ForeFlight Adds XM Weather Option

ForeFlight now supports XM weather ( This addition gives pilots the option to have either (or both) ADS-B weather or XM weather. I fear this will be a bad thing for aviation.

Now that’s a bold statement. XM weather, a bad thing? No, seriously, I do. Hear me out. ForeFlight, and all EFB software, has brought unparalleled situational awareness to the cockpit of today’s general aviation pilot. This is wonderful. I’ve been flying with ForeFlight for several years now, and I never leave the ground without it. While it’s not my primary navigation (nor can it be for IFR flights), it provides me with quick information and airport references. Frequencies, runway lengths, instrument approach plates; all easily accessible on my iPad. I also get weather. My Stratus 2S unit receives free ADS-B weather and gives me radar, TFRs, and more. So why would XM weather be bad?

Most pilots who fly with ForeFlight have some ADS-B solution. The commercial Stratus or a homemade option. This implies that ForeFlight users are wanting XM (and they might be). But XM comes with a price, $40/month, and yet another box to hook up externally. The subscription price isn’t bad, and the box is well made. They have no weight in my opinion. So why the negativity?

Simple, pilots who have ADS-B weather, and then purchase XM weather are going to believe the XM weather is better. Why? They’re paying for it, it must be better. You get what you pay for, right?

The FAA has been trying to tell us datalink weather is not real-time for years. Pilots who have XM and ADS-B weather have been killed because they believed the radar to be real-time. It isn’t. Pilots want to believe the expensive iPad and Stratus units are giving them real-time weather. Let’s say a pilot listens to the FAA, and doesn’t treat ADS-B weather as real-time. Now, that pilot purchases an XM receiver and subscription. Now he or she can flip between the ADS-B radar and the XM radar. This will give two different radar pictures, as it would be impossible to link the weather exactly at the same time. The pilot can now choose the radar he or she wants to believe, and fly into trouble.

XM weather is wonderful, if you don’t have ADS-B. But ADS-B weather is good enough to keep you out of trouble, and it’s free. Stick with ADS-B and steer clear of weather you shouldn’t be flirting with.

Fly safe!

The Worst Laptop I’ve Ever Bought

Now that’s a bold statement. I won’t even venture to guess how many laptops I’ve owned, but I am certain I’ve found the worst one. I’ve had laptops that blew batteries, ones that were so handicapped by slow hard drives they were nearly useless, and even one who’s power button required an act of God to press. And none of them were the worst.
Now, you might expect the worst laptop to be big, bulky, with poor battery life. You might expect it to have a terrible display, or horrendous keyboard. Perhaps even it would be too heavy to actually pick up. But the worst is none of those things.
Let’s go through a few things. First, I’m a power user. I run my laptops hard, I run my IT business with them, and I use them at home. I use a docking solution at the office to connect two external displays. And I rarely turn the unit off. However, I also don’t buy cheap laptops. This one, in fact, retails for over $3,000. That should be sufficient to have a good laptop, even for me.
So why do I say this is the worst laptop ever? Simple. It’s annoying. Let’s go through a few things.
1) This is actually my third. The first two had factory defects. This necessitated a 5 hour trip to a store, and 12 phone calls.
2) The dock (sold by the laptop manufacturer) is unreliable. About 25% of the time, my USB keyboard won’t work plugged into the dock, so I have to plug it in to the laptop directly. 10% of the time, the monitors connected to the dock don’t connect. You must reboot to fix it.
3) The DPI of the laptop’s screen is higher than standard, and Windows cannot handle this. If an application was open when you move from the built-in display to the external display, you’ll need to shut down and restart the app. If that doesn’t work. Reboot.
4) The build quality is not $3,000 worth. My MacBook Pro is one of the best designs I’ve ever seen. Furthermore, the Mac feels solid, sturdy, valuable, and reliable. This laptop is more expensive, built as a competitor to the MacBook Pro, and all I can think when I pick it up is, “I hope it doesn’t bend.”
5) Drivers are unstable. With an OS and hardware made by a single company, it’s supposed to be the perfect marriage between hardware and software. Fail. The graphics driver is unstable, further complicating issues with the dock.
6) It doesn’t like to power on. Laugh, I know. But it’s true. Half the time I open this laptop, it doesn’t power up. My Dell back in 2000 had that mastered. In 16 years, we’ve gone backwards. Unacceptable for a premium laptop.
7) The battery sometimes doesn’t charge. Again, this is laughable. But I actually have to check to see the battery is charging when it’s plugged in. The light on the power adapter will be on, but the laptop may not actually be charging.
I could go on. But I won’t. The worst laptop I’ve ever bought is the Microsoft Surface Book. This is the only laptop I have ever bought that I truly attempt to avoid using. I’ve gone back to my MacBook Pro at home. I’m about to start taking it to work again. It’s far more stable and predictable.
Am I just being hard on the Surface Book. No, I don’t think so. Microsoft specifically designed the Surface Book to one-up the MacBook Pro. Put simply, it doesn’t. It should — on paper, it’s superior in many ways. But actually using it is another story.
I’m honestly saddened by this. I had such high hopes for the Surface Book. I was completely sold during the keynote when Microsoft revealed the product. I pre-ordered, dealt with massive frustration to actually obtain a working unit. I wanted so badly to love this product. I wanted to ditch my Android tablet and my iPad for work. I wanted the Surface Book to be the ultimate laptop. But it’s not. It’s the worst laptop I’ve ever bought.

Microsoft Surface Book: Finally Received

This is part two. Read part one here.

As mentioned previously, Microsoft’s Surface event back in October 2015 caught my eye. Microsoft’s first laptop, the Surface Book, was unveiled. I’ve been a long-time ThinkPad fan and I’ve owned three Mac laptops since the aluminm unibody design came out.

The Surface Book is billed by Microsoft as the “ultimate laptop.” That’s a big claim. Apple’s MacBook Pro is one of the absolutely best computing products ever created. The MacBook Pro’s aluminum design is light, strong, beautiful, and reliable. Lenovo’s ThinkPad has easily the best reputation for toughness in the laptop market, not to mention the excellent keyboard. Can the Surface Book compete? (more…)

Microsoft Surface Book – Ordering & First Impressions

en-INTL-L-Atlas-Devices-CR9-00001-RM5-mncoLike many in the tech industry, I watched Microsoft’s Keynote on October 6 when they unveiled the new Surface Book laptop. I was so impressed with the product, I pre-ordered on on October 7 (when preorders opened). The $2,100 laptop promised to be on my doorstep on October 26. Little did I know this would be the beginning of the worst online shopping experience of my life.

On October 19, I received notice my pre-order had been cancelled. I phoned Microsoft and tracked the issue down to a credit card denying the charge for suspected fraud. After an hour on the phone, I was offered a new order and told I would need to wait an additional 7 weeks to receive the unit, since they were sold out. I told the representative this was unacceptable, as I had pre-ordered the unit. The supervisor, Amanda, told me this was a known issue and I was promised the order would be reinstated. She promised to call me back to resolve the issue the next day.

The next day, no call back. I called the number I was given. Requests to speak with Amanda were met with transfers. After two, I spent 15 minutes on hold before speaking to Mark. Mark spoke as if he knew Amanda, and informed me she was in a meeting dealing with this specific issue, and he would have her call me back in an hour.

Day three (October 21). I had not heard back from Microsoft, so I called again. This time, speaking with Kate. I explained the problem from the beginning. Kate informed me this was not a known issue, and there was likely nothing that could be done. Her supervisor, Tiffany, refused to speak to me, but would chat with Kate, while Kate spoke with me on the phone. Tiffany reportedly said she could reinstate the pre-order and that she would update the shipping times, but a new order must be placed. I proceeded with the new order, hoping I may actually be told the truth this time.

On October 29, the online status of my second order had still not been updated, and I had not yet received my Surface Book (now three days late). I called again (call four, for those of you keeping track). This person told me there was absolutely no way I was getting my Surface Book before November. Now, remember, at this point, no less than four Microsoft representatives had provided the information that I WOULD receive my Surface Book at the pre-order time. I can only assume this was to get me off the phone faster. I was assured shipping information would be available by November 15. The rep then informed me that the Surface Dock, which I ordered with the Surface Book would ship today, and I could “try it out to see how I liked it.” It’s important to note the Surface Dock cannot be used with anything other than a Surface or Surface Book… I have absolutely no way to try it out.

November 15th rolled around, and about 8pm, shipping information was indeed posted for my Surface Book. The unit would arrive on November 24.

On November 24th, my Surface Book arrived. While unboxing, I noticed the touchpad was smudged. A bit unusual for such a high-end laptop, but I chose to ignore it. When I attempted to power-on the device, I found it’s battery dead. Also a bit uncharacteristic, but no big deal. Once plugged in, and powered up, the first signs of trouble appeared. The Surface Book booted and prompted for a username and password…not the standard Windows setup wizard. I, of course, had no username or password for the unit, meaning the six week wait and four phone calls had now resulted in a unit which was useless.

Now, normally at this point, I would simply reload the machine and be done with it. However, this is a Surface. There are no discs or recovery media to boot from. This is also a brand-new unit, having now given three signs it has been previously used. I chose to call Microsoft again to see what they had to say about the unit.

This time, I spoke with the support team. I explained the issue, and they informed me I was in the wrong department and needed to speak with Surface Support. It took a few times to convince them I had not forgotten my Windows password — I can only assume this is a common call.

Finally, I spoke with Mark in Surface Support, but was quickly disconnected.

I called back (call six for those counting). Jessica took the call from Surface Support and explained that this was a known problem and my unit had been selected for “line testing” and had not been reset as it should have been. I asked if the smudges and dead battery were also a result of this, but she seemed convinced that was unique to me. I asked for a replacement unit to be overnighted to me, but Jessica informed me she had no power to do such an exchange. She did walk me through the options of returning the Surface Book for a two week turn around for replacement, or going to the local Microsoft Store (2 1/2 hours away for me), or holding my credit card for $2,100 while they ship one out in advance. She also offered to reset the existing unit and let me continue to use it. Reluctantly, I chose the reset. This was a mistake.

Following Jessica’s instructions, we reset the Surface Book. She then informed me I should immediately install the firmware update via Windows Update to correct some problems. This isn’t unusual in this space, after all, it is a brand-new device. I started the update and ended the call with Jessica.

Just to recap, I’ve waited six weeks for a unit I’ve pre-ordered. It has arrived smudged, dead, and locked. I’ve called Microsoft now six times, and I’m waiting on Windows Update. But, I have a Surface Book. Is that a good thing?

Once the update was finished, I began the task of setting up a new PC, as I would any other PC. Step one, join it to my domain. This requires the use of the System window. While there, I noticed something odd. The system reported 4GB of RAM. Thinking this was odd, I confirmed on Microsoft’s web site, the box, and my order that my Surface Book was to have 8GB of RAM. In fact, according to Microsoft, it’s not possible to purchase the Core i7 powered Surface Book with less than 8GB of RAM.

Given the Thanksgiving holiday, I waited to start with Microsoft again. That honor fell to Monday, November 30. I began just after lunch. Microsoft has changed their outgoing messages to explain “longer hold times” due to holiday specials. Four minutes in, I spoke with Josh in Surface Support. I provided him with my latest case number and told him of the RAM issue. Josh informed me that since my device was not registered, it could not be returned, and that he would have to register it first. This process took 47 minutes. I can’t make that up.

During registration, Josh asked me for the serial number of my Surface Book. I flipped the unit over and read him the number printed on the bottom of the laptop. I was then told this serial number was invalid. I confirmed the number, and spent a few minutes on hold. Josh then asked me to check the box and read him the serial number on the box. To my surprise, there were two. One of which was valid. I later found this serial number is printed on the bottom of the tablet portion of the Surface Book. You must detach the tablet to view it. Josh knew nothing of this.

Once the registration was complete, Josh told me he would have to transfer me to the Microsoft Store to process the exchange. Eight minutes later, I was disconnected. End of call seven.

I waited 30 minutes before calling again. Josh had asked for a call back number, but never attempted to call me back.

Call eight began at 1:01pm. ┬áThis time, I elected to call the Store directly. If Surface Support wanted me to talk to them, I’d call them. Luckily, I had the case number from Josh before being disconnected. I called, was told I could wait 8 minutes on hold, or they could call me back, holding my place in line. I elected for the call back. About 8 minutes later, the Store’s automated system called. Once I was told an agent would be with me in a moment, the system disconnected me. End of call nine.

Call ten. I figured I’d rule out a problem with my office phone system and use my cell phone for this call. That would also keep the side of my face from being imprinted with my desk phone’s handset, which seemed like a plus. Three minutes into the call, before speaking with a human, I was disconnected.

Call eleven, using the office phone this time. This time, my hold time estimate for the Store was 24 minutes. However, given the previous issues, I figured it was safer to wait. To my surprise, only a moment later, Andrew was on the line with me. I provided him the day’s case number and explained the situation. Andrew, who was extremely nice, apologized for my terrible experience. He then informed me he needed to transfer me to Surface Support to resolve the issue. At this point, I objected. I explained that I began with Surface Support earlier in the day, and was being told to talk to the Store. Andrew agreed to remain on the call until my problem was completely resolved.

This time, James answered in Surface Support. The situation was explained in full. James then asked for my other case numbers. I was then asked if this was my first Surface Book or if it had been replaced already (it hadn’t been). James then placed Andrew and I on hold for a few minutes to talk to his supervisor. He then asked if I could login to the Surface Book, and then proceeded to ask me how I knew the unit had 4GB of RAM. Oddly, this was the first time I was asked this across this whole ordeal. I offered to allow him to remote into the Surface Book to confirm it did actually have 4GB of RAM. He agreed. Once logged in, confirming my claim, James agreed there was a problem.

James then told me he would email himself a screen shot to confirm the issue, and escalate the case to level 3. Someone from level 3 would then call me back in 2 to 3 days. I refused. I explained I would not accept more delays and that I would either get an exchange today, during this call, or return the Surface Book and forget the whole thing. James then explained to me he did not want to exchange the unit, as it was “likely” I would get the same specifications back. I asked how this could be, as Microsoft doesn’t make a Core i7 Surface Book with 4GB of RAM. James could not answer that question.

After another 8 minutes on hold, James offered me a “Center Exchange” to replace the Surface Book. This process involves Microsoft sending me a prepaid label, me shipping the Surface Book to them, and then they ship one back 6 – 8 days later. It’s been seven weeks, what’s another two, right? James told me to send only the laptop, no packaging, power adapter, pen, etc. This seemed odd, so I confirmed this with him, twice.

James provided me with the label and an order number. Andrew, the guy from Microsoft Store who was remaining on the line, then spoke up. Andrew indicated the order number “did not bring anything up in my system.” Andrew and James then argued for a few minutes over the meaning of an Order Number and a Case Number.

James then directed me to where the order and order status shows up. Apparently, this is invisible to the Store personnel.

I packaged up the Surface Book and shipped it to Microsoft. That was four days ago. Microsoft confirms they have it, but no word on when (or if) they’ll ship me a replacement.

I’m writing this and sharing this story not to try and attack Microsoft. I want to share this customer service experience. Microsoft is attempting to compete with Apple. That’s a tall order. Although I own several Apple products, I’ve only called them twice. Each time it was a seamless, above expectations experience. Sure, with any large company, there are hold times, transfers, but that’s not an excuse to put a customer through my ordeal. I’ve spent no less than four hours on the phone with Microsoft for an item I pre-ordered. I should have received the item I actually ordered on October 26. Instead, it’s December and I have nothing but a pile of notes to show for it.

In the three days I did actually have the Surface Book, I played with it a bit. Overall, the unit is decent. Build quality isn’t up to Apple standards. The wrist rest especially feels cheap. The keyboard isn’t as smooth as that on my MacBook Pro or my ThinkPad. Assuming I get a Surface Book again, I’ll post a full review.

Thanks for reading.

Update – December 12, 2015

My replacement Surface Book arrived on Monday, December 4, much faster than Microsoft predicted. I setup the unit and confirmed it actually had the 8GB of RAM it was supposed to have. It did. I finished my day at work by installing software and taking the new product home.

That evening I tried it out on my lap, in tablet form. It didn’t take long to figure out the touch sensor was bad. The bottom 1/3 of the screen would not register a finger touch 90% of the time. The pen worked just fine, but it’s not designed to substitute for your finger. I fiddled with the device for a while, determining exactly what was bad. The touch sensor was definitely a hardware problem. Rotating the screen confirmed the dead areas were not in software.

That evening I contacted Microsoft support via chat. As before, I was told the best course of action was to go to my local Microsoft Store. I could also send the Surface Book back and they would ship me a new one in a few weeks. I asked if there was anything in software that might fix this, and I was instructed to wipe and reload the Surface Book. Knowing this likely would not work, I saved my files and did it anyway — I needed to wipe the device before returning it. The chat session was cut-off, citing “circumstances beyond our control.” I later determined the hours of live chat ended. Apparently Microsoft’s method of sending their workforce home on time is cut all chat conversations off with no warning.

The tech did email me, to assure me he would not let this issue go.

I decided that night the only true solution would be to drive to St. Louis and visit the Microsoft Store in person. Only there could I exchange the Surface Book and test the new one before leaving the store. I advised the tech of this, via email, and he made me an appointment.

The two and a half hour drive went quickly. I arrived at the St. Louis Galleria mall and proceeded to the Microsoft Store with my boxed Surface Book in hand.

Upon entering the store, I was greeted by an associate. I advised her I had been told to request a manager. I was told the manager was another associate who was waiting on another customer. I waited at the counter. Only a few minutes later, the manager, Sam, came over. I explained my situation, provided copies of the order emails and my own notes on which this article is based. Sam, and his co-worker, Dustin, listened intently as I explained I had brought my second Surface Book to the store for replacement and was now eight weeks into the story.

I presented Sam with the only two options I would accept:
1) Leave the store with a replacement Surface Book which I have tested in the store to my satisfaction.
2) Be given a complete refund of my order and I would return the Surface Book and not purchase another Surface product.

Sam went to check on store stock for a replacement while Dustin tested the Surface Book I brought to the store. Dustin confirmed my unit was defective. Sam collected my information and offered a replacement, which was in stock. Sam also offered accessories. I mentioned I already had a Surface Dock, although I had yet to unbox it. Sam was very apologetic. I asked if I could be upgraded one model. Sam agreed. A few minutes later, he presented me with a new Surface Book.

Sam introduced the Store Manager, who came out specifically to apologize for my experience with my Surface Book order. She seemed genuinely surprised that anyone had gone through such an ordeal.

Sam and Dustin collected the various case numbers I had been given through the phone calls, and the dates of my calls. The assured me an internal discussion would take place regarding my experience with support. I also advised them to read this post.

I tested the new Surface Book in the store before accepting it. Now, and then, I am unable to find anything wrong with this one. I suppose third time’s the charm.

I finally have a working Surface Book. I’m staring my review of it here.

I have to give credit to the people of the St. Louis Microsoft Store. Everyone I spoke to was kind, attentive, and seemed genuinely concerned for my happiness with the experience and the product. Sam, who I dealt with the most, was very attentive. I was offered beverages multiple times during my visit. He completely understood my problem, complaint, and my demands. If I had received this kind of customer service, there would not be a reason for this post.

So should you buy a Surface Book? Well, certainly not online. But read my ongoing reviews to learn more.