Friday, May 29, 2009

The Bane of the BlackBerry

Mars as seen from the Viking orbiter
I read a book once about the colonization of Mars. In that book there were many fanciful ideas of what life would be like in the future. Advances in medical science allowed people to live to well into their hundreds of years due to abilities to replace bodily organs that had failed. Cancer had been eliminated. But people still had to deal with each other's personalities, habits and idiosyncracies, and that is part of what the book was about along with the difficulties of surviving in the climate of Mars.
An interesting part of the story (at least to me) was about what they called AI (Artificial Intelligence) devices that everybody had and used on a regular basis. They were worn similar to wristwatches, had communications capabilities and computing capabilities as well. They were entirely voice activated and operated. Essentially they were sort of a cell phone and computer all in one device.
About the same time I read this book, (probably close to 20 years ago), I had attended an accounting seminar about changes in technology in our industry. Usually these seminars were about computer technology and software capabilities. Keep in mind that PC's had been around for awhile, but were not nearly as capable as they are now. We were told by one instructor, who thought he had a good vision of the future, that by 2010 we would all be carrying devices that were essentially the size and function of a small computer screen, entirely voice activated and operated and would serve as a phone, internet connection and computer all in one device. We all laughed and snickered at the time. It was hard to imagine.
Then of course came the "smart phone". I use the word smart in a loose manner. I am not sure how smart they are sometimes nor am I proclaimimg that they they are the AI devides that I referred to above. But they are close and in many ways are an amazing little device. Then, in April 2008, on a date, like FDR once said, "that will live in infamy" I was temporarily possessed by the devil and purchased a 'smart phone'.
The Blackberry 'Pearl'
A device that I love and hate at the same time. Not only is there a love hate relationship, but I paid $289 for this so called 'smart phone' that at times is an unbelievable pain in the ass. Many names are given to this device. I had a client that told me that they are referred to as "Crackberry's". Actually it really is an amazing device. I can get e mails, read blogs on the web, talk on the phone, take pictures, makes notes to myself, listen to music like an IPOD, bluetooth capability, store complete names, addresses, phone numbers, websites and many features that I do not use and never will.
It just seems to me that this device that is so capable of so many things is almost entirely dependent on one tiny piece of hardware attached to the keyboard.
I'm speaking of the "TrackBall". 'The Bane of the Blackberry'
Almost all of the navigation around the various functions of the device are enabled by the use of the TrackBall. It is just amazing to me that they can design amazing software and capabilities into a smart phone and have it be controlled by such an inept little pointing device (And I do mean INEPT!) that operates essentially as a mouse.
For the first few months all was well. I learned the many features of the device, played games on it, explored the web and generally got to know it as my friend.
Then, like it was possessed by a demon, it turned on me like a dog chasing you down the road and trying to nip at your heels while you tried to speed by on your scooter. I started noticing that the TrackBall would start to stick occasionally, sometimes in only one direction. A little while later the problem would go away and all would be fine. But eventually the problem became more frequent.
Just an additional word about me. (In a whisper) Sometimes I am not a very patient person. When I pay money for something, I expect it to work, and work well. I recently bought a new mouse for my office computer, because the old one did not survive me throwing it against the wall one day during 'tax season' when the computer did something it shouldn't have.
(Back to normal voice) The problems with the TrackBall eventually led me to the internet so I could get information on trying clean the device and/or repair it so it would work better. I was incensed that I had entered into a 2 year agreement for the 'smart phone' and the TrackBall was failing less than one full year into that agreement. I tried various solutions such as very carefully removing the TrackBall out of the phone with a very tiny screwdriver and cleaning it the best that I could with alcohol and reassembling the device. It was then that I had discovered that the little teeny plastic prongs that hold it into the phone were apparently meant only to be inserted once into the phone, because once it was removed, parts of the prongs would either bend or break and be weakened. I don't dare try and take it out again because I don't think I will ever get it back in again.
The intial cleaning effort improved the situation a little bit, but eventually it has gotten to the point where the Trackball will move adequately in all directions except to the right.
Up, Down, Left? No Problems!
But to the right? At times it works close to adequately. But at other times it seems to stick completely and only by the mercy of the Almighty above, does it ever seem to revive itself and begin working again.
I haved now lived with this situation for many months now. I recently visited a Sprint store and inquired as to whether I could buy a new TrackBall. Ever had that feeling you were being laughed at? Not just chuckles or giggles, but uncontrollable fits of laughter? I was told that they could repair the phone, but since I didn't buy the insurance on it ($7 per month), it might be close to $100 for them to fix it for me. Not only that, but they could not just sell me a TrackBall. They just didn't do that even though I bet that they have hundreds (maybe thousands) of them in the back room.
I mean, How Hard Can It Be? I already had it out of the phone 3 times by now. It's not Rocket Surgery! Why can't you just sell me a TrackBall, you Frickin Bas^%rds? I'll even give you a cash tip under the table! No such luck.
(More cackles of laughter as I left the premises.)
So I googled 'BlackBerry TrackBall'. I eventually landed at and purchased a ball for $4.99 plus $6.72 shipping and handling. (I should own stock in UPS). I suppose I could have found one eventually in this fair city, but I had lost patience a long time ago. Not only that, but I discovered that I had my choice of colors, so I went with the red color because it matches my helmet.
I rejoiced the day that the TrackBall showed up at the house. I had decided that I should have a good stiff drink, get my camera ready and photograph the 'minor surgery' about to occur and make this operation the subject of a blog post. Call me crazy if you want, but it's my blog and I'll Cry if I want to, Cry if I want to, like the old song says.
The moment approached. I examined the contents of the shipment I had received. I gathered up the tools I thought I would need. My wife was faithfully standing by in case of emergency. The cats were going to supervise, the dogs asleep on the floor as per their usual nature. There was much tension as a hush fell on the room.
Then we started.
As I began to remove the ring holding the trackball, I thought back to the days when the trackball operated adequately. I was excited about the return of those days. It has been a long time that I have put up with the trackball that operated in a somewhat dysfunctional manner.. I got the ring off and the old trackball came out easily. I was thinking that only in a few moments, my relationship with this phone could be restored back to its glory of the first few days after I first bought it. I removed the new trackball and the new ring from the package and began to insert the new trackball into the phone. The trackball is small and it reminded me of trying to thread a needle. My eyes are not good and it can be difficult for me to work with such smal items.
The new trackball didn't want to go in easily. A moment or two later I realized that I wasn't putting it in by lining it up in the correct manner. There were 2 very little pins on two sides of the trackball and I needed to line them up from right to left rather than up and down as I had originally tried. I remained patient.
I tried again for the next couple of moments. It was not going well. It seemed that there was another little metal piece that appeared to be slightly bent on the new trackball and it was preventing me from getting it properly in its place. After a few more moments though I was able eventually to get it in the phone and install the ring to hold it in.
I was beginning to feel relief and joy at the prospect of the new ability to operate the new trackball. I reinstalled the battery to the phone, replaced the back cover and patiently waited for the phone to go through the 'boot up' process. About a minute and a half later, the phone seemed ready to go with the new red trackball glowing proudly in its place.
My assistant, Jake Falkenstein
What is it about Murphy's law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I remained patient as I experimented with the phone and the new trackball as I watched in near horror and realized that the new trackball worked perfectly from right to left, but not worth a damn either up or down.
I considered cussing, but there was no one to hear me. I knew my wife was outside and would not hear me. What good is cussing If nobody can experience your frustration with you. I remained patient.
Like Casey at the bat, hope springs eternal and I rationalized that maybe the problem would correct itself. (Maybe the new trackball just had to get used to its new environment). I even took a couple of new pictures of the new red ball and how it matched my helmet.
Look at that red glowing Son of a ..............
In the future may mount here as a GPS device.
It felt perfect, smoothly moving in all directions, but for some reason it just didn't seem to send the proper signal to the rest of the phone for up and down movement. I could get from here to there eventually, but the movement appeared jerky on the screen and sometimes slow to respond, even occasionally not responding at all.
I thought to myself that this is not good. Instead of having difficulty in one direction only, like the original trackball, now I had trouble with 2 directions.
I was considering putting in the old trackball again when I had the thought that maybe a little cleaning of the junction points would help solve the problem. This would require taking the trackball back out again, but what did I have to lose?
This is how my blog appears on the BlackBerry browser.
I got out some alcohol and a nice piece of cloth and proceeded with trying to clean. By this time I was feeling a lot of disappointment, but remained hopeful. As I was in the process of this my wife returned home from the grocery store. She can be very adept with little electronic gadgets and I showed her the problem and asked her to help. She is abashedly unafraid of tackling these types of tasks and proceeded to jump right in and examine the situation.
She agreed that the one little piece of metal on the new trackball appeared to be a bit bent. We even got out an old pair of hemostats and attempted to straighten it. Keep in mind that the entire assembly is smaller that the width of a finger.
I heard the dreaded word "Oops" from her lips. I looked over and saw that the new trackball was in pieces on the counter. She looked embarrassed at me and thought I would be mad (not at her directly, but after 30 years she knows me pretty well), but all I could do was start laughing. We laughed together for a bit and then I proceeded to carefully put the old trackball back in the phone.
The sad vision of the new TrackBall (in pieces and virtually unrepairable)
I didn't dare throw the phone against the wall as I have been known to do with computer mice.
After all, I really like this phone.
That night and into the next morning I developed a new plan. I mulled it over repeatedly in my mind overnight.
My plan was this. March forcefully into the Sprint store where I originally bought the phone and demand satisfaction!
I carefully planned out what I would say and how I would say it. At this point I was ready to threaten moving my account to Verizon. In essence my plan was to either get the phone fixed or get a new phone. I was so tired of all this crap!
Now the other Sprint stores I had been to recently were not the store where I had bought the phone. There was one person there at 'my' store who really seemed to know his stuff and was knowledgable about the phones and the various plans. I was hoping he would be there and save me from any further pain inflicted upon me by this phone. But I was also ready to get really angry. Maybe a temper tantrum right there in the middle of the store would help them to 'see the light' and help me out.
Alas, Murphy's law again applied and the guy wasn't there. I inquired at the desk and was told by a nice young man that couldn't have been older than 20, to go see the 'dude' in the back of the store.
When I went back to the window at the back of the store, I was ready for battle. I told him I needed a new trackball. He said no problem and he could fix it in a minute or two. I asked how much it would cost because I didn't carry the $7 per month insurance. He said that was only a little problem, he would sign me up for the insurance for one month, fix the phone and I could cancel the insurance later.
I said 'Dude' you got a deal!
Four minutes later I walked out the store with a working trackball and a little confidence that somewhere within that phone company there are at least a few people that place some importance on customer service. My only disappointment was that I didn't get to throw my temper tantrum.
The end of the story is actually a bit anticlimactic, but I don't care because I actually have my phone back in working condition.
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone with SprintSpeed


  1. Jim:
    WOW. "Hemostats" , I've learned a new word and Mr Murphy again, he sure does get around. Firstly: glad you got your Crackberry working. I have a sort of similar customer service problem which has just been resolved and I may do what you just did, post an entry. I also just purchased a "smart phone" but this one is really smart, it's like having a PC in your pocket, along with a camera, videocam, pdf reader, Windows Mobile 6.1 (word, excel, powerpoint) so I know what you mean about having access to the WEB, forums and email. NO, I don't have your dreaded Trackball, mine is Touch Screen so if the screen goes, then I am hooped.

    You shouldn't have told us your "secret", but I already knew that mild, meek looking accountants had terrible tempers.

    bobskoot: wet coast scootin

  2. Bobskoot,
    These devices are really amazing. I spend very little time actually using it as a phone. (Nobody hardly ever calls me) But I spend probably way more time than I should on the web. I also use the notepad function a lot and a good portion of this and other posts were actually composed on the BlackBerry, then e mailed to my office where the final post is assembled.

  3. Jim aka cpa3485:

    As mentioned, I just purchased a Samsung Omnia i910. I plan to use it mainly on the internet, plus receive text messages and email. Having the phone is just a bonus. I also purchased the BT earpiece as it fits under the helmet for those times I am expecting a call. I really like the idea of a PC in your pocket

    bobskoot: wet coast scootin

  4. Sounds like the sort of horror story I get with technology. An apparently simple job turns into a nightmare of complexity. Mine rarely end as well as yours did though.

  5. Since it's cell phone day and not long ago I said I was done talking about mine at my own blog...

    I returned a Motorola Tundra to AT&T after I read online that my problems with bugs were known issues and got a Samsung Rugby. I like it, but all the old headsets I had didn't fit it. I needed an adapter, but AT&T suggested that I look online. I found one locally at a Verizon store after I bought a data transfer kit and the headset that came with it as a bonus didn't fit the phone. I simply mentioned to the salesman that it didn't fit and he told me to hold on while he checked in the back. Sure enough! Out he came just a little while later with an adapter. It fit great! Problem was, the person on the other end of my conversations heard an annoying buzz when I was using it.

    I sought another one with little luck traveling far and wide to malls and shopping centers. The other Verizon geeks wouldn't give me the time of day when they saw that I had an AT&T phone. Until yeseterday when I was many miles from home in Johnson City, NY. I explained to one of the Verizon guys what was wrong with the adapter I got and he ran right into the back room to get me a new one. Couldn't sell it to me, he said, 'cause it didn't have a SKU. He could, however, and did simply give it to me.

    Ironically, the one that I'd ordered online arrived while we were shopping. $23 with shipping. Same exact thing. Now I have an extra, but that's okay. I'd have wanted a reliable spare anyway.

    - Joe at Scootin' da Valley

  6. John and Joe,
    Thanks for writing in. I am always amazed that with any of these cell phone companies, there is one person that knows what they are doing surrounded by 50 that only have a partial clue as to what is going on. And from my experience, all the companies have similar problems. Sprint actually has a very economical unlimited plan, but you got to watch them like a hawk.

    Sometimes I think the trick is finding the right person to interact with, because a lot of them are clueless.

  7. HI Jim,

    FIrst, I'll admit my addiction to my BlackBerry Bold. That said, I cringed at reading your tale. I felt your frustration. I dropped mine and the trackball bounced out, ring and all. I put it back together and it's held up since (about 9 months since the drop). I recently misplaced my phone for 36 hours and the withdrawal was quick, long and painful.

    I am glad you've gotten resolution. Yes, I too have a love hate relationship but like any addiction. I feel I can't do without it. You've captured those views well...

  8. Sharon,
    Ahh, yes, addictions. Hadn't thought of that word, but I guess it does border on an addiction. Thanks for posting a comment.