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Hot on the Web

Getting it right online

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on January 20, 2006
(Issue 2403, Unsung Utilities)

The dishwasher my brother handed me down a couple years ago went on the fritz the other night. Loud bang, then a sort of pathetic whimpering sound. Turned it off quick – and, because it's a Kenmore brand, went to call Sears – the store that makes and sells Kenmores.

I could have looked Sears' 800 repair service number up in the Yellow Pages, I know, but with broadband I'm kind of predisposed to look everything up online these days. I didn't even do a search – just went to and quickly found a link to their repairs department.

No phone number, though – instead, there was an online form to schedule a repair visit!

I began filling out the form –pull-down menus guided me through the well-designed, easy to navigate process: Dishwasher. Stopped working. Thursday morning 8 a.m.-noon. I entered my credit card information, and clicked on the Finish button.

A message displayed informing me I'd successfully finished the process and a repair person would be at my house the next morning.

Where it went wrong

Thursday being my day off, it was easy enough to stay home all morning anyway (gave me a chance to get almost caught up on my ComputorEdge columns). But as the morning rolled into early afternoon, with no sign nor call from a repair person, I finally went back to the site to get a phone number to call.

Finding the phone number wasn't easy. I had to hunt around the service section of the Web site, and even went through the scheduling process again before I found it.

When I called, I got to a live person very quickly – that was nice.

But she had no record of my having scheduled a repair visit.

We quickly got me a visit scheduled for the next morning – and the customer service rep admitted she'd heard similar complaints from other customers: that they scheduled service visits that never registered with the Sears scheduling system.

Which only goes to show that Web design has to take in more than layout and graphics: As easy as the scheduling menus were to use, if the repair department never got my request then the whole thing was useless.

An example of near-perfection

While Sears' Web gurus work to get the repair request forms working correctly, computer historian Kevin Savetz has the site humming along and helping preserve our digital heritage.

From the early 1970s through the mid-'90s, there were dozens of hobbyist magazines out there – I know, because for awhile I was helping organize the magazine collection of the now-defunct Computer Museum of America (recently – and fortunately for San Diegans – acquired by San Diego State University). And there were also hundreds of how-to books for owners of first generation personal computers – Apples and PETs and TRS-80s and Ataris and Ti-99s and ... well, you get the idea.

Just before the holidays, I was cleaning out old boxes in the garage and came across a couple dozen old books about the Atari 8-bit computers – the Atari 400 and 800 and the XL and XE models that followed.

A Google search brought up Savetz's site – with clear directions on donating new materials. A handy e-mail form put me in contact with Kevin, he picked the books he did not yet have for his project, and I shipped them off.

While Kevin has all sorts of now-classic books scanned in, my donations will take awhile – not only for the scanning and formatting, but because Kevin does it right: Before posting anything, he tracks down the copyright owner and gets legal permission to post these materials online.

In so doing, he helps preserve important documentation about the early PC culture and technology – materials that will be of vital use to future historians trying to understand how the whole computer revolution came about.

Kevin also has a sister site to dedicated to more general classic computing books: Classic Computer Magazine Archive. Here are scanned-in copies of Creative Computing magazine, Compute! Magazine, and a few other short-lived efforts.

Both sites are well-designed, easy to navigate, and, best of all, when you click on a magazine or book you want to peruse – the link works.

Maybe the most important one is the PayPal button that lets the rest of us support Kevin's good work and help keep these materials available.