Posted on September 27, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

Stan (and Eclaire): The Blind Apple Employee Who Upgraded My iPhone

stan blind apple store employee

Me and Stan, Apple Store Employee

While the iPhone 7 has some incredible engineering advances, it’s obvious Apple’s retail systems are intensely challenged by its annual upgrade cycle. In addition to its limited product availability, its website misdirected T-Mobile customers to visit Apple stores to join its upgrade program and attorneys for existing upgrade program members have filed a class action lawsuit against the company.

After showing up at an Apple store to sign up for an upgrade, staff told me I’d have to order one online and return with it. So, that’s what I did. But somehow I knew it still wouldn’t be easy. Apple and T-Mobile’s systems don’t really talk to each other as well as they do with other carriers.

In fact, my upgrade was so complicated that at one point, five blue-shirted Apple Store employees encircled me.

One was blind.

Stan and Eclaire

The Apple store was so busy when I arrived that it was hard to even find an available staff member. The first one I spoke to directed me to wait at a table where another employee introduced me to Stan.

There was something very professional about the way the employee checked in with me and with Stan about my case. Stan was new to the store and I think they wanted to make sure he felt he could handle it (and also that I was comfortable having a blind person help me.)

One of the first things that struck me walking into this narrow, mall-based Apple store was how crowded and noisy it was. Since the blind rely more than the rest of us on their hearing, I was impressed that Stan was comfortable working here.

Stan Blind Apple Store Employee and Service Dog

Stan and Eclaire

He introduced himself (and his dog Eclaire). Despite the cacophony around us, Eclaire quietly curled up beneath our table. Even though Stan said it was okay and I wanted to pet him, I thought it was best to respect him in his role as a service dog.

I explained the challenge to Stan and he began working my case. He had headphones he’d wear at times as he used what I think was an iPhone SE in a wraparound hardware device with a scroll wheel. I could see red rectangles around list items moving about as he worked the device asking questions as we went.

While I knew it might take a bit longer for Stan to help me, it touched me that he was here — working frontline retail of a crowded noisy Apple store, home of the most successful technology company in the world.

Something warmed my heart about him (and Eclaire) and I was happy to have his help.

My Anxiety Writing About the Blind

While Stan gave me his permission to write about him, I’m a bit anxious about it.

Blind people are fully integrated into our society, right?

I’d once worked with a blind software developer at Microsoft in the 90s who was both remarkably kind and intelligent. The blind have the same capabilities of everyone else (aside from not being able to see.) Maybe there’s nothing unusual about blind retail employees. What’s my deal? Would I belittle Stan by raising him up as “special”?

But, I can’t remember having a retail interaction with a blind person before Stan. And, it turns out that the blind aren’t fully integrated into our society. The National Federation for the Blind estimates that about 70% are unemployed.

And honestly, the thought of blindness scares me more than pretty much anything. I remember one particularly sleepless night leading up to my prior year brain surgery where I realized that with the surgeon opening my skull and operating on my left optic nerve, I could go blind and I hadn’t asked her what risk I faced. Waking up repeatedly in fear of blindness was the scariest moment for me of my whole surgical and radiation experience.

My surgeon later told me she thought it was about a three percent possibility of blindness in my left eye — and I felt I could manage with that low level of risk.

But certainly, part of my fear of blindness is because I haven’t spent much time with blind people. What we don’t know often scares us.

I also have two friends who lost an eye during childhood. I’ve often wondered how they go about their lives without the comfort in the redundancy of two eyes.

Something Special is Happening Here

After a few minutes, another Apple staff member wandered up to Stan with an iPhone 7 box with my name on it.

Pretty quickly it became obvious that even the hardware engineers behind the brilliance of the iPhone 7 would be unable to sign up a T-Mobile customer for Apple’s upgrade program. Stan and Eclaire and I would need more help.

Stan called for his colleague Jay over the store’s secret service-like employee network. Jay came right away and escorted us to a table with a special iPad. Eclaire diligently followed.

The warmth and support between Jay and Stan touched me as well. Stan called Jay his adopted son and Jay put a hand on his shoulder.

Jay would navigate Apple and T-Mobile’s retail systems and Stan would point out things he missed as we went along.

Between the seventeen times Jay asked me to enter my name, email address and social security number, we all took turns making jokes. At one point, Stan told Jay he wanted to verify something and took a close look at the screen before returning it to him and saying it looked okay.

But even with Jay’s help we got stuck. And when Jay called for a manager on the wire, two other employees came over to see what was up and offer their assistance. When the manager came by, I could tell she also cared for Stan and was glad to have him on the team. Something special was happening here in this Apple store.

It was obvious that Stan can do the job well and everyone was glad to have him — but he was also being welcomed and supported to help him be successful.

The camaraderie between the staff and Stan was palpable.

At one point the manager came over and told Stan he was going on lunch break after my case. And while I’m sure she says this to a lot of employees — there was a warm respectful regard in her voice that we probably don’t regularly hear.

What Can We Learn From Stan

I asked Stan about the noise in the store and whether it was difficult to work there. He said he just stays focused and enjoys the peace and quiet at the end of the day at home with Eclaire and his other dog.

He said he’d worked at Apple for six years but had recently moved. After 25 years in one state, he said, “I needed a change.” Which ironically is how I found myself to be at his store — after 25 years, I’d recently left my home state. It’s difficult finding your way in a new city — I spent twenty minutes looking for the right bus stop downtown the other day, and I can see. I can’t imagine the courage to do this as a blind person.

With all of the pain coming to the surface recently of police violence on black men that iPhones and similar devices have helped reveal to America, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own privilege. And, for me, sight is a dear privilege. I don’t know how I’d live without it. It’s scary for me to ponder.

And, it’s Stan and Eclaire’s “everyday.”

Recently, I’d read about a young Apple accessibility engineer named Jordyn Castor. It’s hard to watch her share her story of arriving in New York city in this video without teary eyes, a warm heart and a sense of inspiration. Just watching her walk down stairs blind makes me think about her “everyday.” In it, she challenges herself to find her way in America’s most populous city. And, now she’s helping making apps that teach programming accessible to blind children.

I’ve always known Apple is proactive at accessibility — but in this moment with Stan and Eclaire and the team he was becoming a part of, I felt that the company is doing something impressive here and I’m glad to be their customer.

Similarly, I was touched by all the people who take part in raising and training dogs like Eclaire to support their humans — and to the animals themselves for their commitment.

The Timeliness of Empathy

Passing the Macy’s on the way to the mall that day was kind of evocative. A shooter had shot and killed five people at a Macy’s in Washington State the night before and was still at large. And, I’d been listening to On the Media discuss the return of white supremacy in the shadow of Donald Trump. I’d also been moved by the video of Keith Lamont Scott’s death in Charlotte. Police are killing black men regularly and laws aren’t changing to offer them equal protection. The anger and rage of all Americans right now is in a painful place.

I believe that one major component of the path forward for all of us is empathy. When you don’t reflect on what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, you don’t begin to understand the challenges before them — or the fear or the losses.

And from empathy comes compassion and mutual regard. You can see it in this particular Apple store in how Stan and his co-workers support each other.

If I heard Stan spell Eclaire’s name correctly, he’s not named after the yummy pastry but Google tells me that Eclaire is French for enlightened. His name makes more sense to me now.

Discussing the iPhone 7 last week, John Gruber quoted Steve Jobs, “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

I think Jobs would be proud to see the design of the iPhone 7 working from the inside out into this particular Apple retail store.

Postscript: I don’t want to ignore that there remain many unknowns about Apple’s overseas labor practices. Coincidentally the day I woke up to go to the Apple store, I began wondering where my clothes are made, really. While my socks are made in the USA, my shirt, pants, boxers and shoes were all made in either China or Vietnam. Still, I’d pay extra for an iPhone made here (and of course, that’s partly because I can afford to.)

group meetings and scheduling
Posted on September 23, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

Scheduling with the Meeting Planner Preview

Scheduling Should Be Easier

As some of you know, I’ve been writing an ongoing series about startups for Envato Tuts+ about a new scheduling service. Meeting Planner is now in its preview release.

My goal is to make scheduling a meeting or social get togethers fast, easy and simple as it should be. I very much want Meeting Planner to cut down on the often tiresome unnecessarily lengthy email threads about choosing dates and times, places and rescheduling that accompany trying to meet people in real life.

Meeting Planner supports both 1:1 meet ups as well as larger group meetings. I hope you’ll give it a try. Schedule a meeting and share any feedback you have with me at our support site. Or, tweet @reifman. I very much appreciate the help getting the word out and telling me how to make it better.

Meeting Planner is written in the Yii Framework for PHP, not as hip as Laravel, but meeting my needs just as well (or when Laravel was young, better). You can learn about Yii2 in my other programming series at Envato Tuts+. And, feel free to post questions about the development of Meeting Planner within individual tutorials.

The Meeting Planner startup series is scheduled to continue weekly (or more than weekly) through Q1 next year. Some of the coolest episodes coming up walk through the group scheduling features as well as the myth of the one person startup — Meeting Planner wouldn’t exist without a ton of open source projects from Apache to Yii. I’m also beginning to explore crowdfunding — follow Meeting Planner’s WeFunder page.


breast milk tsa
Posted on September 22, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

The Brilliance of Amtrak Security

amtrak northwest photos

Traveling Amtrak in the Northwest

amtrak seattle

King Street Station, Seattle

Traveling in the Northwest by Amtrak was relaxing and beautiful. There were almost no lines and they seemed to know I was carrying a real laptop and had purchased my water at the train station. After having been felt up before a recent flight, I was inspired by Amtrak’s common sense, light touch transformation of modern security to imagine a new marketing campaign for them. Some of the images have background stories which you can read by clicking on them.

Thank you to security expert Bruce Schneier for highlighting this post. Also, a shout out to Chris Pecora for permission to use his growling growler image. If you enjoy this, please read The Obvious Appeal of Disruption (and Donald Trump).

Keep Your Belt On tsa

Keep Your Belt On, We Hardly Know You

breast milk tsa

We understand the breast milk is for your baby

nipple piercing tsa

you have a nipple piercing, it’s okay, we get it

x-rays tsa

Unless your leg is broken, no x-rays!

felt up tsa

we won’t feel you up

security theater tsa

even our security theater is invisible

toiletries quart size bags tsa

we don’t want to see your toiletries

3.4 ounces tsa

growler friendly, 3.4 ounces our ass (growler illustration by Chris Pecora)

Next up: Why Donald Trump Could Win the Presidency

Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump - Caricatures

By DonkeyHotey via Wikimedia Commons

Posted on September 21, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

The Obvious Appeal of Political Disruption (and Donald Trump)

Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump - Caricatures

By DonkeyHotey (Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump – Caricatures), via Wikimedia Commons

Donald Trump is a liar, a conman, a narcissist, a likely tax evader and a hypocritical, racist misogynist. Yet, any further effort to demonstrate this to voters is wasted energy.

For most Americans, our quality of life is declining, the cost of living is increasing and we live on a narrowing financial precipice. Wealth inequality is at levels unimaginable for a democracy. Left or right, few are satisfied with the results of either Congress or President Obama on the issues we care most about.

Both Bernie Sanders and Trump exceeded early expectations because of their outsider status and their appearance as disruptors of the status quo. Sanders used his authentic regard for equality and social justice to address these issues, whereas Trump promises to tear everything apart and restructure it without specifics.

Who can’t empathize with his intention? The status quo is broken for all of us. Even when money in politics fails to win elections, gerrymandering and the Supreme Court keep us on course toward an increasingly indebted country with failing infrastructure controlled by the wealthy and corporations for their own benefit. Frankly, there’s not much of a democracy left here.

What unites voters on the Left and the Right is that we all want a better quality of life and more transparency and accountability from our government. But the struggle for most Americans has reached the point that our presidential election is no longer driven by logic, but by the heart.

The cultural and political gridlock in our country has left a vacuum for a man like Trump to exploit, and he has. Until after the election, facts don’t matter anymore and intellectual argument is pointless.

This race is no longer about either a candidate’s credibility or their relative offensiveness.

Certainly the Right has unjustly demonized Hillary Clinton for years to Republican voters, but she lacks both Trump’s authenticity as a disruptor and Sander’s heartfelt concerns for average Americans.

He’s shredded the Republican Party elite and become a hero to those most angry with the status quo and the prospect of a Clinton presidency.

Alternatively, she berates Trump for not releasing his tax returns while continuing to withhold her Goldman Sachs speeches. The sincerity of her views is difficult to discern.

She’s most authentic only in her desire to become President.

For Trump supporters, mostly older white men without high school degrees, the future is increasingly uncertain. It doesn’t matter to them whether he delivers prosperity as much as he simply delivers radical change.

Anger is the only way they know to manage their fear.

To win this election, Clinton would need to simultaneously hold close the plights of women, minorities and immigrants, while speaking authentically to how the corporatization of government which she’s been a part of leaves us all at risk, including angry white male conservatives.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Clinton holds these beliefs nor can she effectively pretend to. It’s why the race has become close enough for Trump to win.

Let’s hope she triumphs; a Trump presidency is unthinkable. But beyond this election, we need to cultivate leaders who run to address people’s hopes and fear much more than their own personal aspirations.

Future leaders also need to have the courage to talk openly about our historical cultural legacy and the ongoing damage caused by racism and misogyny.

Trump says whatever it takes to inspire his followers, but healthy, sustainable leadership will require a balance of courage, truth and emotion to touch all of our hearts — none of which he has. Sadly, neither which either candidate has.

Posted on September 18, 2016 by Jeff Reifman

Notable comment on Success Ruining Seattle

I was touched by Adelaide McAllister’s comment on How Success is Ruining Seattle:

I lived in Seattle my entire life. I was forced to move due to the cost of living doubling in that last few years. I am sickened by it. I hate Seattle and will never go back. I have resentment towards any and all implants. I hate to be like that but they left their homes to invade mine. The traffic is horrific, the cost and the shear amount of people has ruined that beautiful city. I have a heavy heart that Seattle did that to not just me, but many many other people that called it home. Money is the root of all evil in this case. Seattle’s greed is sickening. One bedroom apartments 30 miles outside the city went from $950 a month to $1500 in 18 months. All the young people out of college are piling into one and two bedroom apartments. We are turning into New York, building micro apartments. Only $1000 for 300 sq. ft. Sick.

The data reflects her experience. Seattle’s median income jumped to $80,349 in 2015 from $67,460 in 2011.

Similarly, the lack of empathy is apparent in this comment above hers: “Glad that Amazon is cleaning Seattle up. Shame that some people just don’t like progress,” allegedly posted by Dr. James Russell, PhD, concealing his identity with the profile photo of this guy. Honestly, the white supremacist blogs are so illegible as to make it difficult to describe whether this person hates all people or just those that don’t shop at Amazon.

Posted on September 12, 2016 by Jeff Reifman Misleads T-Mobile Customers to Stores

apple tmobile iphone7

Apple Tells T-Mobile Customers to Go to Stores

It’s one thing to deliver an incredible product year after year managing global supply and demand, it’s another thing to stupidly mislead customers on your product launch website for a week.

Apple’s iPhone Upgrade website instructs T-Mobile customers to enroll by visiting an Apple Store. At the store I went to, I was told by two different senior staff that there was nothing they could do in store until there is stock. They said I was best off to go order on a website.

TMobile responded: “So I have in formed our business support team about this to reach out to our contact with apple to get this resolved at this point this is out of our control, If we had a way to process the apple upgrade program we would do it but at this time it is not possible with our systems. … Hopefully this is able to be figured out some time soon as definitely don’t want you or anyone else to go through the hassle later on.”

After Apple suggested its customers call them if they’ve had trouble with the upgrade program, I decided to try. The automated system hung up on me the first time. Ultimately, it was about 40 minutes on hold and 25 minutes talking to a very nice representative who was surprised, confused and powerless. I asked her to add my name to those frustrated by the upgrade program and she didn’t know what to do.

The iPhone is an amazing device but its amazing Apple can’t update its website text to not mislead customers.

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