Category: Branding & Identity

Crosspost: My impressions on the new “sex-positive social network” Blackbox Republic

This post was originally published on my other blog, a much more Not Safe For Work site, at maybemaimed.com. However, it turns out that blog is censored in various countries, such as Dubai. Gotta love Internet censorship. Sigh. Anyways, since I think the material there is interesting and technology-relevant, and in order to help people avoid Internet censorship, I’m cross-posting the contents here. Enjoy.


Social media. Internet publishing. Privacy. Three phrases that have seemed to be at tenacious odds with each other in a multitude of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. For people like me, who have progressive views about sexuality, these three things are constantly on our minds. How do we participate in the online revolution without being forced to “come out” about every sex act we enjoy, some of which are still illegal thanks to draconian restrictions on sexual freedom, even (and especially?) in America.

This month, a new social network called Blackbox Republic (BBR) is attempting to tackle this head-on and aims to create a place for, as Marshall Kirkpatrick put it, this particular large and unserved group of people. Although BBR is clearly a business, it’s a business whose creators have laudable intentions for positive social and cultural change. In that respect, and in many others, Blackbox Republic is worth a close look.

I was informed about the venture via Clarisse Thorn many months ago. I got in touch with BBR and signed up for a limited-offer “founder” account—basically a private beta. The founder account gave me free access to the features of the BlackboxRepublic.com website for what would normally be a $25 monthly subscription fee.

So, without further ado, here are my impressions about Blackbox Republic, and how its launch may be just what the Internet needs to get us moving in the right direction with regards to personal privacy, and mainstream awareness of the different needs of different people on the Internet.

Mainstream sex-positivity or a VIP room in cyberspace? Or both?

Over the past few months, Blackbox Republic has been building a marketing arsenal of anticipation and intrigue. Its creators are successful in non-sexuality-focused spheres of influence: Sam Lawrence is the respected former Chief Marketing Officer of Jive Software, Inc., and April Donato, has experience in community management. They also both jive (pun!) well with the sex-positive movement, discussing it at length in the early stages of their marketing efforts after de-cloaking the new company.

In an interview for Social Networking Watch, Sam Lawrence said,

[Sam Lawrence:] The co-founder [April Donato] and myself are part of [the sex-positive] community. Sex positive means that your sexuality is not an issue. You don’t have an issue with other people’s sexuality. You’re open to what other people are interested in and what their boundaries are, and you’re open with your own.

[…]

[Interviewer:] To what extent do you practice a sex-positive lifestyle?

[Sam Lawrence:] From the perspective of sex not being an issue, I think that love is generated by people being open enough about who they are as people to put all of themselves out on the table. As far as putting all of myself on the table, it’s something that I do every single day.

I have an enormous amount of respect for anyone able to so capably present themselves as authentically as Sam does. On the eve of KinkForAll New York City 2, I met Sam and April at one of their “founder meetups” and had the chance to talk to them face-to-face. Our conversation revolved around the importance of steadfastly holding true to one’s own desires and having appropriate places to express those things with appropriate communication tools. I really liked their emphasis on self-identification over labeling throughout our discussion.

I also really appreciated the way that Sam and April spoke about their target audience. Blackbox Republic will welcome everyone, but it’s not designed for everyone, and I think that’s a good thing. David Evans writing at Online Dating Post says,

BBR has room for everyone, but is not for everyone. Definitely catering to non-mainstream folks, it will soon feature a constellation of micro-communities, or groups, called Camps. BBR doesn’t tell people how to organize their camps; we’ll do it ourselves, thankyouverymuch.

So is Blackbox Republic a dating site, or a social network? Well, both, kind of. Part of BBR’s slogan includes, “Dates will happen. Sex will happen. It matters how you get there.” The implication, of course, being that the current suite of tools for finding love or play online—sites like Alt.com, OkCupid, and countless personals boards—focus too strongly on the end result, turning matchmaking into a meat market instead of the natural process of getting to know one another. The focus BBR is placing on each person’s “journey” is an extremely welcome paradigm shift in the online dating world.

Along with the welcome and (IMHO, painfully obviously better) new approach to online dating, however, Blackbox Republic faces some real challenges. For new users, the service costs a minimum of $5 a month to use (and $9 per month for new sign-ups starting in 2010), which gives access to basic features like a personal profile. For $25 a month, members get added features like the ability to list real-world meet-ups, send private messages, and partake in a virtual “gifting” economy (think LiveJournal’s “virtual gifts“).

For that reason, BBR has been called a “members-only club.” There are some legitimate differences of opinion as to whether this is a positive or a negative thing. In a press release over the summer, Blackbox Republic is reported as stating:

Blackbox Republic will be a members-only experience that will unite the sex-positive community and give them a personal, private and secure way to connect online and in person.

Writing for ZDNet, Oliver Marks likens Blackbox Republic’s approach to online dating to the fashionability of owning an Apple computer:

Think of Blackbox Republic as a fashionable online ‘members-only’ club where you might expect to meet people with similar interests to your own, and ideally the person of your dreams. […] Blackbox Republic is arguably an Apple product to Facebook’s Windows look & feel: a much more intimately crafted, fuller featured personal user interface which should appeal to Apple generation sensibilities.

Many pages on Blackbox Republic's website showcase fashionably dressed women.
Many pages on Blackbox Republic's website showcase fashionably dressed women.

Indeed, almost everything about Blackbox Republic’s marketing and design seems to me as though it’s positioning itself as the equivalent of the hip, new, and exclusive nightclub down the street. There are images of super-chic women in short skirts and tight pants all over the Blackbox Republic promotional pages—way more than there are pictures of men. I was (yet again) put-off by this over-prevalence of women in all advertising material.

This isn’t really a criticism of the site, but rather a statement of disappointment that the marketing gurus behind the effort seemed to me to have succumbed to overwhelming cultural pressure to sell their site with old-school sex appeal: women’s sex appeal, of course. How…traditional.

Not only is the Blackbox Republic intro video markedly gender-skewed, but somewhere along the line Sam and April decided to drop the “sex-positive” phraseology from their marketing:

[L]ike most startups, Blackbox decided it needed to change up. Observers were confused by the sex-positive label.

Oh well. I think this just goes to further showcase how much more social change we really need in our culture.

However, while the clubby, cliquey feel is totally my own subjective perception, there are other issues at play here, too. Most notably, as Clarisse Thorn and many others rightfully remind us very often, the sex-positive movement is overwhelmingly white, middle- to upper-class, college-educated, and privileged in a huge number of ways that many people often take for granted. Even without a for-pay social network, not everyone who wants to can participate in the great-sex-for-everyone party atmosphere of many sex-positive niches.

Will creating a “members-only club” of sex-positivity on the Internet really be a positive thing for “the movement”? Well, maybe. Although it has the potential to exclude lower-income people from the experience, who are sadly also often the people with the most pressing need for the kinds of privacy-related tools BBR offers (school teachers spring to mind!), one upside is that Blacbox Republic promises to pledge a portion of membership dues to a charity of the user’s choice.

It’s $25 a month and $5 of those community dues go to charity. One way to think about it is if you’re sex-positive, you can either spend money on expensive coffee every month or upgrade your social life and meet other sex-positive people like you.

Inescapably, the major selling point of any social network is, of course, the network! If your friends aren’t on Twitter, then you’re probably not going to find it useful. The same truth holds for Blackbox Republic: if the users you want to interact with aren’t there, I doubt you’re going to find the experience fruitful. Due to the membership fees and the socioeconomic realities of the sex-positive community, I’m concerned that BBR’s current business model is too exclusive, and as a result it will have a lot of trouble attracting the kind of diverse community its creators seem to be hoping for.

Yet, some others think differently (pun!). For instance, Dennis Howlett welcomes the for-pay model for a social network:

anyone can join provided they’re willing to pay the $25 a month (I like that he has a pay model from the get go. That sorts out the weirdos and hangers on from day one)

I wonder if adopting a free-mium approach might work better. Still, there are real-world limits to business. Everyone needs to make money, and I don’t think Blackbox Republic’s business model is inherently more exclusive than, say, purchasing access to porn. If anything, BBR’s got some real promise to inject much-needed financial awareness to the sexually insensitive corporate infrastructure of our society. Nevertheless, convincing people to join “the Republic” is going to be a hard sell.

Show me the features!

Let’s say you do decide to join. What do you get? Other than the sex-positive mindset, what’s the benefit?

Well, the bulk of the experience is what you’d expect. Profiles (called “personas”), messaging, user search capabilities (called “explore”), and so forth. A Twitter-like “activity stream” dominates the main page where you can post text, picture, or video status updates. Event listings fill the sidebar. (I’m not going to provide internal screenshots in deference to BBR’s strict confidentiality rules.)

While that’s fun, it’s nothing special. What makes Blackbox Republic different is flexibility, and privacy.

Goodbye drop-downs, hello sliders!

An innovative new interface acknowledges (most of) the diversity in human sexual experience and desire.
An innovative new interface acknowledges (most of) the diversity in human sexual experience and desire.

Blackbox Republic’s most visible feature is the way its interface allows you to flexibly self-identify various facets of yourself. Rather than give you static drop-down menus or radio buttons for things like your sexual orientation and relationship status, you’re presented with sliders you can change at will. Perhaps you’re feeling particularly same-sex attracted one day. Just move the “Orientation” slider towards the “Gay” end and away from the “Hetero” end. If that changes tomorrow, just move the slider back. Sho-weet!

BBR offers you 5 different sliders for your profile. In addition to the one for sexual orientation, you also get one for relationship “status” (ranging from attached to unattached, with Facebook’s famous “it’s complicated” neatly in the middle), whether you’re available for more partners or not, how comfortable you are with casual sexual activity, and how eagerly you’re looking to par-tay. I’m instantly reminded of FetLife‘s innovative, if dull-looking, mechanism for specifying multiple relationships. Blackbox Republic gives you similar flexibility as FetLife does but presented in a superb and far more intuitive interface.

All that said, one slider is conspicuously missing: the one for gender. The sliders are a very interesting idea and might just be the most innovative feature of the entire site. It speaks volumes about the sensitive and thoughtful mindset of the developers, and that’s why I’m so disappointed that the interface for self-identifying gender is relegated to the Sex 1.0 days of a single, binary option of “male” or “female.”

What gives? Are polyamorous people more welcome here than those who don’t fit the gender binary? I hope this is simply an omission that will be fixed as the service matures, since I couldn’t find any other reason why gender was absent from the sliders. For extra credit, I hope to see different profile options for “Sex” and “Gender,” two distinct concepts that frequently and incorrectly get used interchangeably. This would make it possible to represent complex gender presentations like additive gender on a social networking interface for the first time ever, and that’d totally be something to write home about!

Privacy and security

The other major selling point of Blackbox Republic is its careful attention to privacy. The entire offering, including its name, is predicated on letting users very carefully segment their information based on their privacy boundaries. I love some of the things BBR has done to enable this, and I can only imagine it’s going to get better from here.

Blackbox Republic’s Web of Trust

There are three levels of privacy, which (as far as I can figure out) map directly to the level of trust other members have gained within the Republic’s community. It works like a web of trust. New users are “un-vouched.” As they begin to interact with others on the site and, hopefully, make some friends, they should receive “vouches”—or votes of trust—from previously-vouched members. As a member, you get to control whether something you do, such as posting a status update, gets sent to the “public,” (i.e., the entire public-facing Internet), to all Blackbox Republic members (i.e, to both vouched and un-vouched members) or only to vouched members.

Additionally, privacy settings allow you to specify whether you want to allow un-vouched members to send you private messages, to follow your updates, to comment on your posts, or to see you in search results.

Unlike Facebook, which has very good privacy controls that almost nobody on Earth is aware of (thus negating the control’s usefulness), Blackbox Republic makes it a point to highlight their privacy controls at just about every sensical turn. Each of the settings I found defaults to the most private setting, not the most public, which is exactly the right move. I gotta say, I found turning off privacy settings instead of having to turn (or leave) them on to be a really empowering feeling.

You’re not a “friend,” you’re an acquaintance!

Moreover, the Blackbox Republic platform makes a native distinction between “friends” (again, like Facebook, or FetLife) and “followers” (like Twitter). When I friend someone, I’m connected to them in a way that I’m not if I just follow someone. I’m not yet certain what the practical distinction between “friending” and “following” are, other than the fact that your view of the people you’re connected with is segmented based on which button you clicked, but I think the distinction is a very appropriate and natural one to embed in the software.

This separation is probably the single most important innovation in the space of social networks as a medium of communication and collaboration that I can point at. I love that I can indicate without ambiguity which people I want to remain in constant communication with and which I simply want to watch from a distance. After all, aren’t at least some of your “friends” on Facebook really just “acquaintances” in reality? I think that for the first time ever in a social network, Blackbox Republic gets this feature right. Now, if only I could figure out what it actually does. :)

What? No on-the-wire encryption?!

With all that being said, there’s still at least one really frightening problem with Blacbox Republic’s careful attention to privacy: as far as I could tell, no part of my session is SSL/TLS encrypted!

Stunningly, for a site that sells privacy, not even Blackbox Republic's login form is on a secure page.
Stunningly, for a site that sells privacy, not even Blackbox Republic's login form is on a secure page.

The entire BlackboxRepublic.com website is served over HTTP, including the login form and—again, as far as I could tell—every page on the inside of the site. This means that it’s trivial for malicious people who don’t even have a Blackbox Republic subscription to intercept, eavesdrop, and modify my interaction with the site. They could watch—and save—private messages between me and one of my friends (or lovers!), for instance.

In Blackbox’s defense, I don’t know of any social network that protects you from this. FetLife is another example of a website that should seriously consider HTTPS-only pages, but as of this writing hasn’t implemented it. Therein lies one of the most frightening oversights in the entire social networking space: regardless of so-called privacy settings, everything you do on the vast majority of social networks, blogs, and other sites on the Internet are the equivalent of passing notes between friends in a classroom. Better hope that big bully who likes to steal your lunch money doesn’t open the note and read it himself while he’s passing along your login details!

The thing is, few other social networking sites place so strong a spotlight on user privacy and security. Since Blackbox Republic seems to be nobly and rightfully holding itself up to a new standard of privacy, I feel justified in pointing out this glaring omission in their service offering. Given everything else they’ve done so well, and how well-aligned the majority of their technical implementation seems to be with their philosophy, this omission came as a big surprise to me.

Until Blackbox Republic only serves HTTPS traffic for all private areas of their site, I can’t make a recommendation in good conscious that it’s the place to be for privacy-conscious people. But again, despite public opinion to the contrary, I’ve never been able to make that claim for FetLife either.

Conclusion

Blackbox Republic is one of the most interesting websites on the Internet today. Its privacy-conscious and sexually open approach to social networking and online dating deserves huge praise. Its technical implementation—although plagued with some glaring oversights for now—is to be seriously respected.

From a social change perspective, I think the site is a mixed bag. Its exclusivity arguably makes the insularity of the sexuality communities an even bigger problem than it already is. On the other hand, the market-value of that very same exclusivity, if steered toward a benevolent purpose, can end up benefiting philanthropic, non-profit, and other sex-positive endeavors that often struggle to find necessary financial support.

Moreover, Blackbox Republic’s internal gifting economy does seem to encourage a sort of altruistic nature among members. How that may or may not translate into increased support for non-commercial activists has yet to be seen. Nay-sayers should remember that this kind of thing simply hasn’t been done before and the net effect could be quite positive.

Having just launched, however, I don’t think Blackbox Republic should be touted as the go-to site for sex-positive people quite yet. Like other social networks, it needs to grow to become truly useful, and its subscription fee business model poses a serious obstacle to many people. I was fortunate to get in with a free “founder” account, but I have mixed feelings about encouraging my friends to join me knowing they—or someone nice enough to “gift” a limited-time subscription to them—will have to pay for the service.

Additionally, its focus on being, well, a black box and its commitment to not allow Google or other search engines to index its internal content simply doesn’t resonate that strongly with me.

Lawrence emphasizes that what members say in Blackbox Republic will stay private. There’s no danger of what they post inside becoming part of their “Google resume,” as he puts it. He says he would resist efforts from search engines to index content the way Facebook and Twitter allow. “The value proposition is this is the first private, large social network out there,” Lawrence says.

Put simply, and noting that I’m probably not the majority case here, I rely on my “Google résumé,” to use Sam’s words, to live the life I want. My lukewarm reaction to this isn’t a criticism of the goal, simply an observation that it turns out I’m not in the ideal target market for Blackbox Republic’s value proposition.

In other words, I think I’m “too out” for this site to be immediately useful to me. The fact that FetLife is not readily available to the public Internet is the single biggest reason why I don’t sign on to that site very often, and so I have the same reason not to spend all that much time behind the curtains of Blackbox Republic.

Nevertheless, many other people do. If you’re among the cross-section of the populace who’d like a sociosexual experience online and would also like to effectively outsource your social reputation management, if you will, but you feel that sites like Facebook just aren’t cutting it, then Blackbox Republic is definitely worth checking out.

If you do check it out, or even if you don’t, I’d love to know what you think in the comments. And if you’re definitely sold, consider signing up via my partner link. Full disclosure: signing up that way earns me a small commission. If you’d rather sign up but not give me a commission for the referral, just register from the front page.

Buy Web Development Books from SitePoint’s 5-for-1 Sale and Donate to Bushfire Relief

For those of you who don’t already know, I’ve been a blogger over at SitePoint for a few months now. Today, I’m even happier to be a participant in the SitePoint community because, for a limited time only, SitePoint is offering the sale of the century: buy 5 SitePoint books for the price of 1. Every last cent of the proceeds from the sale of these books will go towards relief efforts for the recent Victorian bushfires that have claimed over 300 lives and are among the worst fire disasters on record.

The books are full-color PDF downloads, and include some really awesome titles. These are precisely the kinds of books you want as PDFs, too, since you can search through them and always keep them with you while you’re coding and looking for inspiration or a reference (even when you’re without Internet access). I couldn’t help but pounce on this deal, and I’m now the proud owner of the following books, which have all received some pretty great reviews:

In just 3.5 hours, SitePoint has managed to raise over $15,000 AUD, according to employee Kevin Yank on Twitter. And that’s just on this side of the world. All my North hemisphere friends were asleep when this was announced, but not to worry. SitePoint’s sale will last until this Friday, so there’s plenty of time to take advantage of it.

Obviously, I think you should do so. Not only are you getting some really quality content and helping disaster victims at the same time, you’re also sending a loud and clear message that companies whose humanity outshines their accounting are the ones you’re going to support. I’m thrilled to see that SitePoint is one of these human companies, and ever more thrilled to be a part of it.

Continuing Customer Service Disasters by Hewlett-Packard

I thought I’d write an update to this ongoing saga with HP’s terrible customer service department. If you need a refresher, be sure to read the whole story from the beginning.

So when I last updated this tale, I had been trying to get in touch with Iano, a Quality Case Manager at Hewlett-Packard. I had left him numerous voicemails, and even spoke with someone who appeared to be his secretary, but no luck. To this day, I still have not heard from him.

So after a few more times demanding that he give me a call back so I can learn how to return my $129.04 battery (now useless, since I have no more HP laptop, and will probably never buy another one ever again), I filed a Better Business Bureau complaint against HP. The complaint paraphrases the salient points of a letter I wrote to HP’s customer relations department. The letter reads as follows (identifying information somewhat censored):

To whom it may concern at HP’s Customer Relations Department:

I am, unfortunately, writing to express my frustrations over the recent service and (lack of) support I have received from your company. What is now months ago, I sent my HP Pavillion ze4800us notebook computer (serial number XXX, model number PC768AV) in for repair at one of your service centers due to consistently recurring system-wide crashes. This, after I had already been experiencing horrendously poor battery life (the notebook was less than two years old and was hardly giving me a 15 minute charge under near-idle load), a failure of the HP-installed hard drive, and a number of software issues caused or exaggerated by the default HP-installed system drivers and update programs. I got so fed up that I eventually uninstalled them all, which left my HP notebook (with all its special buttons) stripped of many of its bullet-pointed features.

Yet, I digress. After I called your TotalCare support line, the agent created a repair case for me (case number ### associated with order number XXX) and told me a box would be delivered to my apartment with instructions on how to proceed. I also ordered from him a replacement battery (order number XXX), because he said that was my only route for solving the issues of the extremely short battery life my notebook was experiencing. I was not pleased with spending an additional $129.04 on this in addition to my $322.96 computer repair, but ultimately ordered the battery anyway, expecting to replace my existing battery when my computer returned from repair. When the two boxes arrived I followed the directions and I placed my computer in the box, arranged for a FedEx employee to pick up the delivery, and waited.

A week went by without any word. Anxious, I checked the support web site for any updated information on the status of my repair, but there was none available. I checked again the following week, assuming the repair could take some time as the phone support agent I spoke with told me that may be the case. However, there was still no information.

I finally decided to call your TotalCare support representatives again. When I got through, I gave the agent my case number (mentioned previously), and was subsequently put on hold for over 45 minutes. As I did not have the time that day to wait for your phone agents to pick up the telephone, (I had already been on the phone for an hour by this point) I hung up and called again some time later. By now, it had been nearly a month since I had been without my computer (though much longer since the last time it had been working “properly”).

Suffice it to say that after several more phone calls that followed this pattern and after receiving yet another case number (this one was ###), and another week without my computer or any word from HP on what had gone so ludicrously wrong during this repair process, I was contacted by one of your Quality Case Managers, named Iano.

He explained to me that what appears to have happened is that FedEx never delivered, nor even picked up, my computer and that it appears to have been stolen. Fearing something like this was a possibility when I spoke to your TotalCare representative the first time I called, I had asked that agent directly, as well as each successive agent I encountered, what HP’s policy was in the case of such an event. Every single one assured me, without fail, that, and I quote, “Not to worry, HP will take care of the value of the laptop.” I must have heard that phrase more than 10 times during my phone calls, so I was fairly confident that Iano would be able to reimburse or otherwise replace the product.

Unfortunately, I was very upset when he told me that reimbursement or replacement was not an option because the laptop, according to all records HP had, was probably stolen, not lost. Frankly, I consider a laptop which may have been stolen very much lost, but this reasoning seemed to fall on deaf ears. His suggestion was to take the matter up with FedEx, with whom I am currently in the process of filing a claim.

While I can ultimately understand a company’s policies such as those Iano was explaining to me (I happen to work in the customer service and technology industries myself for another major OEM), this letter is about customer service, not policy. Iano, while polite, was extremely unhelpful, giving me no options to pursue other than to seek help elsewhere, and has since become completely unavailable to my multiple additional attempts to get in touch with him since that first phone call. I have left voicemail after voicemail on his line and have not so much as received a single call back from him or anyone at HP.

And why am I calling so insistently? Because I still have that battery I paid 129 dollars and 4 cents for sitting on my desk, for which I have no computer to place it into. The only time I managed to get through to a human when I tried reaching Iano (who had given me his direct line at 1-877-917-4380 ext. 94, option 1, and invited me to call back), it was a polite-sounding lady who seemed to be a secretary. Nevertheless, I took the opportunity to ask her about the situation with my battery. She told me I’d have to speak to Iano and that she’d forward me to his voicemail. So I left yet another message. It’s now been yet another several weeks since I’ve begun trying to reach Iano and I still have not received a single contact, phone, email, postal mail, or otherwise.

Let me put this bluntly when I say that this kind of non-response from someone who is supposed to be a “Quality Case Manager” is completely brand-shattering. It says to me in no uncertain terms that at least this department in Hewlett-Packard does not even care enough about its customers to return the courtesy of a phone call. I am bewildered, angered, and disappointed at the kind of so-called support such a company’s customer service department has shown, and will seriously reconsider any HP purchase I will ever need again.

In the mean time, I am still trying to reach Iano (or anybody at HP Customer Relations) and return this battery for which I have no machine. It seems HP is all too eager to sell me things like batteries and repair service, (the first phone agent I spoke with even tried to convince me my notebook was “definitely experiencing a hardware problem and needs to be sent for service” before even asking me a single troubleshooting question), but cares little whether or not I actually get any use out of these purchases. I have better places to spend my money and, more importantly, my time, and I am continuously growing more and more upset with HP for leading me through this incredible time-wasting ordeal that began with my purchase of the HP Pavillion notebook.

I ask now yet again, how can I return this battery and get my money back? It has never been opened; the tape around the cardboard box has not even been stripped. I would very much appreciate an answer to this remarkably simple question.

Additionally, please be advised that I am forwarding this letter to the following publications, as well as reporting these incidents to the Better Business Bureau.

1. ArsTechnica
2. About.com Computer Reviews
3. CNet
4. AnandTech
5. PCMagazine

Thank you,
-Meitar Moscovitz

Finally, several days later, I recieved a call from a woman who identified herself only as Ginger from HP’s Corporate Office (apparently, either Hewlett-Packard employees have no last names or they’re afraid of some kind of retribution, which doesn’t surprise me anymore) saying that she would be willing to refund the cost I paid for the battery, but that’s all she could do. She asked for a proof of purchase to be faxed to her at her office fax number (which seems sort of silly, since I know they know I purchased and paid for the darned thing). No worries, I saved the receipt I was emailed so I faxed that, along with a short cover letter demanding my money back, to the number she provided. It’s now approaching another week later and I’ve heard nothing at all since then.

But wait. There’s more. I spent tonight going over my finances for the past month (something I routinely do to keep things on record and in order, a lesson I’m glad to have learned), when I noticed something rather strange near the end of August. I came across a charge (that is, a debit transaction) from my checking account paid to “HP RETURN REPAIR” for $107.28 on August the 21st. There was no more information other than that.

If you take a look at the timeline of these events, you’ll note that this charge was posted to my account well after my computer went missing and I had been calling in for status updates. Is this a repair charge? It doesn’t match the quote I was given by the agent on the phone. Is this a cancellation charge? If so, that’s outrageous. What is it? I have no idea. Naturally, with far less of a patient tone, I immediately picked up the phone and called Iano. I once again demanded a call back from him, an explanation of the charge, and a refund.

And that is where things stand. So that’s that. I’m pretty much a devoted anti-HP customer. Unless I’m buying a 6 dollar pack of paper (which seems to be about the only thing they can support properly), I’m never buying an HP product again.