel). “His product comes with an interesting feature called incompatibility,” Gates told the Washington Post.

My experience suggests that the divide between the manufacturer of the machine (Dell, HP, Asus, etc.) and the creator of the operating system (Microsoft) has been exploited by both parties to pass the buck. Machine won’t boot properly? Machine slow? Crashes? Call Dell, and they’ll send you to Microsoft. But Microsoft is going to send you right back to Dell. It makes for incessant fingerpointing, and no happy fix for the consumer.

When your Mac doesn’t boot, it’s Apple’s fault. And because of this, Apple is motivated to ensure that the OS functions harmoniously with the hardware. Not only that, Apple is almost always willing to accept the blame when something goes wrong. Anyone who’s been to a Genius Bar with a malfunctioning Apple product knows what I mean.

I was delighted and frankly a little shocked to see the following page in the November 2012 issue of Consumer Reports:


A phrase sums it up: “…one brand stands out as the best all-around choice: Apple.” Support, build quality, integration, reliability – in every respect related to quality, Macintosh beats Windows. This from the magazine that would not recommend the iPhone 4 due to the “Antennagate” affair. It also placed the Samsung Galaxy SIII above the iPhone 5 in their latest ratings. This is not the opinion of a bunch of blind Apple fanboys; Consumer Reports is a respected, independent journal, which refuses all advertising, tests independently, and surveys its readers to collect large samples of data.

Listen Windows users, think about this one annoyance you probably have to live with on a frequent basis. If you plug a memory key into your Windows PC, do you have to wait while it installs a driver first? You get to see that little pop-up in which the OS declares, “hey, I’m so inferior I’m going to make you wait around while I dig up and install the driver for this thing.”

On a Mac, you plug in a memory key, and its icon appears on the Desktop. Always. No waiting.

Same goes for mice and keyboards. Heck, on Windows just moving your mouse to a different USB port can prompt a full driver re-install for the device. I’m even told it “might take a while.”


Recently, I wiped and reinstalled a Toshiba laptop. My Macs always ask if I want to install updates, and will never spontaneously update and force me to wait and defer shutting down until it finishes up. This kind of thing has actually made my wife late when trying to shutdown and stow her Dell laptop when she needs to get to the kids’ daycare and avoid a fine. I’ll wager she risked her life rushing to arrive in time.

Michael Dell in 1997, speaking about what to do with Apple:

I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.

To summarize: Mac good, Windows bad. Michael Dell…moron.

I will leave you with my surreal gallery of screenshots (captured with my iPhone 4) showing the various messages I encountered while configuring the Toshiba. Yes, one of them does say, “Installing update 2 of 150.” I have to clarify that to the Mac users out there, who may believe the shot is a hoax.

IMG_1135 IMG_1102 IMG_1099 IMG_1098

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A Plea to Canada Post: Please Give at Least the Illusion of Caring

I walked up to the door of my house – occupied by my wife, who has been inside all day – to find this notice from Canada Post:

notice from Canada Post

Yes, she was home at 2:30*. Did someone knock on the door or ring the doorbell? Nope.

This is hardly the first time a Canada Post driver has eschewed the nuisance of interacting with a human being – you know, all that getting-a-signature and handing-over-a-package business that makes the job so tedious – in favour of dropping a card in the mailbox. What the hell, eh? The customer can just pop on over to the local post office to pick it up – in two days, when it’s finally available there. Oh, let’s just check Google maps to see the route to that Canada Post pickup location:

It’s only going to be a 4.6 kilometre round trip. This is the journey everyone in our neighbourhood faces if they aren’t on their front stoop shouting “I’m standing right here, hand me my package please!” when Canada Post makes a delivery. Too bad if you’re without a car, elderly, disabled, or all of the above. Until about three years ago, the location was here, a mere 700 metres away:

…but the store in which the outlet was situated closed, and Canada Post’s solution was to switch the pickup location so it’s well over triple the distance.

Combine the laziness of Canada Post drivers with the astonishing distance customers must travel, and you have a very inconvenient arrangement. Not quite the advantage I was expecting when I ordered from This will certainly make me consider a different vendor in future. As for Canada Post? May I recommend that you start giving a damn?

*no, the attempted delivery time was not 2:30 a.m., as the card’s text that reads “24 Hour Clock Time” would lead you to believe. But really, do you need another example of Canada Post apathy?

Travelocity – a bad experience

We booked a trip to the Mayan Riviera through Travelocity, first time using this service (we’ve been Expedia customers for some time). We made an error in our booking – set our return date one day too early – but this was prompted by erratic behaviour on the Travelocity website which forced us to rush through our booking.

Getting help from Travelocity was a wretched experience, and we will most certainly not book with them again. I did see many warnings about Travelocity online, but most were dated four or more years ago – I’d thought they’d matured somewhat, but this is apparently not the case.

The full text of the issue is below, in the form of the letter I sent to their support team, but to really appreciate how poor their customer service was, you have to consider a couple of things:

  1. We booked our trip at on 28 December, 2011 at 12:45 AM EST.
  2. When we recognized our error, we called back at 9:30 AM – in other words, on the same day.
  3. However, because Travelocity is based in Texas, they are on central time, so technically the booking was recorded at 11:45 PM on 27 December, and so we fell out of the “same day” changes that would have saved us considerably.
  4. The latter point is actually moot – the Travelocity call centre (located in Bangalore, India), chose to leave our fate in the hands of their IT department. By the time they had dealt with it (claiming “user error” – when in fact they misunderstood the nature of the problem) – it was too late to affordably make any changes. January 5th – that’s when their IT department finally got to responding to our issue.

To summarize: if the problem had been dealt with promptly, our fees would have been more manageable, and Travelocity’s offer to waive their change fee would’ve actually been meaningful.

While an email to Scott Quigley, Vice-President of Sales and Customer Care received a reply in which he stated, “I hope that by resolving quickly we can earn back your trust as a customer,” his hope was not to be fulfilled: it didn’t happen quickly (three days for any further action, and that after I prompted with two further emails), and they certainly did not earn back my trust as a customer. Quite the contrary. Travelocity wouldn’t do more than waive their change fees. In other words, all carrier fees, which had inflated because of the extremely slow response time by their customer service department, were to be borne by us entirely.

Here’s the letter I sent to their customer service department 12 days ago:


This is the first time we’ve tried Travelocity (in the past we’ve been dedicated to the great service we’ve received from Expedia), but we were excited to see some of the excellent prices you offered, and decided to give your service a try.

We finalized plans for our Cancun trip and began the booking process in the late evening of Wednesday, December 27th. When we had completed our selections, the clock had just passed midnight, and that’s when your website began to misbehave. After carefully constructing our trip, we were told that due to a timeout (or misuse of the back button – which we hadn’t touched), we would have to restart the process from scratch. We did so, and when we clicked the button to commit to the purchase, we encountered the same error. This happened two more times. So, in total, we had entered our info four times, and were rejected each time.

Since we weren’t using the back button at all, we thought we were timing out. On our fifth attempt, we rushed through the entire process and were finally successful in booking everything and paying for our trip. It was about 1:00 a.m. at this point, and we were fatigued and dispirited by the process.

error message

The next morning I found in my inbox confirmation of our trip…with the wrong return date! We had hoped to return on Friday, January 20th, but our return date on the confirmation showed Thursday, January 19th.

I concede that in our rush to complete the booking, we may have entered an incorrect date. But we were rattled and rushed by the mishaviour of your website.

I immediately called your customer support line, and was told somewhat rudely by the attendant that it was impossible to change our trip, and that the cancellation cost would be substantial. When I explained the circumstances surrounding the error, the attendant indicated that she would file a report with Travelocity’s technical department. In other words, it would be up to your IT department to determine whether our problems with your website were legitimate, and whether or not we could change our plan without penalty.

I am the Senior IT Manager at the Canadian Film Centre. Not only am I certain that we did nothing to invoke the timeout/back button error we experienced, but I’m also keenly aware that your IT team will be motivated by pride and possibly skepticism to defend your system and lay the blame on me, the user. Admission of a technical flaw in your system will reflect on their performance and ability – it’s always easier to blame the user, or, in IT parlance, the “wetware.”

In other words, it does not show good faith for you to put the fate of our trip and our relationship with Travelocity at the discretion of your IT department.

I was told on Thursday morning to call back in 48 hours for an update. I have just done so, and was told that there was at this point no resolution, and that I was actually supposed to wait 72 (or more) hours before calling. So I continue to be mistreated and inconvenienced by your staff.

I would be pleased if this matter could be settled properly and quickly. I am prepared to immediately pay the difference in price between the erroneous booking and the correct one ($4244.56, versus $3841.96, for a difference of $402.60).

The trip details are identical, except: 1) extension of the stay at the resort until Friday, January 20th, 2) a change to the reservation on Olympus Tours ground transport to the same date, and 3) seats on the same flight the next day: Westjet flight 2581, depart CUN 3:50 p.m., arrival at YYZ at 8:44 p.m. I have just confirmed on your website that all these changes are currently available and possible – but such may not be the case if we wait another few days for your IT department’s verdict (which I already expect will be negative, for the reasons I’ve explained).

As things stand, I would not book with Travelocity again in future (I’ll go back to Expedia), and I’ll recommend to others that they should also avoid your service.

I would like to hear back as soon as possible from someone with authority to make these changes. I do appreciate any assistance you can provide in this regard.

Thank you,

Brian Panhuyzen

It isn’t hard to conclude that Travelocity will protect its bottom line, even in the face of upsetting and losing customers. Please feel free to post about your own Travelocity experiences.

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