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The Sentinel
The Sentinel Vol. 1, No. 1: A Prelude

Introduction

What follows is a description of some of the common problems we all have faced in varying degrees with manufacturers and sellers of computer hardware and software. The final resolution of these problems often leaves the consumer feeling, justifiably or not, that he or she has been taken advantage of. The purpose of this article is to introduce a proposal in which "The Sentinel" would act as a consumer advocate, investigating complaints, negotiating with the companies, and publishing the results. This first article will deal with the basics of the program, with more details to follow in later articles.

Scenario: One of Many

Let me describe a scenario that I believe may be all too familiar to some of you:

You've just read about the latest and greatest product soon to be released. You initially think to yourself, "This sounds really cool". After more thought, deliberation, and nights of lying in bed thinking just how incredibly fast this device will make your system, you decide this new jewel is worthy of further consideration. Like any self respecting computer enthusiast you do your homework. You read every review possible and sort out details with all your amigos on line. Following thirty or so days of discussing every aspect of this product's potential you decide the day it's released you'll have it, never mind what it costs.

The long awaited moment finally arrives and you ask off work early so you can escort the brown truck to your home. You march into your castle with your treasure under your arm grinning from ear to ear in anticipation of now finally having a better performing rig than all your friends do. Using every tool in your arsenal and all the tricks the reviewers have taught, you ensure a faultless install. This is about to be your moment in the sun, the winning touchdown in the computer Super Bowl!

It's finally done, you hit the switch and nothing happens. You installed the OS and the drivers in the right order. Every maneuver that you have made to ensure a "perfect install' has failed to stir this product's sleeping beast. What now? Troubleshoot it again? How do you tell your spouse that the $350.00 you just spent went for naught? Oh well, if you hide your emotions, you can possibly have the part replaced overnight even if you have to pay the retail price a second time to have your vendor cross-ship the replacement. It's a plan!

You call your vendor's toll free line and after being placed on hold for ten minutes you finally hear a live voice on the other end. You rapidly explain in precise detail exactly what happened. You are then transferred by this individual to the vendor's service department. Surely these guys will understand the angst you are facing and they will certainly help you reach a quick and easy solution to the problem. After ten more minutes on hold the expert you've been waiting finally picks up the line and you repeat the same information in chapter and verse that you gave your initial contact. You are then asked a series of canned questions by this "service expert" each of which was answered in the initial scenario that you recited. You calmly answer each question a second-no, wait, a third time-making sure to leave nothing out. Surely resolution must be close at hand.

Finally, you are asked to wait again while the service representative talks to his supervisor. A few more minutes pass and you're connected to the shop supervisor and he says in his best John Wayne imitation, "Sorry but we can't help you! Problems of this type can only be handled by the manufacturer." He reminds you to read his company's new policy on this particular product's warranty; sure it's in fine print that only the eyes of a cat can read, but nonetheless it's there.

Next you contact the manufacturer's support department and this time it takes twenty minutes to get a live voice on the other end of the phone. You explain the entire scenario again only to be told that the manufacturer's "new policy" firmly states that the vendor is responsible for replacing the product during the first thirty days after purchase. You explain for the last time just how dire your circumstances are and you are again reminded of the manufacturer's policy and to call again if they can be of any further assistance.

Your vendor is 1,000 miles away and the manufacturer is over 3,000 miles away so your instant thoughts of doing bodily harm to either or both of them are somewhat forestalled, perhaps fortunately, and you turn to thoughts of just what to do next.

To make an already long story shorter it takes you approximately two weeks of incessant threats, pleas, and groveling with every level of management at each of the two organizations to finally achieve a fragmented resolution to this problem. At last you are given a refund, minus the shipping charges which they state you alone are responsible for and it is suggested you should see your card credited sometime in the next ten business days.