IBM is a miracle. Do you know that they have made argon atoms dance the Macarena? That they can fit the entire contents of the Library of Congress on a single crystal the size of a sugar cube? (Not that anyone has danced the Macarena or has seen a sugar cube in quite some time.) IBM has a new device that can travel through your arteries turning plaque into brain cells.

None of that is strictly true, but it’s how I feel about IBM. These guys can do anything.

I am flying at 37,000 feet typing this column on my brand new $3,100 IBM ThinkPad T30 laptop computer. It weighs less than a honeydew melon, yet I have more computing capacity here on my lap than was possessed in the entire Defense Department when I entered high school. It can read and write CDs. It can play a movie on its DVD drive. It has a hard drive capable of storing not just my next book, if I should write one, but the contents of 100,000 other books as well. It communicates with the Internet at high speed without wires, so I can sit at the airport or at Starbucks and click on the icon for my free RealOne Player and have it grab classical music from South Dakota or South America or fetch my e-mail. I can plug my credit-card-sized (but thicker) Casio Exilim M2 combo color camera/MP3 player into one of its USB ports and upload photos or download Tchaikovsky. All this sitting at the airport with no wires.

All of that IS strictly true (I think) except for one tiny, all but trivial detail; namely, that IBM – while able to make this miraculous machine, and eager to sell it to me – was not able to physically deliver it to me. So it is not on my lap and I am not typing on it.

The saga begins – and let us be clear that my saga is no more important or maddening than your saga, whether with IBM or UPS or anyone else, so I offer it as a collective, cathartic e-vent – October 21. (Oh, sure: you have a saga that’s been three generations in the courts. Well, but this is my saga.)

I was all set to buy a $1,699 Winbook J4 with more or less all the features above, but a friend persuaded me to go the extra mile and get the IBM.

As cheap as I am, I don’t mind paying up for a laptop – I spend most of my day typing on one, and I also see it as a way to toss a few bucks into this amazing technology pot. My hesitation with IBM was that, having owned three ThinkPads in the past, I had come to think of her as just too big to be consumer friendly.

But that was two Winbooks and two Compaqs ago (I am actually typing this on my more than adequate two-year-old Compaq Armada E500S), and my friend told me that the service from IBM Direct is now terrific – and as if that weren’t enough, you may recall that IBM has been taking these huge two-page full-color ThinkPad ads everyplace featuring none other than my better half. So off to the website I went.

The site was not exactly idiot-proof, so I wound up calling a human named Richard who did a very good job of taking my order and credit card. I was assured that my ThinkPad would arrive in about a week, just as soon as it could be tested and second-day aired. (The 802.11 wi-fi part would come a couple of weeks later and I would have no trouble installing it myself, Richard said.)

Oh, good.

Richard took my billing address and my shipping address and had me swear that Visa had my shipping address registered (otherwise there would be problems), and that was that.

Two days later, a woman named Breanne at IBM reached me to say that Visa’s authorization wasn’t good enough. We were talking about a $3,100 machine, and they were not about to send it to the alternate address I had given them, and that Visa has registered in their file, without my filling out and faxing in a handwritten form. There are certain risks even IBM is not large enough to shoulder.

This was annoying, but life is short – bring on the form.

I had to handwrite my name and billing address and shipping address (their computer couldn’t pre-fill any of this out?), enter all the credit card info by hand, and sign a statement that I really, really wanted the ThinkPad shipped to my shipping address.

I then began a day of faxing the form back to IBM, whose designated fax number was constantly busy or out of service. I called Breanne and got her voice mail. I left word asking her to e-mail an alternate fax number. ‘It should be fine now,’ she e-mailed back. But it wasn’t.

Finally, having been working on this on and off all day, I lost my cool and e-mailed her asking her to just cancel the order.

Part of me was thinking that $3,100 was a lot to pay for an IBM version of a $1,699 Winbook; part of me was aware that my Compaq was largely all I needed anyway; and most of me, I guess, assumed that someone from IBM would call apologetically, cut through all this nonsense, and ask me not to give up on IBM.

I got back a chipper e-mail: ‘I will cancel your order. Sorry! IBM Credit Card Services.’

That was it.

Time passed.

The leaves changed color up North.

It was November.

I caved. I decided that I really ought to have a backup in case this laptop dies, and I was excited by the wi-fi capabilities I had heard about.

I called Richard at IBM and, yes, he still had my order on file and was happy to charge my card $3,100 and let me try again. This time, my handwritten fax went through confirming that I really, really wanted it shipped to my shipping address.

(I need it shipped to my shipping address to be sure someone will be there to sign for it even if I’m away.)

My card was charged November 13, and a couple of days later I had my brand new IBM Thinkpad carrying case, delivered to my shipping address, and the little wi-fi chip thing IBM wants me to install. (“Some assembly required.”) Richard was in Canada, the wi-fi thing was made in Malaysia but came with an installation CD made in Mexico and a 36-page safety booklet in 33 languages telling me not to stick my wet thumb into an electrical socket.

(Several of the alphabets I could not identify, but it was titled Before installing this product, read the Safety Information. Or, put a different way, Ennen kuin asennat tämän tuotteen, lue turvaohjeet kohdasta Safety Information.  Is that French?)

Missing was only the computer.

Someone, I learned later, had decided to deliver it to my billing address. And in truth, UPS delivers a lot of stuff there.  If no one’s home, they toss it over the gate or leave one of those annoying notices tacked to your door telling you they’ll come try again.

When I’m not around, I have a friend who takes care of a lot of this stuff at my billing address.  He grabbed the notice off the door and, not knowing any of the background (or that the package was from IBM), nonetheless did exactly what I would have hoped.  He called UPS, told them I was out of town, and instructed them to deliver the package to an address a few miles away:  my SHIPPING ADDRESS.

UPS said, OK, that’s what they would do.

I got back into town the next day just as my friend was going off to Morocco for a 10-day vacation.  When I saw him, he mentioned this in passing, but I didn’t think it was the computer – why would the first two-thirds of the order go to my SHIPPING ADDRESS, as endlessly confirmed and verified, and the computer itself be UPS-ed to my billing address?

A couple more days passed without the computer.  I called Richard at IBM who said, well, gee, it sure should have arrived . . . that it had been shipped to my SHIPPING ADDRESS and he would get with UPS to track it down.

The next day Richard asked if I knew a woman named Kristin Porter (or something sounding like that) who lived at 2699 Bayshore Drive.

Kristin Porter?  It sounded vaguely familiar, but no, I didn’t know her – is that where the computer had been delivered?

Indeed.  And then I realized what it was.  It wasn’t a woman named Kristin Porter, it was a hot Miami-based ad agency called Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, which happens to be where my friend-who-called-UPS works.

Somehow, UPS must have had his name in its database.  Whoever took my friend’s phone call may have been unsure he had taken down my SHIPPING ADDRESS right and so, to be safe, checked on my friend’s records and decided to send it to his office instead.  (I’m just imagining how this could possibly have happened.  No one can explain it.)  And so, without telling IBM or me, the package went to Crispin, Porter & Bogusky.

Of course, as it was addressed to me and I don‘t work there (and my friend had gone to Morocco for 10 days), they had no idea what it was or what to do with it.

I called my friend in Morocco who called his friends at the office – but its being Thanksgiving, more or less, they, too, were away, so he left voice mails – but the long and short of it is that no one at Crispin, Porter & Bogusky can find it.

Richard got his supervisor onto the case and they have transferred it to Melissa who called me from IBM’s “Post Sales Support Team, PCD/X-Series Operations, Americas Centers.”  As usual, I had to start all over telling my sad story.  She explained that IBM will file a claim with UPS and UPS requires 8 days to try to retrieve the package, after which it will either be delivered to me or else IBM will offer to credit my credit card (that can’t be done yet) or send me another system.

“You know,” I said, “I first started trying to buy this computer in October.  What if – just hypothetically – I actually needed it?  Could you do your work without a computer for two months?”

Melissa couldn’t have been nicer, but policy is policy.


This is already much too long a story and – trust me – I have abbreviated it.  Once the 8 days passed without anyone’s being able to find the computer, IBM called FedEx to send me another ThinkPad.

FedEx picked it up from IBM in Guadalahara at 12:25pm Saturday and got it to Ft. Lauderdale via Memphis at 6:31pm Sunday.  By the time you read this today, I might even have it.  But I am not counting any chickens (you can count them; just don’t eat them unless they are free-range).  And if I weren’t by nature a reasonably positive person (Serenity now!  Serenity now!), I might even have lost a little of the joy that initially accompanied my purchase – let alone my enthusiasm for installing the wi-fi.  (In addition to the 36-page Safety Instructions that accompany the wi-fi chip, there’s a 44-page legal pamphlet, mostly in English, detailing, for example, special limitations of liability in Egypt and the all important Korean conformity notice.  There is also, separately, a 3-page English-language “Product Acquisition Agreement” governing the terms of my purchase of this one-ounce $169 wi-fi chip.  Not included are printed installation instructions of any kind.)

If there is no column tomorrow, it will be because you deserve a break and/or because I am on hold with IBM tech support.

Thank you for letting me vent.  I owe you one.


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