My favorite gadget

by Rob Tiller

My iPhone is a marvelous gadget, but as will happen with gadgets, the magic has faded somewhat. Part of it is simple familiarity: a year-old gadget is just not as exciting as a new one. Part of it is competition: I’m in that wonderful phase of new love with my iPod. Also, with the introduction of the slick new iPhone model, my 3G seems the tiniest bit frumpy. And part of it lately has been frustration with minor glitches from the new operating system, which I downloaded three weeks ago. In particular, the device started asking me for a password to my voicemail, and I didn’t have a password. I was locked out.

I’ve been super busy at work lately and simply haven’t had the combination of free time and fortitude needed to call AT&T, navigate the voicemail system, and get a sentient human to solve the problem. Meanwhile, there’s been a constant low-grade worry that someone might leave me a voicemail that could have consequences if left unattended. It’s probable that a business voicemail to my iPhone would have a related voicemail on my office phone, or a related email somewhere. But not certain. And there’s even less certainty that a personal voicemail would have a margin of safety. How many friendships have been lost due to ignored phone messages? There was definitely risk involved.

Last week at Red Hat we had the mother of all meetings, a week-long assembly of the legal department personnel from around the globe. In addition to organizational and speaking duties, I contributed many hours of attention to the presentations. I particularly enjoyed getting to know some of my really interesting colleagues from distant offices (Singapore, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Munich, Mountain View, Tysons Corner). And in the course of a gadget discussion with Tom Y, I got a lead on how to solve the voicemail problem —

So, finally, on Saturday morning, I woke up early, went to the gym, swam 1700 meters, did some yoga, got some gas for Clara, came home, walked Stuart, fed him and the cats, had some coffee and cereal, read the Times, and then went to It took some looking about, but I finally found the proper tab for resetting the wireless password, and got it done. But along the way there was one last challenge.

I had to choose security questions and enter answers. The questions were mostly in the form of What’s your favorite whatever — favorite food, movie, song, etc. You’d think, or at least ATT&T must have thought, I’d know such things. But I could not come close to determining what I would probably say in the future was my favorite in any of the categories. There were too many possibilities, too many things in each category that I really liked and might on a given day think could be my favorites. And for things I really care about (including movies, food, and music), I hate the thought of being unfair and untrue and designating as a favorite something that is not the true, ultimate, most fantastic favorite. Admittedly this was a minor problem, but still, a problem. In the event I could not remember my password, missing the security questions as well could be a real headache.

Fortunately, in the end, there were questions involving personal history that I could substitute and be reasonably confident that, absent traumatic brain injury or dementia, I’d answer consistently. So, I’m back in business with voicemail. Somewhere ahead there’s a new gadget problem, but right now I’m good. iPhone, don’t tell anyone, but you’re my favorite.