Adobe’s serial insanity

I've been using Adobe products for nearly 20 years now, and in the past, I would have my employers dutifully buy me copies of Photoshop at every upgrade cycle. Now that I've been on my own for a few years, last year I finally outgrew an old copy of photoshop and decided to bite the bullet and buy a full blown copy of the entire Creative Suite 5.5 Master collection, at around $1800.

I heard about the new CS 6 betas for months and was surprised when people I follow on twitter started talking about the final version. As a customer of Adobe's with ColdFusion, they're usually pretty on-the-ball about notifying me the moment something new is on sale, and even though I spent $1800 back in September, I didn't see any emails or notifications on my Adobe account that there was a new version.

I needed Photoshop and Illustrator on a new laptop, so I went ahead and bought an upgrade to CS 6 for $375. I was logged into Adobe.com at the time, and I didn't see any "upgrade here" or "buy here" links from my previous orders, so I went through the options and it looked like the cheap upgrade would work.

I installed the upgrade version, put in the serial number they gave me, and was asked for a previous version serial, which I also copied off my Adobe.com account history, but I was met with the following error (I blurred the numbers, but you can see the old ones matching up on the last four digits and still being told this was wrong).

Serialerror

Annoyed, I followed the customer support links and read the articles about serial number activation issues. Eventually on a support page I was viewing, a "chat with a support person?" popup displayed on a page and I went ahead and explained my situation to a support tech. We solved the issues by doing this weird code-number-handshake thing that was a secret screen in the installer, and once given a secret code from the support tech, everything worked fine.

So to recap, after spending over $2k on software, about an hour of frustration while searching for a fix and talking things through with a support tech in a chat, I solved my problem on one computer (I also want to install this on my desktop). 

Adobe could have prevented these problems at several points, in many easy fixes, with solutions that would cut their paying customer frustrations, not require so much support documentation or staff to handle these issues, and get people using and loving their software again. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

1. When I'm logged into Adobe.com, my previous orders should present direct links to buy qualified upgrades at qualified prices. I shouldn't have to decipher a product matrix to determine which upgrade I should buy.

2. Same issue, but on the launch day of CS 6, I should have gotten a direct email offer to upgrade my CS 5.5 version with a link to buy/download CS 6 that bypassed the options.

3. If you get stuck in the serial number upgrade loop like I did, you can bypass it by installing CS 6 as a trial, which requires you to login to Adobe.com. If the installer lets me login to Adobe, why not fetch my serial numbers directly? If you need me to verify any previous purchaces, why can't I simply pick products from my previous purchases with a click instead of having to enter long serial numbers?

4. The "support code" option is a total hack and being non-reproducible on my other computer, means I'll have to go through this all over again. That you even had to build this nuclear option into installers reveals deeper problems.

Seriously Adobe, you've been at the pro software game for 20 some odd years, you have a great web site and team, and I can't believe I'm still having problems installing thousands of dollars worth of software in this day and age.

99% Invisible

99invisible-logo-itunes-badge

I've long had a love/hate relationship with podcasts. I work from home, so I don't have much in terms of steady downtime to listen to podcasts. I find I can only enjoy them while doing intellectually non-demanding things like highway driving in a car or sitting on public transport. When I've had hours to kill on road trips and a slew of comedy shows I've had a good time but as my time gets more valuable I've culled my lists of shows to less than half a dozen I really love, and besides just one or two, I don't go out of my way to listen to them immediately after they update.

When I finally tried out 99% Invisible after hearing so much good press about it, it rekindled my love of the form. First off, it's unlike every other podcast I listen to in that it's only about 10 minutes per episode instead of 90+min of talking. It is edited tightly so it's both packed with information and devoid of the common podcast deadtime of "so… what else is there to talk about?" There are always great interviews with experts, the website has a full word-for-word transcript of every show, and the subject matter is always fascinating even if I thought I wouldn't care at the start of each show. It makes me wish every other show I listen to tried to be as good as 99% Invisible (including my own).

The short length, deep knowledge, and tight editing mean every new episode is a delight and also an insane amount of work for the guy behind it, Roman Mars (I've heard him say each episode takes about 40hrs of his personal time to create and having editing audio before I would fully believe that number). I would strongly recommend giving the show a try. Thanks to the short length, you can listen to half a dozen in an hour and quickly catch all the back episodes.

If you end up loving this podcast as much as I do, by all means help it out by backing the next season of it over on Kickstarter. They've got a fundraising partner who will kick in $10,000 if they can get up to 5,000 backers and I'd really like to see Roman hit it.

My trip to Italy

Bridge

I just returned from Italy, visiting Rome, Florence, and Venice over the course of two weeks. I went with my immediate family, along with my Aunt. Originally, the trip was meant as a sort of “reward” for my mom when she started to get a bad diagnosis about her cancer last year. When she was told a year-long course of chemo was ahead for her, I promised to take her and her sister (my aunt) to Italy to celebrate when she was done with chemo. Unfortunately, that never happened and she died soon after, but at a family gathering around Christmas last year I told my Aunt about the trip and asked if we could maybe go anyway the following summer, as a sort of tribute to my mom. She enthusiastically said yes.

It was my wife and daughter’s first trip to Europe, and my first pure vacation trip there (I’d only been twice previous, for mostly work-related reasons). My Aunt lived in Germany in the early 1970s (my uncle was stationed there in the military at the time) and they had the chance to take short vacations through Italy so she could often compare today to 40 years ago.

Overall, the trip was an absolute blast. I was worried about culture shock of a new language, new locations, and new food, especially with my young daughter tagging along. Oddly, my two years of high school of Spanish (and occasional use since) made the Italian language feel about 75% readable and it was easy to pick up short phrases (that were mostly tweaked spanish phrases I already knew). The food overall was very good and close to what a lot of high end Italian places serve in the states, and since it was a vacation it was pretty easy to slip into the relaxed Italian lifestyle. I can’t imagine an easier non-English speaking country to visit.

Rome

Pantheon

We flew into and out of Rome and knew spending some time there was pretty much mandatory on your first trip to the country. They have a great deal of relics from the original Roman Empire and many other sights and famous buildings in a pretty small section of the city center. Unfortunately for us, while Rome’s late Spring had been pretty mild, the day before we arrived a heat wave blew in from the Sahara and temps hovered around 90-95F the entire time we were there. It was brutally hot and tough to spend more than a couple hours out in the sun doing things before a rest in some air conditioned place was necessary (and two showers a day became the norm).

Our first night was spent in a nice hotel near the Colosseum and we spent the remainder of our time in a nice little apartment a block away. As always, having an apartment was great because we could eat whatever we wanted for breakfast and come and go as we pleased (also helped to have laundry in our unit). I have to mention while we had a small CarreFour grocery store nearby, the best fruit and eggs I’ve ever purchased came from a random convenience store near our apartment. The eggs we got (at the equivalent of your average 7-11 in the States) were as yellow and great tasting as my friend’s organic fed chickens. The quality of basic food at small shops and stores was really something else, feeling farm fresh.

We ended up eating in a lot of nearby restaurants, and being close to the Colosseum meant a lot of bad touristy places that cater to English speakers. Friends on twitter steered me towards the iPhone app “Rome for Foodies” which is a quirky but reliably awesome hand written guide to the best food near you from an American ex-pat living in Rome as a food writer and sommelier. Our best meals were had thanks to that app and we also found some great little bakeries listed in it too. We also had the best tasting lunch of our trip by just walking into a restaurant where the waiter picked antipasto for us for lunch, no menus, which sounded like a tourist scam to drive up the bill but everything that came out was amazing.

On the advice of a friend, we hired a tour guide (from this outfit) to take us through the ancient sites (it helped that our guide was an anthropologist) and the Vatican, both to understand everything we were seeing as well as skipping long tourist lines. The ancient sites are really pretty spectacular and it was hard to even grasp the time period in regards to our own lifespans. I found it hard to make sense of looking at a building completed 1900 years ago and thinking how it survived through such massive political, social, cultural, and even atmospheric changes. And even for an atheist like me, the Vatican was pretty incredible. The art was amazing and the massive cathedral was impressive.

Overall, we had a pretty good time in Rome seeing the sites. If it was a bit cooler out, we could have seen more and walked more places and spent more time outdoors at ancient sites, but I would definitely recommend first time visitors to Italy to not miss Rome.

Florence

Florence from our rental flat

Florence was even better than Rome. We spent five days and four nights in Florence and the next time I travel this way I will make it at least a week. Food was almost always incredible, using Yelp reviews was key to finding the best options and it helped that finding great gelato was easy. We also took a side trip to the Tuscan towns Chianti and San Gimignano and both served as a wonderful relief from the heat and the crowds of Florence.

Florence was like a puzzle composed of thousands of pieces, so many streets, alleys, nooks and crannies to explore. Over the course of our time there we visited half a dozen museums and churches and there was still another dozen I wanted to see that we never got a chance to see. Every day we’d travel different paths though the city center and every day we were rewarded with new shops, chapels, and bridges to see. We spent several days exploring and had a full day guided tour on the penultimate day of our stay. We thought we’d seen most of the city center but our guide spent the day showing us streets, attractions, and places we hadn’t even known existed. The food was pretty amazing no matter where we ate, reminding me of my Italian grandmother’s cooking.

We stayed smack dab in the center of town, overlooking the main cathedral and the largest, most crowded city square. It was fun to be in the thick of it and close to everything, but it came at the price of nearly 24hrs of crowd noise outside our windows (ear plugs helped). We didn’t plan on it, but our stay coincided with Florence’s big John the Baptist celebration day which included a big procession and the opening of some doors in the church that only open once a year. That same night, we got to see the most incredible fireworks I’ve ever seen (it helps that the big fireworks companies are often Italian family-owned) over the Arno river. The Euro 2012 soccer series was also going on and we got to enjoy watching Italy win some key matches amid the cheering locals crowded around TVs at bars.

Our brief day trip to Tuscany made it clear why people make such a big deal about the region surrounding Florence. The landscape is amazing with views from every hilltop and the weather was really mild. San Gimignano was known as “medieval Manhattan” and even though it was kind of a cheesy tourist castle-as-city, the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever eaten was there and it was a nice place to catch an afternoon Sunday concert from local players in their city square. Florence was a real gem and I would love to visit it again someday and explore the region more.

Venice

Venice during the golden hour

Almost every American I talked to before the trip said we should see Venice but warned us that it would disappoint. Too crowded, too dirty, and too touristy most said. I have to admit the first couple hours in the city weren’t that great. It was very hot, we paid too much for a water taxi, and we ended up lost for 40 minutes trying to find our hotel amid the alleyways. When we finally found it and dropped our bags, our first experience at St. Marks square was being around 10,000 cruise line attendes clamoring for souvenirs.

But every moment after those first couple hours was pure bliss. It was our first relief from the heat wave we’d endured in Rome and Florence. After Florence I had gotten used to the serendipity of wandering back alley paths and Venice was a city that definitely rewarded those that went with it. I found stores, restaurants, and coffee shops I never could find again. When we had to cut across the island to save time we’d see a new museum or specialty shop we loved. The water “bus” system was easy, economical, and fun to use, letting us get from anywhere to almost anywhere else in Venice. We avoided the crowded St. Marks Square for the most part and enjoyed quiet art museums and galleries as well as gardens.

Visiting the San Giorgio tower and getting to see the city from up high was one of the best experiences. It let you see just how fragile the whole city was, this collection of tiny islands with thousands of people in buildings that were nearly a thousand years old, the whole place felt more special and precarious. I have no idea how electricity and fresh water get to the islands, and we frequently saw supplies still delivered by hand cart and construction done via boat.

Our hotel was nice, food was pretty good (Yelp use here is minimal, so I instead switched to the more popular Trip Advisor), but by the end of our time in Venice I think I loved it most of all the places we visited in Italy because it was so relaxing, laid back, and the weather was so mild being on the water. I would highly recommend not only visiting if you get the chance, but spending more than the standard overnight trip (we spent four days/three nights and I could have stayed more).

Some general travel tips

Rome: buying an unlimited Metro pass for the number of days of your stay is a good deal. We found we could get from our apartment to almost anywhere we needed to be in the city using the network of buses and trains. Keep in mind the core area of most attractions in downtown Rome is only a couple miles from end to end so if the weather isn’t too bad and you’re reasonably fit you could walk almost everywhere. The main international airport (FCO) is fairly far out of town and is about 50 euro to taxi into the center of Rome. Yelp was useful and reliable for reviews of restaurants. During siesta time (about 1-4pm) most businesses closed up shop and didn’t post hours. In the heat, we just got used to either resting during this time or visiting a museum.

Florence: there is a plethora of museums and I would highly recommend picking just a handful out and making reservations well in advance if you want to see the original David statue at the Academy Gallery). A tour guide came in handy here to see lots of small things we hadn’t spotted before. Everything we did was walking distance except for our trip to Tuscany, and our tour guide/driver came in handy because I didn’t want to drive in Italy.

Venice: The water bus system was great and time-based unlimited passes were worth the price. During our four day stay, a 72hr unlimited ticket covered all our needs and let us explore the entire length of the grand canal as well as some of the smaller islands. Water Taxis will take you directly where you need to go but will cost a lot (60 euro from the train terminal to St. Marks). The gondola rides are even more expensive (100 euro for 30-40min) but as a tourist you kind of have to do it once for the full experience. The art/museum pass was also a good deal and let us skip lines at the most popular spots.

Nerdery: I had good results from using a Wind.it microSIM on my iPhone (that was only 20 euro and came with 10Gb of bandwidth), but there was about a 12hr delay until it started working. I couldn’t get their data-only SIM to work in my iPad and instead got one from TIM (which worked instantly, also without a PIN on the SIM), another telephone company in Italy. There were no phone kiosks in the Rome airport, but it was pretty easy to find dedicated phone stores in Rome from Wind, TIM, and Vodafone. WiFi was generally available everywhere for either a fee or you had to ask for the password (free open WiFi was prohibited for the last decade due to anti-terror rules). My iPhone’s battery ran down faster than I remember, probably because I was using Foursquare so much. I eventually dropped my connection down to Edge-only to get a full day out of my phone.

Food: The best meal in Rome was had at Da Danilo. My favorite meal in Florence was at Za Za (which is touristy and crowded but still worth it). The best meal we had in Venice was at La Zucca. Overall, food was generally great everywhere, I had some of the best risotto of the trip at the cafeteria in the Rome train station. In general, I used Yelp to find highly reviewed places near me. At first I realized it was difficult to evaluate restaurants with only Italian reviews I couldn’t read until I realized they were generally better since native Italians were eating there. I used Trip Advisor only when I needed to because their reviews are generally rubbish and untrustworthy (the highest rated place in Florence on TA was almost exactly the same as the food you would honestly get at an Olive Garden in the US. Forgettable crap).

Traveling around: Rome buses were great, especially the tiny electric ones because they went down very small streets and alleys. Rome’s subway was reliable and quick. The national high speed trains were great for going from one town to the next faster than a plane and very cheap considering. The best trip we had was a nonstop from Rome to Florence in a brand new train with lots of room and it was incredibly comfortable. Those trains also offer WiFi if you have a TIM sim card in your phone.

Two things I didn’t get about Italy:

  1. Casual tolerance for tagging-style graffiti. I’m a fan of graffiti art but I find tagging your name on stuff annoying and ugly. We saw some supposedly 14th century graffiti in Florence so maybe people are fine with it for possibly historical reasons, but I found it annoying to see many historical sites with some guy’s name spray painted on it. The subway trains in Rome looked almost like 1980s NYC trains they were covered in so much graffiti.
  2. Most every museum, almost all churches, and even some stores had “NO PHOTOS” signs posted. I understand not wanting camera flashes to annoy patrons in a museum and no one likes a guy with a tripod blocking up a crowded place, but no cameras at all seemed really weird to me. I ended up taking photos of things using my phone, usually acting like I was using my phone and not taking a photo.

Photos/Video

Here are some photos from my trip. I also made a video from short clips over two weeks: