Welcome Home, Laptop

I’m not one much for publishing the ups and downs of my day-to-day on the Internets (then what, one may ask, am I doing in Blogistan?), but a significant portion of my life has been taken up the last month by Gateway Computers.

Back in July, I bought a spiffy new notebook computer. Actually, it’s what referred to as a “desktop replacement”, it’s too damn big to truly call a notebook. So I refer to it as “The Necronomicon”. A Gateway M675XL, with a sexy widescreen monitor and a DVD burner. It quickly established itself as my favorite toy. I edited video and audio files on it, I was finally able to watch streaming video, the cable modem was finally functioning at its intended speed… life was good.

Until the day I booted it up and the display looked like a TV with a shot horizontal hold. I connected another monitor and determined that worked. A former computer technican I work with said there was a chance it was a faulty connection, so I gambled and took it to CompUSA. That was a $150 gamble. Too bad it didn’t pay out – the LCD screen was shot.

Attempts to contact Gateway by phone had failed – this was when the bulk of entry-levels consumers had attempted to install the Windows XP Expansion Pack 2, and had gone crying en masse to the support team, so by “failed” I mean I didn’t have the time or patience to hold on for a half hour or more. But the Gateway Website has a “Chat with a technician function” which I downloaded and installed on my until-then mothballed former, steam-driven computer. And I found myself in a tiny little chat room with a fellow who looked up my computer’s serial number, informed me that yes, this was covered by warranty, and gave me an address to ship it to. “What other documentation do I need to enclose?” I asked. None necessary, he replied. You’re good to go.

Knowing that LCD screens are pricey, I was greatly relieved, and told myself I really should look into one of those (similarly pricey) extended warranties. I packed the Necronomicon in its original box, which I had saved, along with the styrofoam inserts to hold it safe from harm, and journeyed down to the local UPS store.

About a week later, I e-mailed the support department at Gateway, inquiring if there was, perhaps, some sort of Web-based way to track the progress of the repair, this being, you know, the Twenty-First Century and all. This began a bewildering series of e-mails back and forth to and from a number of technicians, each more bizarre and bewildering than the last. The first basically said that repairs were done on a first-come, first-served basis, and I should just calm down, I would get my 3200S back as soon as possible.

I went immediately to the Gateway website. The 3200s is a budget desktop, available for under $400. Definitely not the two grand-plus Necronomicon. And so the nightmare began.

I kept this up for a week. I was given a customer number and reference number to use in future correspondence. There is a ten-point questionnaire detailing all these numbers, system passwords and the like, and I simply took to cutting and pasting the whole thing in every note I sent. I’m certain the techs were doing the same with their replies, as there was a lot of material that contradicted itself or had nothing to do with my plight. When I finally got an e-mail that told me that I was using somebody else’s customer number and a fraudulent computer serial number, I finally got a shipment from the Clue-Of-The-Month Club and set aside the following Saturday to get on the phone and talk to a human being.

And so began Nightmare, Phase Two.

It was actually fairly easy to get through this time. After some rummaging around their database, they ascertained that the computer was indeed in the warehouse where I shipped it, but that I was calling the wrong department. They gave me the number to call, which was not a toll-free number. And led to a department that was closed on weekends.


Mondays are busy days for me. I had to put off the call until Tuesday. Now, I would like to mention that I’m a preternaturally calm person, one of those people who get quieter as they get angrier. But throughout this ordeal, I kept a fairly modulated voice. It was not the fault of the drones picking up the phone, I realized, that my complaint didn’t fit into their little flow charts. About the only time I came close to anger was the first woman I contacted at the non-toll-free retail section, who made the mistake of saying, “I don’t understand what you want me to do about it.” My fairly curt “Obviously, then, put me in touch with someone who does know what to do,” seemed to galvanize her. My proper customer ID was finally turned over to me, and I was assured that it was now a simple matter of telling the warehouse who owned the computer, and I would receive a phone call from a supervisor that Friday giving me an update.

My phone was disturbingly quiet on Friday.

Okay, next Tuesday, another long distance call. This guy, at least, seemed to know what was going on. He explained that Gateway had recently bought eMachines, and the consolidation of the two customer databases had run into some hiccups, and I was such a hiccup. In short, my computer was registered to somebody else – the erroneous customer number I had earlier been assigned – and moreover, all this time I had needed to talk to the toll-free Gateway number, not the retail division. This was all in the course of a toll call that took an hour-and-a-half, with my technician constantly apologizing. He was on the line with a supervisor from that department, and he kept putting him on hold.

Finally, at the 90 minute mark (fortunately, my GameCube is in my office), I was promised – once again – that I would receive a phone call from that supervisor by Friday.

You can write the conclusion to that allegation yourself.

Finally, on Tuesday the 23rd, I called 1-800-GATEWAY once more. By now I had learned to begin each conversation with “You are the Nth person I’ve dealt with on this matter,” and related the condensed version of the tale to the tech. Who put me on hold, and disconnected me.

Suddenly, things started to happen.

Within three minutes a supervisor had called me back to apologize and get information. I was assigned yet another service number, and was quizzed rather endlessly as to whether or not I was Matt Johnson or if I knew a Matt Johnson. No, I assured the supervisor, and if I did know a Matt Johnson, I would punch him in the face right now. Once more I was assured that someone would get in touch with me in 72 hours. I’ve heard this before, I told him. He apologized again.

It didn’t take 72, it hardly took 12. I received a call first thing Wednesday morning, assuring me that the computer had, indeed, been located and an expedite placed on the repair. I was run through that questionnaire one last time, and was told I should have the computer back by Monday at the latest.

DHL delivered it to me yesterday, Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Had Turkey Day not been there, I would likely have gotten it Thursday.

So, in the end, I harbor no acrimony toward Gateway. Some technicians need to be slapped in the back of the head, but that’s common. Once I actually got hold of some people with competence, they bent over backwards to make it right. Admittedly, in my quest to not become “that caller”, I likely erred on the side of politeness. Had I insisted on speaking to a supervisor, say, during call #2, things might have gone more quickly… but you know what? The world sucks enough as it is. I choose not to add to the suck. Everything came out alright without resorting to being a total asshole. I feel good about that.

Though Gateway did lose a few points soon after, due to the call I received while unpacking and setting up my prodigal notebook. The call that assured me that they had found my computer and I should be getting it back in 9 to 12 days.

Hell, I may get that budget desktop yet.


BBC NEWS | UK | Ukraine state TV in revolt

tells us that the state-owned TV channel declared itself “tired of telling the government’s lies” and has joined the rising tide of unrest against an administration widely believed to have held on to its power by fraud.

Is this being reported on Fox News? My irony gland is twitching.

MediaFamily.org: The 2004 Video Game Report Card

The National Institute on Media and the Family have released their 9th Annual Video and Computer Game Report Card, and it is a fairly even-handed piece of work, although some alarms get raised by hand-wringing over Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas early on. The major points made include a call to retailers to actually enforce the ESRB’s ratings, and for parents to – and here’s a radical concept – pay attention.

The ratings are a powerful tool that go unused far too often, though I can recall a couple of times when I was trolling a Blockbuster for pre-viewed DVDs that I witnessed a clerk glance at a child, perhaps 12, next to an adult who was renting a GTA game, and quiz the parent over who would be playing the game. When it turned out the kid had prevailed on his father to rent it for him, the clerk pointed out to the father that the game was rated M, and what that meant.

In retrospect, I should have gotten the clerk’s name, and written Corporate a letter praising her.

The truly astonishing thing, looking back over the history of the home video game consoles, is how long it has taken games to come up – or down, depending on your point of view – to this level. Oh, there were anomalies like the infamous Custer’s Revenge, but it wasn’t until Mortal Kombat and a lamentable exercise called Technocop that some mature content – by which I mean blood and gore – started making inroads into the home consoles.

The Report Card is also good for checking out the 10 video games that the Institute feels should be kept away from children – and rightly so, for each and every one is rated M. Rumble Roses made #10.

I often wonder if game detractors thought that enacting a rating system would somehow contain the industry, the way most movie producers will do anything to avoid an NC-17 rating. There are, of course, two important points that counter this – the aging of the gaming population, and an entertainment industry that is not dependent on more standard, conservative advertising venues like newspapers to trumpet their wares. Gaming magazines are by and large made up of slick ads, often stretched over two pages, and the stories themselves in such magazines often double as advance hype.

That, and they also forgot that slapping ratings on broadcast TV allowed us such marvels as seeing Dennis Franz’ naked ass on NYPD Blue and the astounding amount of gore on display in the CSI series, stuff that would have made 80’s horror filmmakers pee themselves with glee. Utilizing the ratings actually allows more extreme fare to be created and shown.

The Institute also points the finger at video games as a contributor in the current “obesity epidemic”, but that’s only because a) they’ve never seen my son playing Dynasty Warriors 4 – he gets quite a workout; and b) everybody needs to be playing Dance Dance Revolution.

To their credit, though, the Institute does outline the positive aspects of gaming, and continuously hits the note that parents must be involved with their children’s choice of entertainment. If you’re a gamer, you should take a few minutes to read this article, because it is almost certain that portions of it will be used out of context by idiots in the coming months.

Just In Case You Still Thought Congress was Working FOR You…

File this under “Unenforceable”, but keee-rist. What legislator thought sponsoring this bill was a wise political move?

NBC 17 – Consumer Watch – Bill Could Criminalize Fast-Forwarding DVD Ads, Trailers

If this turns out to be a hoax picked up by a legit new source, like the recent “Renaming I-69” incident, color my face red. But it doesn’t speak well of things in the capitol if folks find such stories plausible enough to publish.

2004 Dangerous Toys List

W.A.T.C.H. world against toys causing harm, inc.

There are are at least two of these I need.

There is Nodding from the Hell Hole

The only pundit worth a damn, The Rude Pundit, has taken on my favorite politician, Tom DeLay, here and here.

Though he engages in his usual hyperbole (I find DeLay as loathsome a politican as any, but the accusations of child-raping and prostitute murder are a bit much), Rude as usual speaks the truth in the most unvarnished terms.

My Outrage Gland is Overworked

HoustonChronicle.com – Rule change to protect DeLay approved

“If they make this rules change, Republicans will confirm yet again that they simply do not care if their leaders are ethical. If Republicans believe that an indicted member should be allowed to hold a top leadership position in the House of Representatives, their arrogance is astonishing,” Pelosi said.”

Civilization Crumbles A Little More

First of all, We actually closed yesterday. So now, instead of only having 27 years left to paying off my house, I now have 30. Somehow I’m supposed to be relieved about that. What I’m relieved about is the absence of random phone calls demanding to know how much I spent on Mars bars in the year 1992 or that I immediately fax over notarized measurements of my dick.

In celebration of this new indentured status, I took my family to dinner at a slightly expensive restaurant (well, really, I had to, since the closing took an hour and a half thanks to some clerical errors the lender had made); then I bought my wife a CD she needed for a school function, and myself a new PS2 game.

The game’s name is Rumble Roses, and it is Exhibit A that the complete and utter collapse of civilization is underway, but at least this is a harbinger I can get behind. Here’s a screencap from gamespy.com to give you an idea of what this is about:

Yes, it’s a leather-clad dominatrix wrestling in a physics-defying bra design. Posted by Hello

Rumble Roses is theoretically a wrestling game, but it will come to be known in the future as “The Cat Fight Simulator”. All the playable characters are nubile (and given the Japanese origin of the game, sometimes disturbingly young) women, who seem to lead double lives as wrestlers and exotic dancers. The characters run the gamut of fetish types, including Catholic schoolgirl, cowgirl, naughty schoolteacher, nurse, and a masked wrestler in a red leather devil suit, seen above.

I’ve never played a wrestling game before, so I can’t really judge how it stacks up as an actual game in the genre; it is possible to target your opponents’ arms, legs, body or head in “Submission Holds”, causing damage and wearing them down. The instructions, though, are maddingly obtuse about how to achieve those holds. I’ve managed it by accident several times, but attempts to replicate them fail.

A lot of the moves are contextual; if you’re near a turnbuckle and press circle, you’ll climb it. Mostly though, you’ll be landing punches or kicks, building up a “Lethal Move Counter” that will either let you unleash your character’s signature “Lethal Move” or “Killer Move”.

Here, though, is where it gets perverse: Successful submission holds and some of the fancier flips and signature moves fill up a heart on the receiving character’s life bar. Once this heart is full, she’s wide open, so to speak, for a “Humiliation Finish”. The opponent then has one minute to build up her Lethal Move Counter to at least 1 so she can perform the humiliation move. You fanboys can put your cash back in your wallets, there is no nudity involved in these “Humiliation KOs”, but they do put the finishing touch to a game that seems like an interactive version of the “apartment wrestling” videotapes found in the back of lower-rent salacious magazines.

That’s still not the full package. The story mode is predictably stupid, but that’s not what is going to sell this game: The matches are not confined to the ring – there is also an option for mud wrestling. And it is possible to tell your Playstation to play both sides of a match, making it a cat fight generator. These two, alone, should cause the game to fly off the shelves and into the hands of Spike TV fans.

Posted by Hello

Yes, it’s a stupid game, and the very fact that I own it probably demeans me. Strangely, I don’t seem to care about that too much.

Good Guys Win: Film at 11

Small victories do not make the evening news, but they are what makes life bearable.

1. In an hour, I should be signing off on my re-financing. I’ve groused about this a bit over at my Bad Movie Report 7th Anniversary Column, but it looks like it is finally coming to pass. Unless, like last time, we will get into the parking lot and receive a phone call telling us there are “issues”.

2. Sean Hannity has been banished back to the bowels of Hell. Well, not really; he has been moved from an afternoon slot on the local news radio station to a similar slot on another AM station, which also hosts Rush Limbaugh and, I guess, any number of other right-wing pundits. I would like to thank the liberal-controlled media for doing something for me, for a change.

3. God, I’m such a sap. Last Saturday, in 9 Chickweed Lane, uber-geek Amos finally kissed Edda. Today, in a continuation of that storyline, she returned the kiss with interest. It’s amazing (and, no doubt, a bit pathetic) how much a simple comic strip has brightened up my day.

Your regularly scheduled wailing and gnashing of teeth will resume tomorrow.

The Real World is Poisoning My Movies

Probably the worst, strangest aftereffect of the rancorous 2004 Presidential election is the fact that I am no longer able to watch a movie without discerning political undertones, even if they’re not really there.

Take, for instance, the 2004 version of Around the World in 80 Days; instead of a gentleman’s wager setting the titular journey in motion, the wager is made as a blow against a repressive, reified scientific establishment which feels “there is nothing left to discover”. Of course, I immediately saw the bleeding-heart liberals (in the person of Phileas Fogg) versus the current administration’s roadblocking of science. Stem cells were never mentioned, but that was unnecessary. Curse those confounded Hollywood socialists!

Speaking of which, Turner Classic Movies showed the 1933 Gabriel Over the White House Saturday night, a movie I had often read about but never seen. Dropping by the IMDb, I find the flick blasted as “Lame leftist propaganda” and “a love song for fascism”. It’s definitely the latter, but I’m bemused by the former.

Walter Huston plays a puppet President who, after a near-fatal accident, gets “divine inspiration” and starts shaking things up. He tackles the racketeer problem by turning the US Army into The Federal Police and sending tanks in to bust up the bootleggers. The gangsters are not subjected to a trial, but a court martial – which ends up with them on the wrong side of a firing squad. Apparently they were prisoners of war, and thus didn’t have Constitutional rights.

Stop me if this is sounding familiar.

Huston’s next feat is to settle Europe’s war debts by threatening them. “America won’t stand for a war!” Huston is told. If I hadn’t been so ill, I might have guffawed at that.

It is, indeed, four square a love song for fascism, and I saw far too much that was familiar in it. And this is coming from a person with fascist leanings. Yes, I’ll pick up the tar brush and paint myself a liberal, but I also believe in a strong central government; I realize only too well how, therefore, horrible things could be done for “the common good”.

Now if, when I eventually see The Incredibles and Episode III, I am still perceiving this crap, I give up.