Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Microwave Ate My Caller ID

by Susan Jacobson

Please. Don't call me "Ma'am". As in, "Ma'am you would have known that if you had carefully read your owner's manual."

As a matter of fact, being the compulsive person I am, and shamelessly confident in my technologic ineptitude, I do read my owner's manuals. Cover to cover.

Over the years, however, I've learned gradually that I can safely skip the parts that congratulate me on my purchase, warn me not to play with it in the bathtub, not to overload my wall outlets, etc.

Deciding to let my 9-year-old household cordless phones die with dignity, I replaced them with two cordless Unidens. Installation was unremarkable, programming and usage a piece of cake.

Everything was great.

For 2 1/2 months.

Inexplicably, caller ID quit working on both phones simultaneously. When a call came in, the readout showed only "incoming call". Nor did the caller's phone number appear on the caller id scroll. Everything else worked--the phone itself, voice mail, and message retrieval.

How strange.

Even I knew the problem had to be with the phone company. But two calls to them on two separate days assured me the problem lay elsewhere. Perhaps the phones themselves, they suggested.

Back to the Depot

I took my receipt and (well-worn) owner's manual back to the Office Depot where I made the purchase to ask whether or not they had had any similar experiences with this phone. The electronics maven just scratched his head, muttering, "This is really weird."

He suggested I call Uniden to ask if they had any knowledge of such an occurrence with this phone.

And I did--call Uniden.

And they did--have knowledge of such an occurrence.

"Where are your phones located?" the customer service lady asked.

"One is in the breakfast room and one is in the master bedroom," I told her.

"And is your breakfast room near your kitchen?"

"Well, yeah."

And that's when I got the "Ma'am" thing. "That's the problem right there," she shot back. "Ma'am, you'd know that if you had carefully read your owner's manual."

"Excuse me?"

"Yes, Ma'am. These phones are 5.8 GHz, state-of-the-art, highly sensitive. The owner's manual states they are not to be placed near appliances. Do you have a microwave oven?"

Ah -- the microwave oven warning written into every owner's manual written after 1970. Stupid me. I thought that was just another one of those warnings that could be skipped. How wrong can you be?

"Yes, I have a microwave oven but it's not even in the same room as the phone."
No matter, she told me. "You need to re-locate your phone. Put it in another room."
I told her I didn't need it in another room, and reminded her that both phones had worked fine for the past 2 1/2 months.

She was ready for that. "The problem takes around three months to kick in. I can tell you how to reinstall the caller ID.
"But," she warned, "what's going to happen is that caller ID will continue to go out and, for a while you can reset it, but eventually it will stop working altogether."

When I informed her I would be returning these phones before that happens I got another "Ma'am." This one more odious than the others.

"Unfortunately, Ma'am," she snapped, "You cannot return them to Uniden."

Oh, really? Maybe I have no clout with Uniden, but I know who might.

I packed up the phones and took them to Office Depot. The folks there could not have been more accommodating.

The manager and electronics guy could barely contain their laughter. "Unbelievable," the said, noting that all owner's manuals warn against setting cordless phones on top of or right next to a microwave oven--or any appliance for that matter.

My money was cheerfully refunded and I walked away with two new cordless phones.

Not Uniden.
Take that, Ma'am.

Susan Jacobson, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, probably doesn't need a phone anyway since her ungrateful children never call.

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