Maybe I Actually Do Make A Difference

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a superhero when I grew up. Specifically Batman. He had no super powers, but was super smart, skilled in terms of fighing and had unbeatable willpower. That gave him the ability to make a differnce in a huge way. That appealed to me.

Instead, I became a computer nerd.

So much for saving the world and making a difference. Or so I thought. My mind started to change when I get a e-mail from a client of mine marked “URGENT REQUEST.” It detailed the fact that she wanted me to help her 82 year old aunt who is house bound and various challenges as she was having challenges with various pieces of technology. Specifically:

  • She has a cell phone that didn’t seem to work in some parts of Toronto
  • Her printer didn’t print anymore
  • Her home phone had a lot of static on it
  • Her iPad was “not behaving properly”

I then made arrangements to visit the next day. When I arrived, I met a charming 82 year old woman who simply wanted everything that she uses to work properly as she his house bound and the various items that uses are her only way to keep connected to friends, family and people like doctors and the like. In her use case, technology is her lifeline which is radically different from the company with an e-mail server that is not secured properly or WiFi access that doesn’t work properly. That in my mind makes it far more important. Thus I went about troubleshooting these issues.

When it came to the home phone, I asked a few questions about where she heard the static and discovered that it it was only on a wired phone as she had two cordless phones that worked fine. So I examined the wired phone and found that the handset when moved generated a lot of static, and nothing I did would fix it. The phone in question was likely 20 years old so I figured that the best course of action was to replace it. But the question was, with what. After talking about her I discovered that she is hard of hearing and her eyesight isn’t the best. Thus I needed to get her a phone with a big and clear display for Caller ID purposes and with big buttons that she could see. I settled on this phone from Best Buy which also had an answering machine (which allowed her to replace a rather old answering machine) and a speaker phone. After installing this phone, the issue with static has disappeared. A quick tip for you: Before calling Bell Canada or whomever your telco is to have them come out and look at a static issue, always check all the devices in the house first as static issues often can be traced to a device in the house. Plus it will save you some time and effort as you won’t have to take a day off to wait for your telco to arrive, and it may save you money as if the issue is inside your house (as in a bad phone), they will charge you for the service call.

My next stop was the printer. It was an old Lexmark inkjet printer/scanner/copier that when I looked at it, had a dead motor which kept the inkjet heads from moving back and forth. It was likely about 10 years old, and given the cost of these sorts of printers these days it was not worth repairing. Thus another trip to Best Buy to pick up this HP printer/scanner/copier. I chose it because I needed something that was simple to operate for her as that was important to her as she likes her independence. I also made it simpler to operate by setting up the included scanning software to have as few options as possible so that scanning and saving documents would not only be easy, but the resulting scans would only go in one location that she could easily get to. One other note, the old printer went to a Toronto Waste Transfer Station that handles eWaste as I didn’t want it in a landfill. If you’re in Toronto and want to dispose of your eWaste properly, here’s a list of locations that will take it.

Next up was the iPad. I looked at it and figured out that what “not behaving properly” meant. It was that the home button wasn’t working. It was in a case and when I removed it from the case, I discovered that it had clearly been dropped and the case that she had did not protect it. The iPad in question was a WiFi and cellular model with a 30 pin dock connector on it, which meant it was very old. After showing her this, she decided on getting a new one. But it had to have a big screen and she needed to ensure that it had the ability to allow her to type in Ukrainian. I had to ensure that it was in a case that would survive a drop. So here’s what I did. I got her the following:

  • iPad Air 2 32GB WiFi Only: She had no need for cellular capability, thus I saved her a few dollars by going this route. And it has a 10″ screen which qualifies as “big” without getting an iPad Pro while being lighter than the iPad she has at present.
  • Tech21 Evo Play Case: This case is designed for kids. Meaning that any iPad inside it should survive a drop as some extremely dense foam will take the impact.
  • Native Union Belt XL Lightning Cable: I noticed that the Apple 30 pin cable that she was using was in rough shape as it was too short (it was a meter in length). When I asked her about it, she mentioned that she had to replace that cable from time to time as they kept dying. I decided to get her a longer (3 meters) and stronger cable that would last much longer.
  •  iPad Air Smart Cover: This will add an extra layer of protection by protecting the screen.

The original plan was to use iTunes on her PC to back up this broken iPad, and then restore it onto her new one. Great plan. But it was thwarted when I discovered that the 30-pin dock connector was too badly damaged to be recognized by her PC or my MacBook Pro. That forced me to go to plan “b” which was to walk through each setting and set the new iPad up to be exactly the same. I faced some challenges as she wasn’t sure about the passwords for her Apple ID (her nephew helped me with that as he set that up) and her WiFi password (I logged into the cable modem that was supplied by Rogers to get that info as nobody changed the default password, which was fortunate for me). But fortunately, she remembered her Yahoo e-mail password. Half an hour later I got it set up and working. For bonus points I set up Apple Messages and FaceTime so that she can now use either with anyone that has an iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone. Plus she now had Siri for the first time. All of that blew her away. For now I asked her to hold onto the old iPad so that if I missed something that she needed, I could always use it as a reference point to get it back.

The last thing on the list was the cell phone. Her complaint was that the last time she tried to use it when she went to see her doctor, it would not make a phone call. When I looked at it, I found that it was working. But I also discovered that it used Bell Mobility’s 1X EVDO network which was a precursor to the GSM and LTE networks that we have today. The problem with that is that Bell Mobility is decommissioning this network as it is far from being state of the art. So, my assumption is that while it was working in her home, it didn’t work at her doctor’s office because there were no 1X EVDO towers in that area. Thus she really needed to replace the phone. Her niece had offered up a LG flip phone locked to the Chatr network that she had lying around. I in turn went to a local Chatr store and bought a SIM card for $10 and via a call to the customer, set up automatic billing on her credit card which scored her an $80 credit. I delivered it the next day and made sure it worked inside the phone, and showed her how to use the phone. I also left her instructions on how to cancel her Bell phone. Which apparently was not a pleasant experience according to her.

One thing that I should note is that I wanted to run this scenario by Chatr via Twitter, so I tweeted them:

I got no response. So I tweeted to Chatr again the next day:

Again, I got no response. That was a #Fail. Why have a Twitter account if you don’t respond to tweets that are sent to it? What’s worse is that Chatr is owned by Rogers who is very easy to deal with via Twitter. Thus you would think that this sort of dicipline would have filtered down to Chatr. Clearly not. Chatr needs to improve on that front.

One of the things that happened is that because she declared me to be competent, she tossed three other tasks at me. First, she had a Bose Wave music system that she said “didn’t work” as she was unable to control it via the remote control. I had a look at it and found that the wireless remote control had a dead battery. A quick trip to get a CR2032 battery (and a spare in case this happened again solved that issue. During testing it, I also discovered that one of the disc slots in her 4 disc changer did not work properly. But seeing as she had three others that worked fine, it wasn’t an issue to her.

Second, she wanted a way to be able to see who was at her door on her TV. Then when she confirmed who it was, remotely unlock the front doot. My first thought was that maybe this could be done by getting Rogers Smart Home Monitoring installed as they have cameras and home automation tools as as part of their solution. Seeing as she was alreadu a Rogers customer as she has cable TV and Internet, I reached out to Rogers via Twitter for assistance:

To their credit, they reached out to me a half an hour later and I had a conversation via Twitter direct message with a very helpful Rogers employee named Jessica. She in turn directed me to a Rogers Home Monitoring agent named Jan who after listening to this scenario recommended that I get a in home assement as the use case was kind of unique. After explaing what happened to the client, she said that she’d think about it and call me when she was ready to proceed. I have all the details on file so that when she wants to act on geting Rogers Smart Home Monitoring.

Finally, she had problems ordering online from Grocery Gateway. Apperently she was very confused by a recent redesign of the website back in June. I offered to sit down and watch her try to do an order. By doing so, I quickly saw what the issue was. This website is one of the worst designed websites that I have seen. It was very confusing even for me, and I can see how it would frustrate an 82 year old woman. Having said that, I was able to coach her on how to order from Grocery Gateway’s new website. As a result, whe was able to complete that order and at least two others without my help.

Now I seem to not be alone in beliveing that this website isn’t the best. Karl Lohnes is formerly of HGTV’s This Small Space, Style At Home magazine, Metro News & CTV’s Canada AM. He’s currently writing a book, dishing decor trends and designing products. That makes him someone who’s opinion that you might want to listen to. He’s no fan of the Grocery Gateway website: 

On top of that, a Grocery Gateway driver that I talked to admitted that he had been hearing all sort of static about the quality of the website since it was redesigned in June. Hint to Grocery Gateway: You need to make your website easier to use. I know you just redesigned it in June. But it sounds like you need to do it again as it is frustrating some of your clients.

While I did nothing heroic, and I am far from being a superhero, I am glad that I was able to have made a difference to this customer that directly affects her quality of life. That’s something that I am proud of. It’s experiences like these that make what I do worthwhile.

Besides, I likely don’t look good in a cape, tights, and a mask.

UPDATE: About 40 minutes after posting this story, Chatr responded to my requests for assistance from several days ago via Twitter. They apologized and said that they are investigating with their “messaging partner” why they didn’t receive my tweets.

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