English: Genius Bar at the Apple Store, SoHo, ... English: Genius Bar at the Apple Store, SoHo, Prince Street, SoHo, Manhattan, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember when the biggest complaint about customer service was the guy in the call center in India whose accent you didn’t understand?

I long for those days now. Call centers all over India have been shuttered as brands push their customers to the online FAQ. You now need a Ph.D to wade through the options and decision trees that confront you as you click on the link that says “get help now.” Trust me, it’s a misnomer.

Even the Apple Store’s interface has changed. The cool thing about Apple was always the ability to make an appointment at the Genius Bar. Well, you still can do that, but only if you are an expert at wandering through all the other “help options,” including figuring out which of the topics your problem belongs in.

My MacBook Air kept crashing. I got online to look for the Genius Bar, and I found the triage page. You would think “computer crash” would be a hot topic, but it was subsumed under “Other Topics.” I clicked on Other Topics and found one that might be applicable: “hardware not working as expected.”

Desperately trying to keep me out of the store, the next screen told me how to run Apple Diagnostics. It also told me that if my machine was issued before June 2013, Apple Diagnostics wouldn’t work, and I’d have to use Apple Hardware Test. My machine, which I acquired in EXACTLY June 2013, wouldn’t let me run either.

Finally: “No thanks, continue” gave me a menu of options, including leaving a phone number so Apple could call me back. On this page, I finally got to make an appointment for the Genius Bar.

We are being converted into a generation of IT specialists by companies that do not want to spend money to support us. Google doesn’t even have a phone number anymore. Neither does Misfit, with whom I’ve been having a running email exchange (“please do not write above this line”) about my inability to sync my Shine. I won’t bore you with the FAQ on its site.

I’d give anything for a reliable Indian guy in a call center.


We Have the Education System we Deserve

by Francine on April 27, 2015

This past weekend I spent the morning as a volunteer for SySTEM Schools at a job fair for teachers called the Great Arizona Teach-In. Sponsored by the Arizona Department of Education, the Teach-In is an in-person exchange where new teachers and teachers who wish to change jobs — or have to change jobs because of layoffs or relocation — can come and meet with schools that are hiring. SySTEM, of course, is hiring.

Boy, did I learn a lot. For one thing, I learned that many veteran Arizona teachers are so burned out that they cannot even summon enough energy to present themselves properly for a job interview. They are amazingly lackluster and apathetic as a group, or at least they appeared to be so as they walked around the hotel ballroom looking for schools that were hiring. Half of them looked as though they had just suffered a death in the family.

They’re not looking at their potential employers as an exciting challenge, but just as a paycheck within commuting distance. The first question almost everyone asked us was “where are you located”? And that’s on our web site and our brochure.

Many also lack specific certifications for what they want to teach and seem unwilling to go in and take a certification test in sixth grade math or history. We saw an alarmingly small number of people I personally would let into a classroom to teach my child.

I also learned that charter schools are not necessarily taking students from public schools — only certain ones are. Many charter schools are struggling, either because they started up in neighborhoods without enough children or because they didn’t know enough about finances. This would be akin to opening a store without doing market research about the nearby trade area, or operating one without counting the cash at the end of the day.

On the gossip front, I learned that TesserAct, a private school whose board I was on when the parents bailed it out less than a decade ago, is once again at risk because of administrative incompetence and poor financial reporting.

When I was on that board, we had an entire room full of business people who pored over the financials in an almost line item manner. We all knew how to read a P&L and we did. It’s remarkable how quickly that board either deteriorated or lost interest in providing oversight to the school. Now that I’m on the SySTEM Schools board, I’m looking at this school’s books and budget, and warning every month: “don’t run out of cash.”

My experience as a start up consultant has stood me in good stead in the education arena, because I can see that the strength of educators is not financial. No wonder the business-driven charters are succeeding and some of the most visionary have failed. It takes more than a mission to keep a school open.

I have a couple of suggestions after my new-found learning: education schools need to teach some business if education reform is to succeed, and teaching needs to become more exciting as a profession to attract more energetic people.


The MisMarketing of the Apple Watch

April 15, 2015

By the time I woke up April 14 at 5 AM PDT and logged onto the Apple Store, the delivery date for the Apple Watch Sport was June. My first clue to the mis-marketing of this product was the fact that I could even get into the store. When the phones and the IPad launched, […]

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What Can Ellen Pao Teach Us?

March 30, 2015

I mentored women this morning. Not a novel activity for me, because I’m often asked to do it and I always say yes. But this morning was different. I had the Ellen Pao trial on my mind. As you already know if you don’t live in a cave, Ellen Pao was a venture capitalist who […]

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Doesn’t Anyone Realize Silicon Valley is About Business?

February 2, 2015

The most disingenuous aspect of Silicon Valley right now, and by extension the rest of the world because the Valley is a trendsetter, is the disregard for “business” in the technology business. In all the startups that define the bro culture thepublicity goes to the guy who builds the product, forgetting that a product is […]

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Kolibree Connected Toothbrush: with Apps for Kids

January 6, 2015

The Internet of Toothbrushes is here, and just in time. In my lifetime, I’ve spent a fortune in dental care because we didn’t have adequate information about prevention when I was a kid, and I got gingivitis in college.  There are many connected devices I wouldn’t care much about, but having also paid for the […]

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Are There Tech Startups in Arizona? Yes

December 3, 2014

Some time last week, VentureBeat published a post with the title “How Arizona (yes) Arizona is Becoming a Hotbed for Technology Startups.” It was founded by Don Pierson, who has been an entrepreneur in Arizona for more than two decades. In theory, he’d be an authority. While I’m certainly no naive cheerleader for Arizona, I […]

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What Does Your Home Screen Reveal About You?

November 19, 2014

It’s time for the latest round of speculations on whether the web is dying (because of apps), or whether apps are dying because of  new interfaces. I’ll just add my uneducated view: apps are just beginning to come to the everyday world. Although everyone’s fond of saying “there’s an app for that,” the number of […]

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Mindful Mothering

November 16, 2014

Mindfulness. It’s easy to be mindful when you’re sitting on a yoga mat focusing on the breath, But how do you bring this to every day life? I can meditate up a storm in the right circumstances, but it has always been extremely difficult for me to take it off the mat. One morning last […]

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Ad Week Was Scary for Agencies

October 6, 2014

Last week was Advertising Week in New York, the historic home of advertising and media. But while always a cause for parties and drinking,  the annual citywide meeting of agencies, publishers and brands has  evolved into a cause for hand-wringing as well. Some of the event titles gave away the uncertainty that afflicts the ecosystem […]

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