This is a mobile test

Posted: June 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

Trying out the new iPhone interface for WordPress. It’s been a long while since I posted anything here. Looks like they’ve completely overhauled the entire app so it appears exceedingly easy to just drop in and post some inane banter.

Fantastic! Will see in a second if this was successful or not.


The riTTlist

Posted: July 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

This is mainly for myself to keep track of release dates of upcoming stuff I’m interested in: movies, games, hardware, etc. I’ve been bummed out a lot lately so it’s nice to look somewhere and see things to look forward to.

I call it my riTTlist – going to try to keep it up to date periodically.

Note: If you are actually suffering from a serious, constant hemorrhoid pain that simply doesn’t go away with any traditional treatment, go to urgent care and see a doctor NOW! And also, feel free to ignore the story and skip to the end of this post for the treatment my doctor recommended.

Over the past two weeks I’ve learned a newfound respect for the casual phrase “pain in the ass.” I don’t think it will ever mean the same thing to me again. I guess it’s almost funny to write about… now. But I definitely wasn’t laughing a few days ago at this time. In fact it was quite the opposite, I was literally crying from the constant, debilitating pain, and the sense of hopelessness it made me feel.

No doubt many people have suffered from hemorrhoids in the past. If you’ve ever had that scratchy, itchy sometimes stinging pain in that area, like there’s a fire burning in your behind, you know what I mean. Possibly, like me, you didn’t really even associate it with the term “hemorrhoids” – generally for me I’d feel it a few times during bowel movements, and sure it might hurt bad for a while, but it would go away in minutes, and then fade in a day or two. It began the same way for me this time, but when I was showering and trying to clean the area, I noticed a rather large bump/growth, which of course scared the crap out of me. No pun intended. I tried to clean it rigorously with soap and water the first few days; in retrospect, I’m wondering now if that just made it worse.

By around the 4th day, I was feeling pain down there nearly all the time. It was still bearable but very uncomfortable to say the least. I bought some Preparation H at the store, hoping for some easy, immediate relief. But no go, it was pretty much worthless. Finally, I got on the internet and read up on the term hemorrhoids, and the descriptions I read sounded exactly like what I was dealing with, so I started reading up on the treatment options. Most of it was similar. Get more exercise (huh? did I mention I could barely walk?), eat more fiber, take warm baths (preferably with epsom salt), take pain killers. Seemed like the consensus was that only in extreme cases you might need to have it surgically taken care of, but otherwise in general it would take a week or two to gradually go away on its own. I tried all the easy stuff mentioned above but it still kept getting worse.

By the end of last week, I could barely walk anymore. I could only move in small baby steps, and with every step came a sharp pain. Sitting down hurt, standing up hurt, coughing/sneezing/laughing, even slightly bending my knees hurt. Essentially any slight movement caused pain. I can’t even describe how horrible it got when I actually had a bowel movement, I was literally screaming and cursing – then for minutes even after the movement ended, I was stunned and doubled over in pain. I couldn’t even move, all I could do was stand there, knowing I still had to face the next pain of trying to clean the area. This was on top of the constant, endless, droning regular pain. The only time I didn’t feel the constant attacks was when I was sitting in my car, don’t ask me why. Somehow the shape and positioning made me feel OK. Unfortunately getting in and out of the car was excruciating.

I decided something was really wrong, and it was time to try to get in to talk to my doctor. I called in and was told I’d get a call back to let me know if he could see me. I waited and waited but nothing. So I went into work and toughed it out. By mid-afternoon I lost my patience and called again, only to be told my doctor wasn’t even working that afternoon. Grrrrr. However, they told me he’d be working the walk-in (urgent care) the next day (Saturday). So I figured I’d just wait and do that the next morning. Of course things got progressively worse and the pain just got worse. The whole evening and night was torture, and even while trying to sleep, any slight movement would cause enough pain to jolt me awake. Some of you may remember the bout with tooth pain incident I had a while back; this has been the only thing that has ever compared. The pain was probably worse in that case, as it felt like it would jolt directly into my eyes – but this had the secondary effects of not being able to walk around, and of course it was all just very embarassing and disgusting to me, which made it that much more difficult.

Finally I got to the doctor. He examined me very briefly, and said it was borderline that it might need operating on. He gave me a referral for surgery but it said something like “may take up to 3 weeks to schedule” so I was pretty skeptical. He kept calling it “angry” during the exam, which was actually kind of funny, but yeah, it certainly felt like someone was angry and punishing me with pain all day long. He then grabbed a napkin and started scribbling down his treatment suggestions, about 5 or 6 items which I’ll list below at the end for those interested.

Ultimately I believe the best call he made was guessing there might be an infection. I did everything he suggested, but within 4-6 hours after taking antibiotics, the constant pain had just subsided. Now maybe that was just coincidence and it was one of the other things, but given a similar experience with the tooth situation, I’m about 99% convinced the infection was what was causing the worst of it.

Bear in mind this is something that wasn’t mentioned in most of the things I read online, so it bears repeating. If you are feeling a really un-natural and constant pain, it just might be an infection that has taken it to the next level, so to speak, and getting antibiotics may be the best way to deal with it. I think the thing with “pain” in general is, there’s just no way to convey it to someone else, even a doctor. There’s no way for them to gauge what your threshold is, whether you might be exaggerating, or what you really mean when you say its constant or sharp or whatever. I’m sure that just makes it hard to diagnose and treat in cases like this. In any case, after it kicked in, I was suddenly able to walk around again. I’ve never been so relieved and appreciative of just the simple act of being able to get around my own house, or even something as simple as bending down to pick up something that had dropped.

It’s now been 3 days since I saw the doctor, and things seem to be getting better. I can get around almost normally, though I still feel it. I also have some general pain/itchiness, particularly after a bowel movement, so I’m hopeful that it won’t get any worse and I won’t need the surgery option. I’m continuing with most the stuff he told me to do for at least a week.

The moral of the story? Listen to your body, and don’t wait/delay to see the doctor when you sense something is really not right. You’d think I would have learned this after the tooth incident. I was lucky because I generally tend to avoid doctors, and I’m not sure I would have gone to the walk-in if I didn’t know my personal doctor was going to be there. Sometimes I’m stupidly stubborn about things like this, and as I mentioned, there’s always a bit of embarassment factor attached to this kind of thing. I’m just thankful that worked out the way it did, and that he prescribed the antibiotics.

– – –


1 – Bactrim (prescribed anti-biotic)
2 – Sitz bath 15-20 minutes with HOT water, 2-4 times a day (purchasable at Walgreen’s/Rite-Aid, etc) – I recommend adding Epsom salt too
3 – Proctosol (prescribed hydrocortisone cream)
4 – Tuck’s Pads (purchasable over the counter, has Witch Hazel)
5 – 100mg Coldace twice a day (over the counter, stool softener)
6 – Milk of Magnesia (I didn’t use this)

It’s been about 10 years since the iPod first sunk its hooks into me, and the Apple product train really caught my eye. The relationship blossomed over time, and got more and more serious. The first iPhone experience was really like falling in love, and with the release of the iPad, the relationship had grown into a full blown love affair. But things started to sour a bit with last year’s iPhone 4 release, which left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. While I’m still an avid fan of Apple’s technology and engineering, I’m really starting to lose my patience with their various antics and behavior patterns, some of which are becoming predictably irritating. Unfortunately I’m not strong enough (yet) to end the relationship, but certainly there are cracks developing in what started out so magically.

Every release since the iPhone has had its own “personality” – Apple has changed or tweaked something each time, sometimes for the better, but more often for the worse. Unlike the original iPad release, this time Apple decided perplexingly not to allow pre-orders. Conspiracy theorists believe it was a calculated move to generate more lines and publicity after the recent Verizon iPhone launch failed to do so. Whatever the reason, buyers were allowed to place an online order the morning of release day at 1:00am PST; to actually purchase from a store that day, you’d have to wait until 5pm local time. I decided to hedge my bets and try my luck, hoping the horrible online experience from the iPhone 4 wouldn’t be repeated. To my surprise, I was able to put my order in without a hitch a few minutes before 1:00am; the caveat being shipping dates were listed as 3-5 business days. With no other information, it appeared I’d be likely to receive the unit by the end of the next week.

Of course my patience level is very low, so I decided I would check out the lines and figure out a game plan. I wasn’t feeling as motivated compared to previous releases, and I definitely didn’t want a repeat of the 5+ hour lines from the iPhone 4. I checked the nearby Apple store line over lunch, and there were already a few hundred people at least, so that was pretty much out of the question. I figured an hour or 2 would be tolerable, though, so instead, I dropped by the local Best Buy around 4pm. There were about 100 people already waiting, and the line was kind of amusing. A goofball next to me managed to trick a lady into thinking we were waiting to get autographs from Charlie Sheen. But by 4:45pm, the store had ran out of the sheets that indicated their stock; this store had maybe 50-60 units. It was frustrating because I had guessed they would have a smaller stock level, but also a smaller line than another (larger Best Buy) that’s on my way home. In any case, I stopped by the second store and sure enough they still had stock; the line wasn’t much longer than the first line I was in. Unfortunately they progressed incredibly slowly, and it took about 2 and a half hours to make it out of the store. My guess is if I had gone straight to this store I would have been done in an hour and a half, as they seemed to get progressively slower throughout the wait. (Minor rant: what the hell is wrong with people in stores? I swear it took me less than a couple minutes to get through the checkout line once it was my turn, yet everyone else seemed to be taking 5 times that amount. Grrrr.) The only good part for me was that I met some nice people in line, and we discussed everything from child rearing tricks to Mac tips to good local restaurants. Fun! The good news for Apple is that everyone near me said it was their first time waiting in line for an electronics gadget. This surprised me a bit, and likely means the iPad 2 is bringing in a lot of new customers to Apple’s growing fanbase.

In any event, I finally made it home and promptly cancelled my original online order, which was still sitting at “Not Yet Shipped.” Clearly I had made the right decision to not wait for shipping, but a slight error in judgment as to which Best Buy to hedge my bets on. Either way, it was a bit aggravating, since a simple pre-order system from Apple would have served just fine. Maybe they had other reasons besides manipulative greed to generate publicity, but I’m skeptical and my patience with these kinds of games is wearing thin. Just wait a few weeks, then, most people would say to me. To that, I reply I want my product on release day, and I’m willing to pay or pre-pay in advance, and willing to do the research to order it as soon as it is offered. For most companies that would be enough, my guess is they would love to have hundreds of thousands of pre-orders to ship on the day of release. But not for Apple, if they don’t have lines with thousands of people clamoring in the cold so they make the news, they just aren’t satisfied.

It may sound like I’m a jaded and bitter whiner, and sure I’ll cop to that to some extent. It’s not like I didn’t have other options or couldn’t live another day without an iPad 2. I guess I’m just getting fed up with the tactics, the fanfare, the lines, the insanity – all of which have somehow become a regular routine for Apple, rather than what originally seemed like a special, once in a lifetime experience. I guess this is pretty much like any relationship, though – no matter how awesome it was at the start, the “specialness” starts to wear down after you’ve seen it time and again.

OK OK, but what about the iPad 2 hardware itself? Well yeah, it’s everything they said it would be. There are plenty of reviews at Engadget and other sites if you are interested in a full, detailed look. To sum up the reviews, pretty much everyone likes the unit, but acknowledge it’s an “evolutionary” product at best. The most derided feature is the back camera, which is incredibly low tech by Apple standards and just not meant for stills (less than 1 Megapixel resolution I believe). Uhhh, OK. This is clearly a ploy to either use up old stock (it’s the same quality camera as the iPod Touch) or, more likely, to have something they can immediately show improvement on in the next iteration. Another typical Apple maneuver, and again getting to be tiresome.

Anyway, if you were on the fence for the original, this one is everything the iPad was and more. The biggest engineering marvel to me is the weight and thickness reduction. Weight was one of my few issues with the original, and they’ve certainly addressed it. Not that the weight has come down that much, but combined with the thinness of the unit, the entire feel is different. It’s much more comfortable to hold in a single hand, and of course that is beneficial for many reasons. The thinness makes it feel much closer to a large e-Reader, but with much sturdier materials in place of cheap plastic. In fact unless I’m mistaken, it’s the same thickness now as the Kindle 3 (0.34 inches). Considering the amount of raw power inside and excellent battery life, plus the color screen, it’s almost inconceivable. The size change alone was probably enough to get me to upgrade, but I think for the majority of people who bought iPads, that wouldn’t be a big enough selling point.

So what about other improvements? New dual core A5 processor at 1GHz, double the RAM and up to 9x (supposedly) the graphics performance. The GPU improvements have already been tested and confirmed over at Anandtech, and the results, while maybe not 9x, are pretty impressive. Yes, the original iPad was already very well optimized, but this one’s just that much better on all accounts. I didn’t notice anything too dramatic at first, but the more I use it (and then go back to the original), the more I can tell the differences. The biggest improvement I’ve seen thus far was running Slingplayer. I was watching a basketball game on the iPad 2 last night in HD, and the frame rate was just fantastic. Under the exact same conditions on the original, I’d often get choppy or intermittent frames; on the iPad 2 the picture was pretty much flawless. It felt like there was virtually zero delay from the Slingbox wireless transmission; in some ways I almost thought the animation was even smoother than it plays on my TV.

I still don’t know if I could recommend someone to do the “upgrade” – unless they are/were a tech freak like me, have a specific application that demands more horsepower, or maybe for gamers who are anticipating major improvements, particularly to 3D-rich offerings like Infinity Blade. I tried it out briefly, and the textures and detail really are much sharper with the iPad 2 upgrades, with no sacrifice in frame rate. This is likely just a small sample of what’s to come.

I also (finally) got the new video mirroring feature to work. I had a few problems here and there, but once it was working it was really fantastic. This is going to change the way teachers and others do live presentations, and will likely sell a few iPads on its own. The only downside is the loss of some picture due to the differing aspect ratios, but for the most part, it’s a fantastic way to share material as well as share just how easy to use the iPad is. In typical Apple fashion, the original iPad will not support the full mirroring capability. The only good news is that (with iPad 2), you can use either the older VGA video out or the new HDMI version.

Clearly I’m pleased with the hardware and the overall tech enhancements. There’s just no way to get around the fact that Apple knows how to engineer and put together an awesome device. Even when competitors copy pretty much everything and come up with better specs, Apple can still trump them on usability and sheer volume of top notch apps. So I’m sitting at a bit of a crossroads with my Apple fandom. While I feel locked in to the tech, which I love, I’ve also become increasingly jaded and annoyed by their questionable marketing and hardware release tactics. Only time will tell whether I get pushed fully off the fanboy bus. Let’s hope not.

10,000th Post

Posted: March 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

Screenie of #10000 Live

WoW. I’m now closing in on TEN full years as a card-carrying original member of a little gaming guild on the web called The Wanderers. Has it really been that long? Concurrently, since we moved to our second or third website (I lost track), I’ve somehow managed to have so many unimportant things to say and comment on that I’m going to have posted 10,000 times (on this particular forum). 10,000! 10,000 little bits of my life, covering nearly 10 years as well, it just boggles my mind. If I spent even an average of 3 minutes per post, that’s 500 hours of typing. I wonder how many words I’ve put down, I probably could have written a book or 2 in the same amount of time.

Now I wanted to do something really special and fancy to commemmorate the occasions, but I never thought it would come up so quickly, i.e. I’m running out of time (I think my buffer is something like 8 posts as I write this). Somehow I thought I wouldn’t be here until the middle of the year but oh well. It’s hard to wrap my brain around how it all began, so I need to take a step back and soak it all in, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Back in the late 90s, when the internet was just getting revved up, I happened upon a website called Gonegold. I had been an avid gamer since I was a kid, starting with a handheld Coleco and Atari, eventually moving to PCs. This site was devoted to PC gaming news, and run by an awesome guy named Rich who would post PC game updates, in particular when they would hit the “gone gold” state – meaning they were ready for release. At first I just jumped onto the site occasionally to check for release information, but eventually I joined onto the “forums” – a new concept to me at the time – where a bunch of people would discuss games and other topics.

At some point, and again I don’t remember who or how, somebody mentioned in a thread that they were getting people together for a new game called Dark Age of Camelot (DAOC). Turns out it was a MMORPG that featured player vs player (PvP) or more specifically, realm vs realm (RvR), combat. I had never seriously played one of these type of games with other people (I had a very brief jaunt in Everquest that involved killing snakes by myself and then dying repeatedly), so I thought it would be an interesting experiment to go in with some other folks whose names I was at least familiar with. I signed up just as the deadline approached and soon enough I was in the game.

I still vaguely recall the first character I created, a Thane I named Aishan. In those early days I was under the impression I should try to “roleplay” or at least create a character who I had a backstory for or whatnot. So I had this guy all thought out, but ultimately he didn’t really “fit”. I think most people end up eventually finding their own niche in terms of class or playstyle within these games, something that appeals to their innate personality and just ends up feeling more natural than the others. For me it turned out to be support classes, and the one I ended up with longer term in DAOC was the Healer class. To this day, that ended up being my general style, though obviously I’ve diverged on numerous occasions. I named him “Rittchard” (surprise!) and slowly but surely he kind of became my online persona, or should that be vice versa? I tried to be the nice guy, the funny guy, the supportive guy, the reasonable guy, kind of like the real me but maybe with a bit of a bigger mouth. I guess it’s always easier to spout with the anonymity of the internet. I’m generally very quiet and shy around people I don’t know, but loud and obnoxious with people I’m close to. Clearly over time I started feeling closer to everyone.

We wandererd from game to game, and there were a lot of changes to the personnel over the years. I can’t even remember all the games we played/tried, or even how many times we went back to playing DAOC. After a year or so things started to die down, but early 2003 a major expansion was being released and along with it a new server type that allowed you to play all of the classes together. A few of us who weren’t as much into the PvP aspects thought it would be fun to experiment out there for a bit. So we formed up an alternate Wanderers guild there (I found out much later this was apparently not appreciated by some of the members, I never did quite understand all of that). In any event, I have to say this was the beginning of the the “golden age” of MMORPG gaming for me. We didn’t have a big group playing but the group was as tight knit a group as I’ve ever played with. It essentially felt like we were a true online family, and the friendliness and fondness we all had for each other was remarkable. Literally we’d be waiting for each other to logon, and any time someone came on, there’d be a resounding, genuine calling of their names (kind of like “Norm!” on Cheers). I know it’s cliche, but really to me it all boils down to the people you are playing with that end up making the experience last in your memory. The games and content are fun and have their addictive qualities, but ultimately it’s the guild and your friends that are the difference maker. For me, as soon as the majority of people moved on, there’s just no incentive to logging on.

From there we had some epic stints in Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) and Shadowbane (SB). The games were racked with technical and other issues, but the core of the family was intact, and we broadened our userbase with each game. We had some great and crazy times in all of the games, some incredibly memorable moments I’ll never forget. In SWG, it was a classic snapshot in time when a buddy and I put on some incredibly garish gogo outfits and danced in the middle of town underneath some bizarre dinosaur creature. I can still see the animation and the dancing and the outfits in my mind’s eye, and the reactions we got around the area were priceless. Man I wish I could get a screenshot of that back, it was just such a surreal and hilariously spontaneous moment. In SB, I still have tons of powerful and dramatic memories involving the building and falling of our guild city and some epic battles – but the thing I remember the most was a small group of us forming a gang of elves and running around roleplaying, speaking only in Elvish to outsiders and basically being rude and obnoxious and killing everyone we saw. It was fantastic. Definitely an epic year for MMORPG gaming, but the end of the year was just the beginning.

At some point around this time, I was invited to join the main officers of the guild. I don’t know exactly how/why it happened (discussion threads on this are always removed before the officer joins) but it’s been something I’ve always cherished and considered an honor and a responsibility. Sure, sometimes it just devolves into just one more silly forum to complain in, but most other times we’ve pulled together to (hopefully) make the overall guild a better experience for everyone involved. The remaining few active amongst us are probably the people I’m closest to in the guild.

I’ve skipped over some other stuff like Final Fantasy XI and a stint in Everquest when they added some fun new dungeon content. In early December of that same crazy year, I won my first volleyball championship in a league I’d been playing in for years – we played (apparently) for 5 hours that night and won 10 games (all the same night) to bring home the championship. It was one of the most awesome moments of my life. But what happened next was an even bigger surprise. Seemingly out of nowhere, the officers of the guild had been secretly invited to the “Friends and Family” Alpha testing of what would later become the biggest MMORPG in history, World of Warcraft (WoW). We all went a bit crazy and I remember thinking this was the best birthday ever, between winning the championship and getting to test WoW, I was on cloud nine. Career-wise, I was very unhappy at that poing in time, so these little things meant even more emotionally.

Unfortunately sometimes getting what you most dreamed about can ultimately be disappointing. While the early moments of first trying WoW were awesome memories, eventually the excitment dulled and the reality of testing sank in. We argued a lot in the Alpha forums about the direction of the game, about death penalties, about leveling pace, about content – it was pretty fun and fruitful and I always like to think there’s just a tiny bit of me in what eventually launched. When the game finally released (I’m skipping over a lot of drama here), there was a horde (no pun intended) of excitement and for the most part I think everyone enjoyed the bulk of their time in the game. But all good things come to an end, and suffice to say, the guild members eventually split into a more “hardcore” group (which persists successfully to this day) and the “rest of us” group, which still tends to wander from game to game, ever waiting for the “next big thing.”

It’s funny and a bit scary to go through the “Tombstone” section in our forums, where you can see all the stops and starts we’ve gone through over the years following. You can check out a couple of posts I made to the blog a while back to see what I had to say about the genre in general to get a sense of the problems I saw that seemed to be tied to the unrivaled success of WoW. But whatever else you say about it, you can’t deny WoW’s staying power, now closing in on 7 years.

In the mean time, many of us have had some strong outings in other games like City of Heroes/Villains, Guild Wars, and what we’d hoped to be the grand resurrection of the guild, Warhammer Online. Each of these games had strong followings that lasted on the order of a year or so, counting multiple stops and starts, and each offered small upgrades and updates to the genre that favor the more casual playerbase. But ultimately none of them created long lasting homes for more than a few months at a time. More recently we’ve had a consistent group religiously playing a small free to play game called League of Legends (LoL), and in present days we’ve embarked on another traditional MMORPG called Rift. For a while there was a long dry period and we lost a lot of people, and even diehards like myself started losing faith. But there are a few shining hopes out there, amongst them Guild Wars 2, that may yet bring a renewed vigor to the genre.

Through all of that there’s been the forums, and of course by forums, I mean the people that sustain them, read and participate. I’m most thankful to everyone who’s stayed with us through the rocky and/or boring periods, as I know how easy it is to just drift away and move on to other pursuits. At some points in time over the years, there’ve probably only been a few active folk, myself among them, and there were moments where even I almost gave up on the whole thing. We’ve had some extraordinary dramas (rare) mixed with tons of good times and good memories. And recently a bunch of babies to start the next generation of Wanderers 🙂

TLDR? It’s been an incredible and magical 10 years of gaming and friendships, and I for one am really looking forward to the next 10.

If you’ve read anything from this blog before, you’d know I was a pretty dedicated Apple fan, so keep that in mind as I discuss the embarassing debacle now known as the iPhone 4 launch. I’m not sure exactly who to blame or what the core problems are, but this 4th release of the iPhone was by far the worst and most poorly executed one that I’ve been a part of. And yes, I’ve participated in all four. It’s difficult to come up with viable excuses when the companies in questions are loaded with cash and filled with experience doing these releases yet somehow came across as unprepared amateurs; you’d think this was the first time they’d done this.

It all started with the Pre-order mess. A date but no specific time was announced for the start of pre-orders. Now “normally” one would think that this iss not a big deal, it’s just a pre-order. But by this time, with over 80 million iPhones sold, and the presumptive release tagline “This changes everything again,” you’d think Apple and/or AT&T would have an inkling that there just might be some significant interest and pent up demand for this release.

So what happened? Ordering began around 1am PST that night if I didn’t hear wrong. I woke up at 2am and started trying, but was never able to get through AT&T’s servers when they would try to confirm my status. It would typically get to a point when they were waiting for information from AT&T and then it would just time out or crash. Apple’s site was eventually crashing as well. I read that some people were having luck going directly to AT&T but that didn’t work for me either. So I went back to bed and tried again in the morning. And again. And again. All day it was the same, whether through Apple or AT&T it was just a flat out mess and eventually AT&T just said (on the phone, earlier they were just automatically hanging up on me) that their servers had crashed. I finally called the local Apple store and was told some people were having luck using the new Apple Store iPhone app. So I tried that, and lo and behold I was somehow given a “reservation” to pick a phone up on release day. Now what I really wanted was a true pre-order shipped to my home, but clearly that was not going to happen. I tried numerous times throughout the day, to no avail. By the time I made it home from work, the release date pre-orders had already ended and ship dates had been pushed out a week. Not much else to say here. Whether it was poor planning or poor execution, there’s just no excuse for such incompetence from these companies. Eventually it was announced that over 600,000 pre-orders had been placed. Impressive, but really not that big a number in the relative scheme of things. For comparison, 1.2 million copies of the first World of Warcraft expansion were sold on opening day – which also means that that many people (or more) were hitting the WoW servers that day. Do you seriously want to tell me that AT&T/Apple’s resources are less than Blizzard’s? Here’s a clue AT&T: spend some cash and upgrade your server capacity!

Next came the great AT&T price upgrade extravaganza. As a baseline, the iPhone 4 was being advertised with subsidized pricing (2-year contract) of $199/$299 for the 16/32GB models, which equates to a $400 total discount off the full retail price. This pricing was for any new customer or any old one who “qualified” for an upgrade. To be nice, they even pushed up the contract dates for some people, so that anyone who would expire in 2010 also qualified (essentially bumping qualification dates up to 6 months earlier). On top of this, they released a flyer and verbage on their website that for “previous iPhone users that didn’t qualify for the best pricing” a special “early upgrade” price would be offered with a $200 discount at $399/$499 with a reset 2-year contract renewal. This is exactly the system they used last year, and I think for the most part people were happy and satisfied with it. Sounds all good so far, right? Turns out that certain select customers (namely me) simply did not qualify through AT&T for either of these discount/upgrades. I called multiple times and mentioned the flyer, and even went to the store to confirm. Everyone had a different story. Supposedly “high spenders” had improved upgrade dates, though I was never able to confirm if this was true or not. Some people who bought the 3GS the same time I did were being offered *full* upgrade pricing, and others the early upgrade pricing. At the store I was told that the “early upgrade” price could only be used once every 2 years. Essentially I decided it was all arbitrary and completely at AT&T’s whim. What bothered me was the inconsistency and lack of definition. I can live with AT&T wanting to reward its highest paying customers, but they should define exactly what that means so that I can decide if it’s worth it for me to put myself into that category by spending more.

In any event, I ultimately decided to buck the system and simply terminate my existing contract for a $115 termination fee, and start a fresh/clean line with the full $400 discount, so essentially a $285 net discount. Some additional hassle no doubt, but this is what the actual AT&T store representative recommended to me! You can do the math yourself, but clearly this makes no sense. If they had simply offered me the “early upgrade” pricing as they did last year, they’d still have me on a new 2-year contract, and I’d only get a $200 discount. Their own stupid policy cost them extra cash up front AND created un-needed animosity. It’s a complete lose for them at the expense of a little inconvenience for me. Stupid stupid stupid.

As release day approached, word got out that pre-order shipments were being delivered early. In the past (both for the 3GS and iPad), Apple has controlled shipping so that everyone would get product on the same day. Not this time, as people started getting their phones 2 days early. Rumor has it this was deliberate to allow more people to start activating sooner and relieve the pathetic AT&T servers for the actual launch. Of course the early birds were happy, but people like myself who had put the time in to pre-order but were blocked from AT&T’s server ineptitudes were not happy campers. Not only had we been denied the comfort of home delivery, but now to add insult to injury, we were missing the day one release fun.

By the actual release date I was feeling pretty bitter and unenthused about the whole thing. I was actually thinking about the Droid X and Verizon and whether all this trouble was worth it. I woke up around 7am and debated whether to hit the lines. I checked online and apparently at my store there were over 500 people lined up since very early in the morning. I kept checking in and the word was that the line was simply not moving. I changed my plans and decided to go to work and come back later in the day. I kept checking online, and kept reading the same things: little to no line movement in a hugely long line, with conflicting reports on whether people were split into 2 lines (reservations and non). Basically it was a mess. I even heard there had been fighting in the store, not sure what that was about. I finally got in the line about 500 deep or so at around 7:30 in the evening. By this time there were no more non-reserves left and I thought the line might progress well. I was wrong. The line moved, but nowhere near quick enough and by 9 we heard talks about vouchers being given out; these vouchers would allow you to jump back in the following day. I ended up waiting until 10:30 to receive a voucher, thanks to some Apple store employees who seemed like they couldn’t stop chatting. At one point the “voucher guys” spilt up and started working one from front, one from the back. This was even more aggravating as some of the back people had only just arrived while others of us in the middle had been waiting over 2 hours. We were told explicitly that if we left that night, the *only* people buying phones the next day would be people in our line who had vouchers. I took a brief count and there were maybe 400 people max still left in line when I left, so I figured waiting until the next day was a no-brainer.

I came back after work around 4:30 and there were only a few people in front of me, maybe 15 at most. At some point I realized they had actually lied, because some of the people in line with me told me they weren’t part of the previous night’s line, but had been given vouchers for some other line in the morning. By that time I really didn’t care to belabor the argument, but the flat out lying and misinformation given out by the Apple employees was pretty disappointing. I’m sure this isn’t their fault individually, but someone in Apple management had clearly directed this strategy. At that point if phone stock had run out I was planning to make a major scene. Luckily it didn’t come to that, but I still ended up waiting nearly another 2 hours before I was let into the store. By that time they had really worn out my resolve, and the cheery Apple salesman was able to con me into multiple extra purchases. On a side note I do wonder if this isn’t some sort of bizarre psychological tactic used to weaken customers so that they are more compliant to buy more. The salesman was great, but I could see now why it was taking so excruciatingly long to make the line move. Every customer was being given full-on sales pitches for Apple Care, MobileMe, accessories, etc etc as well as personal support to activate and transfer everything onto their phone. Even a normally efficient person like myself ended up taking close to 20 minutes. I could easily see other customers taking 30-45 minutes at a time and this relatively small Apple store clearly did not have the size and personnel to create a larger throughput.

All told, this launch may have been numerically successful for Apple (they are touting 1.7million sold in 3 days), but I think psychologically they may have failed for the first time. Many people were irate at the broken pre-order system, some at the mis-steps in shipping, more were disappointed in the poor efficiency of the stores and line-ups (I’ve read a variety of issues with AT&T and Best Buy stores as well), and all of that is now topped off with a possible faulty antenna design (more on that in a future post). How do you get this far along in the process and come out looking this unprofessional?

I think it’s become clear that Apple is fast outgrowing their singular (no pun intended) tie to AT&T; the exclusivity is becoming a burden for everyone involved. AT&T simply can’t handle the volume of customers, as well as the bandwidth requirements, but the demand continues to grow. Splitting off to Verizon and T-Mobile and giving customers some additional choices is only going to help everyone. Let’s hope it happens soon.