An open letter to Steve Jobs

Dear Steve,

You should understand first of all: I have no intention of filing for divorce. We’ve been together too long to even contemplate the horrific alternatives. However, I do think we need to see a counselor. Someone who can help us communicate, because I’m feeling ignored and disregarded.

In your current incarnation, you sit on my lap pretty much all day long. There’s a lot of heat between us, but you do your best to keep things cool while I’m working. Together we have written (over the years): one doctoral dissertation, a couple dozen academic articles, two full length academic books, numerous class plans, evaluations, recommendations; newspaper editorials and magazine articles and letters to the editor; short stories; seven novels currently in print (more than a million words, please note); two more forthcoming. You were with me every step of the way when I wrote Homestead, which won the PEN/Hemingway award. You are the keeper of my family history, my banking records, my daughter’s childhood memories, all my music, my entire calendar and all my contacts. If I had to estimate, I would guess that I have written or received a million emails in the last ten years.

You are indispensible. I am very happy to admit that. We make an excellent team. But recently I note you are distracted. Or should I say, more distracted than usual.

I am technically monogomous, but you are not and have never been. For many years this arrangement worked very well. On the rare occasion I had to call you at work, your assistants answered promptly and made sure that you understood what was needed. We functioned so well together that we never had the little hiccups that send other couples for advice. I have a neighbor who has had a partnership with a Windows computer for a long time, but even now I still hear her screaming obscenities in her frustration and anger.

You’ve come a long way, and I appreciate the effort that has gone into the advances. But your new little i-friends are so demanding you don’t have time for your loyal, long-time relationships. And it shows. For example: for three weeks now I have been calling you at work and talking to people at the technical assistance office.

By the way, the telephone number to call for technical assistance is well and truly hidden. I can’t believe you’d stoop to such tactics to avoid my calls.

I have spent at least three hours on hold. While I am on hold, there is the most horrendous music. You force me to listen to 80s big hair bands, and to add insult to injury, the quality of transmission is very poor. It fades in and out, full of static. Having to listen to this hold music is more than most people can bear.

I can’t believe you’d stoop to such tactics to get me off the phone once I’ve found the number.

That first call I spoke to a young man who was helpful, but curt. Very well, I understand you are busy. I explained the problem thus: Please tell Steve that the plug that inserts into my PowerBook G4 is frayed and breaking, and could he please bring me a new one on his way home? Specifically, I am talking about the end of the cord that plugs into the computer. The young man went away; I waited another twenty minutes listening to that horrendous noise you call easy listening. He came back, and at that moment we were cut off. I hoped he would call me back, or complete the work order on his own. A week later I gave up this childish idea and called again. Again I waited at least a half hour, and again (it’s painful to recall this) I was subjected to torture by Van Halen and Nirvana. The young woman who finally came on the line looked up the record of my earlier call, finished writing down whatever it was she needed to pass on to you, and promised that I would have the replacement part within a few days. All my doubts about our relationship disappeared this morning when I found the box propped against my door. You do still care! I opened it immediately, and stood there, shocked. You sent me the wrong cord/plug. I asked for the part that plugs into the computer, and you sent me the part that plugs into the wall.

Your new little i-friends are so demanding you don’t have any time for your loyal, long-time friends.

On the website there was no place to record this mistake or ask for a solution. With trembling hands I dialed the support number again. That was at about 3:30pm today. After a half hour on hold (nails on a blackboard? child’s play) I spoke to a polite young man who looked at the history of this problem and told me that the new part had been dispatched. Yes, I said. I received it this morning. It is the wrong part. You received the power cord? I received the power cord, but what I need is the other end of the cord. The end that plugs into the computer, that is what I need. After five minutes of discussion about the difference between the plug that fits into the computer and the plug that fits into the wall socket, he declared himself prepared to send me to dispatch where the problem could be rectified. I pointed out that dispatch had sent the part they had been told (erroneously) to send. Really, it made no sense to transfer me to dispatch. Could I speak to a supervisor? Please?

I was on hold for twenty minutes, waiting for dispatch. Finally I was connected to Jay, who was not from dispatch at all. He works in one of the Texas offices as a parts specialist. Jay was very helpful and polite. He promised to send me the right plug immediately. He did need my credit card number, in case I didn’t send the old part back. (And why would I want to hold onto a fraying, overheated plug?

I can’t believe you’d use such a weak excuse to get my credit card number. I can’t believe you NEED my credit card number. I have bought at least a dozen computers over the last fifteen years, as well as every other kind of hardware and a rich selection of software — and, most relevant of all: I have bought the extended Apple Care protection for every computer. Including your current incarnation, with the fraying plug-that-goes-into-the-computer. Steve, love of my technical life, you should know my credit card number by heart.)

It is now 4:41 and I just got off the phone with Jay. I hope you understand that I open this discussion out of affection, respect and appreciation. It is not my intention to hurt you, but please. Can we please have a return to the days when you didn’t keep me waiting for hours at a time? When I didn’t feel like one in a harem of a thousand? Your little i-friends are very cute, but do they write award-winning novels? Or novels of any kind at all. When people say to me that you only have twelve percent of your market, I always respond the same way: you can say the same of Mercedes-Benz. You are excellent, but you are also drifting away from me.

Would you like to make an appointment with a counselor, or should I?

Your affectionate partner Rosina Lippi

Cranky Consumer Report

When I run into a really good piece of software, I post about it here. For example: Scrivener is really working well for me, and so is Curio (if you’re really interested you can look for my original posts on these two). When I’m writing (which I will be doing as soon as I finish this post) I have only these two applications open, and they work very well together. I recommend them highly. If you are visually oriented (as I am) you will really like Curio.

Cliphanger Black Small
In the same spirit of sharing information, I have a complaint. Have you heard of the Cliphanger? It’s a system for keeping cell phones, pdas, ipods, etc easily within reach. You put the removable hanger on the back of the phone, put the hook on the wall or the dashboard, and voila.

Simple ideas are often the best. I’ve been struggling for years to find a good way to stow the phone while I’m driving — so I can see the caller ID, and hit the speakerphone if I need to. So I ordered the Cliphanger — which is not cheap, we’re talking here about mass produced plastic parts and small bits of adhesive, after all — with some extra hooks.

At first all went well. Hanger attached to cell phone, no problem. Clips onto purse strap, no problem. Hook attached to study wall. I let it sit 24 hours, as recommended, no problem. So I was very cheery when I went to put the hook on the dashboard of my car. In fact I was going to put on two hooks, one for the phone, one for the ipod. I had hopes of never again hearing that sickening crunch of stepping on a very expensive piece of plastic and metal.

I get the first hook ready, I prepare the surface, I study the dashboard for the perfect spot. I apply the hook.

The hook falls off. I pick it up. Maybe I did it wrong? But no, the hooks on the office wall went on without a problem, exactly the same way. I try again.

The hook falls off and rolls underneath the seat to a place unreachable by grasping human fingers. So maybe it was a one-time defective hook. I get the other one ready, very carefully. I place it on the dashboard firmly, hold it there for thirty seconds.

It falls off immediately, bounces on the open door and flies off into the grass beside the driveway.

So I did what any reasonable consumer does: I went back to the website, found the email address for assistance, and I wrote. Two days later I wrote again. Nothing.

Today I decided to file a claim. I filled out the online form, explained (again) the situation, and hit the send button. Now this is what I got:

We have received your submission. Please reference the above RMA # and return all available broken Cliphanger pieces to the address below. For most returns, a small padded envelope and a first class stamp via the USPS are sufficient. Replacement parts will be sent when we have received your return.

Cliphanger, LLC
695 North Kays Drive Suite #9
Kaysville, UT 84037

Email any questions or comments to: Remember to include the RMA # above in all correspondence for best service.

A suspicious person could postulate that this company has programmed those little buggers to go skittering off to remote spots, so there’s nothing to return and you’re just out $5.99 for a pack of three. Worse, you’ve got a hanger on the phone but nothing to hang it on. Worserer: nobody from customer service gets back to you.

Time, money, effort: wasted.

So fie upon Cliphangers. Fie.

secret weapon revealed

In my usual superstitious way I have kept Curio to myself for quite a while now, but Jenny has been gushing and so I’ll fess up. At this time I have two applications open when I’m writing. Scrivener, where I do all the actual writing and keep text-type notes; and Curio. Curio is a way to organize material for any given project, but it’s more than a filing system. It lets you organize visual cues and mix them with text, add in maps and scribble over it all if you need too. This is great for me, as I am so visually oriented. Here are two exported idea spaces, as they are called.


I can add to and edit these as necessary. When I find a good image I just drop it into the library and then I can find it easily when it occurs to me, at three in the morning, that Elizabeth is now wearing reading spectacles.

Miss Lack, Noam Chomsky, autopsies

Preface: Noam Chomsky is not in need of a post mortem. He’s alive and well and will live (I hope) for many more productive years.

Yesterday at a short meeting, I ran into someone I know through the Girlchild. She mentioned to me that she was reading Homestead and really liking it, which of course is always lovely to hear. Then she said that she had come across a sentence that she couldn’t diagram.

My first reaction: sheer panic. Please, I said, tell me you’re not hoping I’ll remember the sentence.

Luckily that wasn’t what she was trying to get at. She meant that she thought the sentence worked, but didn’t understand its structure.

Pause here for a flashback to my fourth grade classroom, Miss Lack with her beehive hairdo, and the blackboard where we learned to diagram sentences the old fashioned way. I liked taking sentences apart to see how they work, and I was good at it. In fact, Miss Lack was the first teacher to give me the idea that I was good at writerly things.

Now forward in time to graduate school and Chomskyan syntax, where taking a scalpel to a sentence had a different purpose — and was interesting for more complex reasons.

And back again to the here and now.

When I’m writing a story, I never, ever diagram a sentence. I just don’t think that way. Storytelling glides along on another plane, and wants nothing to do with dissecting noun phrases and subordinate clauses. Thus: I would have been happy to let this conversation drift away to be forgotten, but then this friend did email the sentence in question.

Now I feel obliged to reply (Catholic schoolgirl automatic response no. 23). So I looked at it, the sentence in isolation. That is, here is the sentence, taken out of the warm nest of the story and pinned to the electronic autopsy table:

When she looked at the available men in Rosenau, Wainwright’s Katharina could see no promise in any of them but of children and farm work, things that interested her not in the least.

Against my better judgment, ignoring the voice in my head screaming PROCRASTINATION, I looked at this sentence, which really is composed of three sentences draped over and around each other in cozy comaraderie. For a moment I considered trying to locate the old software that allowed me to produce a classic tree diagram ala transformational grammar, but that way lies madness. Or at least OS X 9, a place I never go these days.

So instead, a completely ad hoc approach that would satisfy neither Miss Lack nor Professor Chomsky. The three sentences:

1. She ||looked || (at the available men) (in Rosenau).
(transform into a relative wh-clause)
2. WK || could see || no promise (in any ((of them)))
|| [promise of] (children*) (farm work*)
3. Things* interested her {negation strategy}.
(transform into subordinate clause)

After this I’ll I have to spend some time putting the poor thing back together and tucking it back into the story.