November 24, 2008

Card sharps

A co-worker received a scare-mail purporting to list stores that will close by the end of the year, thereby making their outstanding gift cards worthless. She wanted to know if it was true whether all the stores listed were really going bankrupt.

My co-workers often ask me such questions because I often have a ready answer.

Well, I must admit to not having memorized the names of all the retailers that have already declared bankruptcy. And I surely won't venture, as the generator of the aforementioned e-mail message did, to predict the future.

The simple answer is this: A bunch of retailers have already declared bankruptcy. A bunch more are likely to follow before the year is over. The folks at Snopes have done way more research on the topic than I care to.

In the present economic climate, I refuse to guess which store's gift cards won't turn out to be worthless. Because were I to name Some Big-Box Store—one with great sales numbers and a seemingly solid balance sheet—surely it would be the next one to make headlines, dragged down by hitherto unknown investments in subprime mortgage derivatives.

I will say this: I'm intrigued by this CNN story about charitable gifts. Charity Navigator's Good Cards look like an especially pragmatic answer to the annual quandary about what to buy for people who, as one friend of mine put it, "don't need one more thing to dust."

November 22, 2008

Clever, yes. Genius ... maybe not

My previous post, on the efficiency of the Apple Store tech department, was premature.

Was my MacBook fixed in less time than promised? Yes. Was it fixed completely?


When I retrieved it, the MacBook worked perfectly. But the bezel that connects the screen to the outer case was still separated, even though I had pointed out the problem to two people.

So I had to leave the MacBook at the store again.

When I picked it up the second time, all was well. Surprisingly, I was not charged for these repairs, despite my having told three people "I dropped it." Either droppage is covered under the warranty, or they gave me a freebie because it wasn't right the first time.

I only hit one other hitch with Apple's Geniuses. Since the MacBook had an all-new hard drive, the admin account was all-new also. Unfortunately, they didn't tell me what the admin password was, which made it impossible to install my applications.

Here are the instructions for resetting the admin password, if you ever need to.

November 16, 2008

Truth in advertising...or at least in nomenclature

In Star Trek, Scotty maintained his reputation as a miracle worker by multiplying his repair estimates by a factor of four.

I don’t know whether the folks at the Apple Store follow Mr. Scott’s advice, or if they just happen to be remarkably efficient. Regardless, they have a well-deserved reputation for great customer service.

I carried my broken MacBook—I had dropped it—into our local Apple Store at about 1 p.m. The next available appointment at the Genius Bar, my concierge told me, was at 5:54 p.m. I could take that appointment and come back, or I could wait in “accommodation” mode, the Apple equivalent of flying standby. If another customer missed an appointment, I would be seen. But that meant waiting around the store, and my to-do list was long.

So I opted for the “QuickDrop,” leaving the computer with the concierge rather than speaking with a technician myself. Within “24 to 48 hours,” she said, a technician would call me with a diagnosis.

That was fine and, frankly, what I expected. So I left the ’Book with her and went on to the grocery store.

At home, while I was still putting away the bread and milk, my phone rang. The Apple Store technician confirmed my hard drive had failed and needed replacing. I gave him the go-ahead.

Just a few hours later, while folding laundry, I got another call. The ’Book was fixed and ready to be picked up.

That call came in just a few minutes before the appointment time I was first offered by the concierge.

So an estimated time of “24 to 48 hours” to diagnose my computer resolved into less-than-five hours to completely finish the repair. The “QuickDrop” service is aptly named. If you’re ever in need of a Mac repair, I strongly recommend it.

November 7, 2008

Using the "R" word

Dennis P. Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, addressing a business development conference in Palm Beach County today, said “Recent data indicate that the national economy is in recession.”

This is the first time I’ve seen anyone connected with the Fed make this admission.

The whole text of his speech is here.

Mind you, Lockhart is careful to point out that this is his view, and “not necessarily shared by my colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee.”

Still, he’s in a position to judge. And the official arbiter of recessions, the National Bureau of Economic Research, is famous for being extremely cautious about issuing such statements. For example, it didn’t announce the November 2001 trough until July of 2003.