Request for Feedback on This and Related Posts
Like the song says:
“… One of these slews is not like the others, one of these slews just doesn’t belong …”
Now everybody gets a chance join in the fun – lend an ear and judge for yourselves! Hyperlinked here is a recording of my ETX 90 PE/UHTC’s two servo-motor drives, slewing independently in the four possible directions:
· up/down on the Declination (vertical) axis;
· clockwise/counterclockwise on the Right Ascension (horizontal) axis.
One of these four slewing sounds is – according to my hearing – aberrant. I find the sound irritating and the corresponding drive suspect of potential failure – this based upon having previously encountered drives, ultimately proven to be faulty (unreliably supporting LNT/alignment/GOTO/celestial tracking), with similar slewing sounds not at all like the smooth, pitch-warbling drone one typically expects hear.
(This is not to suggest that all variation between drives/directions is indicative of mechanical failure. Particularly with age and use, idiosyncrasies between drive/direction slewing sounds is acceptable and even expected – corresponding electromechanical variations anticipated through AutoStar’s drive train/calibration functions. However, in a brand new telescope this ought never be the case.)
I seek and will much appreciate feedback from other ETX owners/enthusiasts, regarding what can be heard in the accompanying slewing sounds recording – and also regarding the supporting documents posted with this one:
· unacknowledged email to Meade customer support supervisor (22-June-2007);
· follow-up letter of complaint copied to Meade’s Customer Solutions VP (4-September-2007).
These chronicle the chain of misfortunes plaguing me since February 2007 to present, while attempting to utilize my warranty in order to obtain the perfectly functioning, flawless ETX 90 PE/UHTC I should have found in the box when I purchased my telescope brand-new about six months ago. My incredulity at having encountered so many issues has left me – despite remaining solidly behind the thoroughness of my diagnostic procedures and having never been demanding with regard to warranty issues – unsure of my objectivity, and second-guessing myself at every turn in this misadventure. While anything readers wish to share is welcomed, it would be most useful to gauge reader consensus regarding certain key details and open-ended question:
of aberrant slewing sounds on the MP3 record regarding:
Range of variation in atypical drive slewing sound deemed electromechanically trivial/significant and/or audibly acceptable/unacceptable
Electromechanical flaw considered benign/suspect/dangerous
Potential damage upon failure expected to be isolated/localized/systemic
Resolving over time/usage; remaining an annoyance yet functionally sound; approaching possible/likely/unavoidable failure within weeks/months/years
Repairs unnecessary till failure; prudent to expedite ASAP; crucial to unit’s integrity
Similar issues encountered by other ETX telescope owners and leading to what outcome
Suggested diagnostic/correction procedures(non-invasive); subsequent courses of action
Preventative warranty service on an otherwise perfectly functioning ETX 90 PE/UHTC telescope deemed unwarranted/appropriate/prudent/urged
Whether my experience with flaws and failures in three successive ETX 90 PE/UHTC units seems:
· totally implausible;
· atypical but possible;
· rare in Meade’s record of quality manufacturing;
· not unique to my experience and indicative of common/chronic problems in manufacture and quality control of ETX series telescopes.
○ Warranty-Covered Shipping Costs
Whether justifiable/unrealistic to expect special circumstances, as described in supporting posts, to warrant shipping of my telescope at Meade Corporation’s cost, despite the 30 day free-shipping period having lapsed.
Whether my complaint letter and preceding unacknowledged email to Meade Corporation – with their timelines, narratives, and editorial comments regarding various aspects of my ETX 90 PE/UHTC misfortunes and woes, including diagnostic procedures, shipping mistakes, communication problems and warranty issues – seem:
· picayune, irrational, sloppy, unrealistic, embellished, implausible, presumptuous or even abusive;
· polite, tempered, undemanding, cooperative, optimistic, balanced, diligent, methodical, patient, responsible, realistic and even optimistic;
or perhaps, as is more likely:
· something in between the poles of saintly perfection and self-deluded wickedness;
if not just simply, plainly, unmistakably:
· out of the bizarro world and not of this earth;
and almost unmistakably:
· unconscionably, unforgivably (but maybe understandably?) verbose – perhaps better framed as a non-fiction novella in the tradition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.
Whether justified/unrealistic in my posted narratives, diagnostics and procedures, attitude and expectations, comments and actions.
· Reader Anecdotes
Related/tangential/unrelated problems, circumstances, experiences and concerns other ETX owners have encountered.
· Reader Commentary
Whatever else might be of interest to other ETX owners and myself, as regards my posts, any subsequent responses and any tangents thereof, Meade Corporation, United Parcel Service, my own self, the Man-in-the-Moon, et cetera.
· Et Cetera
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I will be interested to read any and all posted responses. Any comments of a private nature may be emailed to “firstname.lastname@example.org”. Don’t spare my feelings – I value honest feedback. Thanks for taking the time to read and/or respond. Now let’s all go outside and enjoy our starry ETX nights – with or without that cool new “MySky” GPS-navigated celestial target acquisition GOTO-controller device. (Wonder if they have all the bugs worked out of this device?)
(With any luck, the southern summer light-polluted haze will lift and the stars will surface again in the still and forever orange-tinged night sky.)
Tom Farrell, hapless but hopeful ETX owner
4629 Woodlark Lane
Charlotte NC 28211
6001 Oak Canyon
Irvine CA 92618-5200
Scott W. Roberts, Vice President, Meade Customer Solutions
Unacknowledged email to Meade Customer Support Manager (22-July-2007)
“Request for Feedback,” as submitted to Weasner’s “Mighty ETX” Website, with suspect ETX 90 PE/UHTC slewing sounds MP3 recording (4-September-2007)
To Whom It May Concern:
I regret having to write this letter of complaint. Please accept it, and the attached supporting documents, in the same spirit with which I offer them – not just as a request for attention to a neglected customer issue – but as constructive criticism from a fan and customer of Meade telescopes who took the time to detail not only the currently pending issue, but the entire timeline of issues, diagnostics and resolutions encountered in attempting to attain the flawless, fully-functional telescope (ETX 90 Premium Edition with UHTC) I believed I had purchased in February of this year.
I think highly of Meade Corporation and have had a generally good experience with Meade’s customer support team. However, I find I am at an impasse for which I can find no remedy, after exhausting all the channels of communications available to me. I have had very bad luck after purchasing my ETX 90 PE/UHTC about six months ago, incurring multiple iterations of repair/unit replacement, and still left at present with issues Meade customer support claimed to have no way to resolve, have had no response to my attempts to contact their supervisor by email and voice message, and find myself totally dead-ended, with no further channels of communication available beyond, regrettably, filing an explicit yet polite complaint.
Over six weeks have passed since I sent the attached email to Ty Robertson, using an email address, “email@example.com”, which I obtained from Meade customer support -- after first being transferred to the telephone extension of somebody named “Vincent,” whose voice mail inbox was full and accepting no new messages. Escalating the issue was necessitated due to Meade customer support not having sufficient authority to assist with two remaining equipment problems. The email was sent on 22-July-2007, with receipt from Meade of an automated “read” acknowledgement on 24-July-2007. Late that same week, not having received a reply from Mr. Robertson, I telephoned and left the first of several also-unacknowledged voice mail messages. I left my telephone number and email address, carefully spelled out, and asked Mr. Robertson to please contact me after reading my email. so that we could resolve my pending issue as soon as possible.
I have never had any contact or response in any form from Mr. Robertson or Meade Corporation subsequent to sending my email inquiry. While I know we are all busy in our jobs and emergencies do occur, I cannot fathom why, with a successfully received, detailed email message and several voice mail messages referencing it, no attempt was ever made to contact me or address my issue. I would consider it a breach of common courtesy and accepted business practice not to at least let a customer know their inquiry was received and would be dealt with eventually. I do hope Mr. Robertson has not become ill, and can think of any number of possible scenarios in which my email might have gotten deleted, misfiled, forwarded, lost in a full inbox, et cetera. Certainly I cannot even imagine what the actual situation might be, and am left with no way of knowing how to get my request to somebody who might actually deal with it.
Mr. Robertson’s voice mail greeting did specifically refer “shipping matters” (exactly what Meade customer support was not authorized to help me with), to another extension, so perhaps on that basis Mr. Robertson felt justified in ignoring my attempts to contact him or forwarding my messages along to be dealt with by the appropriate department and/or individual. I did try to call the extension number, “360”, which Mr. Robertson’s greeting specified, but got only a message informing me that “360” was not recognized as a valid extension number. Since Meade appears to use only four-digit extension numbers, I am left baffled and, if possible, even more dead-ended.
I must admit I was surprised and a bit dismayed from the outset that Meade Customer support was willing only to refer me to Mr. Robertson’s email address but not personally escalate my issue to Mr. Robertson and follow it through resolution, a courtesy which would have spared me much additional grief, including drafting and mailing this letter and the attached email. Perhaps customer support engineers are specifically instructed otherwise. I know the customer support engineer was only fulfilling the duties of his job. Nevertheless, in the end, customer service proved also to be a dead-end.
The most benign explanation I can imagine, as to why I have had not received even a personal acknowledgement of my email, would be that it got appended to Meade’s queue of general email inquiries, which I know from experience to be somewhat backed-up. The least benign reason would be that Mr. Roberson, for whatever reason, perhaps after too quick a scan of my admittedly lengthy and detailed message, found it to lack merit enough to warrant even the most terse and unreceptive of replies.
No excess of speculation can bring my ill-fated email back from the dead-letter bin, so I hope this letter can carry on in its stead, and achieve at least some acknowledgement of my stalled inquiry, as to paid-shipping under warranty on my still-pending RGA. Mine is a very simple issue with a lot of background information, as detailed in the attached email. I will summarize it here for your convenience – but hope you will take the time to read the details in the attached email. Because I had already set up my RGA number, the issue yet unresolved relates only to shipping. Since we were speaking more than 30 days since the non-operational telescope was received, the customer support engineer was unable to authorize paid two-way shipping under warranty on this the final of three ETX 90 PE/UHTC units (second of two replacements for the original). Two-way insured UPS shipping coast-to-coast from North Carolina to southern California (approximately 3,000 miles) is no trivial expense. Regarding more than 30 days having lapsed since receipt of unit, perhaps the one-month shipping-paid warranty should be rewritten as follows:
Two-way shipping on warranty service will be covered at Meade Corporation’s expense, within 30 days of customer obtaining unit – or else until such time as customer is provided a unit functioning fully enough to reveal any electromechanical problems requiring repair, and customer succeeds in making contact with Meade customer support via telephone, email or web server customer request form.
There were clear circumstances – none of my doing, all of which Meade ultimately must take responsibility for – which prevented me, within 30 days of receipt, from even operating my telescope so as to suspect a mechanical flaw – and then, once diagnosed, to contact Meade, by any means whatsoever, in a timely manner:
1) The unit was delivered with a faulty AutoStar controller, without which the unit could not even be operated (see attached email for diagnostic details). A replacement AutoStar controller was shipped based on my speaking with Meade customer support, but was not received till nearly a month later, due to UPS misdelivering it a number of streets away from me.
(Local UPS home delivery/pick-up is haphazard at best, seemingly oblivious to Meade’s explicitly stated shipping instructions, specifically guilty of:
1.1) leaving hundreds of dollars worth of telescope equipment out in the open on my doorstep when I was not at home, prone to weather and theft;
1.2) neglecting to observe the window of days for parcel pickup set up by Meade customer support on my behalf, then making only one scheduled pickup attempt, and leaving behind, without explanation, the prepaid mailing label (which verifies in writing explicit “single-pickup” instructions which Meade never gave) for me to deal with on my own – thus wasting my time, whether hand-delivering to a UPS shipping location or rearranging my life so as to remain housebound and at the whim of UPS in ignoring whatever window of days Meade might reschedule for pickup.
I believe that the UPS delivery/pick-up men have just been doing their jobs and following instructions per shipping label, with Meade’s stated shipping instructions getting garbled and replicated through in data-entry and/or label printing errors. I have received, wedged into my door jam, initial and reissued shipping labels, left behind after off-schedule “single attempt only” pickups, bearing the identical Meade/UPS tracking numbers and repeating the same misspelling of “Mead Corporation,” yet with differing package dimensions/shipping weights. Evidently, each time an erroneous “single pickup only” labeling forced Meade to explicitly reschedule pickup, the shipping label produced simply repeated the original error. I did report the problems I encountered with UPS to Meade customer support several times, and the problems were logged with promises that they would be discussed in customer support department meetings. No doubt such errors are difficult to trace and take time to correct. I don’t know if these are local or system-wide problems, but I do hope UPS will be diligent in addressing them and that not too many other customers will be inconvenienced in the meantime.)
2) Web server errors at “http://www.meade4m.com/cgi-bin/rga.cgi” made it made it impossible for me to file an on-line customer support request. I sent a screen image of the error I encountered as an attachment in an email to “firstname.lastname@example.org”, hoping Meade’s webmaster could diagnose/correct the problem, and also attached a composite screen image of my completed customer request form but was prevented from submitting, requesting the webmaster forward it to the appropriate party. I never received either a “received” or “read” acknowledgement, and have no idea whether the server error might have been of a transient nature or was otherwise ever addressed.
3) There were multiple problems and changes regarding Meade customer support and its telephone queues. Between confusion figuring out that customer support had cut back its hours, and chronic, non-trivial backlogs/malfunctions in Meade’s telephone queues, it took many weeks before finally getting through to customer support. Extremely long hold times continued to terminate not in a pick-up by a customer support engineer, but, at various times, one of the following:
3.1) Meade’s telephone queue hanging up on me;
3.2) being routed repeatedly back to the main greeting message for Meade’s 800 number, necessitating starting over from the tail-end of the telephone queue;
3.3) being routed, for no reason whatsoever, to voice mail and an announcement that the voice mailbox was full to capacity;
3.4) being routed, after holding for the better part of an hour, to a voice greeting stating that customer service was closed for the day, followed by yet again, a voice mailbox with a full-to-capacity message (based upon which I eventually inferred that customer support had begun closing at 5:00 pm PST, rather than 9 pm PST as before).
Putting aside the sense of futility over much of my time and cell phone minutes (cell = home phone) wasted for absolutely nothing – in the end, I was not was able to speak Meade customer support over two months after the replacement ETX 90 PE/UHTC unit was delivered – and a month after receipt of the replacement AutoStar controller rendered the telescope operational and revealed the additional flaws. I was dismayed that the customer support engineer I finally reached actually sounded a bit dubious of the circumstances I related. I felt then and still feel that, due to all the circumstances I have outlined, Meade should be pleased to accept responsibility for the delays and extend its 30-days warranty on paid shipping. I have no complaint with the customer support engineer, who was only doing his job. As mentioned earlier, I too would be dubious if I were him. Regardless, he was not authorized to help me and, after scribbling down the email address he gave me by which to contact Mr. Robertson, it was left to me to continue to try to resolve my dilemma.
The email address itself, as given, “email@example.com”, became part of the dilemma. This turned out not to be a valid address at Meade Corporation at all, and resulted in my email being bounced back to me as undeliverable. Over the next week, trying a number of possible variations and listening closely to Mr. Robertson’s voice mail greeting to ascertain whether his last name were “Robertson”, “Roberson”, “Robinson” or even “Robeson”, and trying inversion of first/last-name order, abbreviating “ty” to “t”, and various commonly used first/last-name separator characters ( “_”, “ ” (space), “” (no separator), “.”) – finally I had success, as verified by receipt of a “read” acknowledgement, using “firstname.lastname@example.org”
… And the rest of the narrative has already been laboriously detailed earlier in this letter.
I continue to maintain an attitude of patience and goodwill – but have to admit a mounting sense of disappointment, frustration, bewilderment and even betrayal, as a Meade customer suffering – beyond what any customer should ever have to bear – over equipment quality, haphazard shipping, unclear warranties and consumer dead ends. I should think Meade would bend over backwards to make good after not being able to supply one ETX 90 PE/UHTC unit without a significant electrical or mechanical flaw, and be grateful to receive my detailed email as the valuable customer feedback I intended it to be. I have wasted a great deal of time and energy with faulty equipment and feel now that I have wasted even more in cataloging the chronology of events which befell me, and which, to date, evidently has been of interest to nobody at Meade Corporation. This was by no means a trivial amount of work, as you can gauge for yourselves when you study the attached email.
In a sense of utter futility, I figured that if Meade truly had no use for my concerns and feedback, then at least I could let my efforts be of service to the ETX user community, by submitting my unacknowledged email (attached), and now this letter, for posting on Mike Weasner’s excellent “Mighty ETX” website (“http://www.weasner.com/etx/menu.html”) I appreciate Mr. Weasner’s accommodating my submissions, as well being kind enough post also an MP3 recording of the aberrant slewing sounds which I find irritating and suspect of potential servo-motor drive failure (clockwise Right Ascension) – along with a supporting narrative and request for feedback (also attached). I look forward to comments from other ETX owners/enthusiasts, relating to diagnosis and failure prediction of the worrisome clockwise-slewing RA servo-motor drive, the timeline of unlikely circumstances since purchasing my telescope, my overall attitude and expectations, and any related experiences or other feedback – and hope other amateur astronomers will find these beneficial as well.
I wish never to speak ill of Meade Corporation. This letter and its attached supporting documents contain many compliments and not one angry word. I don’t enjoy confessing that I find it difficult to believe – unless equipment flaws occur uniformly and evade quality control measures within Meade’s manufacturing pipeline – that I could randomly incur a half dozen unrelated, proven, demonstrable flaws in three successive ETX 90 PE/UHTC units. I truly wish I could ascertain a less distressing explanation. The attached email documents that, with regard to reported flaws, I have been neither picky/petty nor lax in performing proper diagnostics and requesting warranty service. It is unfortunate that all of the ETX 90 PE/UHTC units which Meade has been kind enough to swap out with me have lacked a serial number (missing on telescope base), without which any verification of my diagnostic procedures is unlikely.
The ETX series of telescopes are renowned for their excellence – this was a major factor in my decision to purchase one. I wish it were not the case that, throughout my warranty service experience, there have been doubts amassing in the shadows. Early on, when dealing with the first ETX 90 PE/UHTC unit, the one originally purchased, I very much appreciated the honesty of on one particularly well-versed customer support engineer, who confided some disturbing things about recurring manufacturing errors with evidently no workable means of ferreting them out through quality control before packaging and shipping. Among his concerns, this engineer told me that the flaw we diagnosed in my original unit “just happens sometimes.” Errors do unavoidably happen in all kinds of manufacturing, today more than ever before, and limited warranties exist for just this reason. Still, while I wish it were not the case, my experience has been as disturbing as what was shared with me.
Sadly, despite still being enthusiastic about Meade Corporation and its ETX telescope series, it cannot be avoided that, at present, mine remains a cautionary tale. Nobody can ever be truly bias-free, but I have striven to be fair and balanced as possible. My tale and I must leave “Mighty ETX” readers to draw their own conclusions.
I do continue to think the best of Meade regarding the extended chain of warranty/customer service issues which yet seem to have no end – but which at least, over half a year, have afforded me the opportunity to thoroughly study the ETX architecture. I am hoping and believing that soon I will be able to post a favorable update to the “Mighty ETX” website, stating that I have received back from Irvine California – what I am entitled to and have been patient and diligent in working with Meade customer support to obtain – my ETX 90 Premium Edition with UHTC telescope, fully-functioning and without any mechanical, electrical or optical flaw, just as I ought to have found it brand new out of the box. All this can be achieved through Meade’s acknowledging the documented delay in my diagnosis and logging of equipment flaws – due to circumstances beyond my control which are ultimately Meade’s responsibility – and accordingly extending to me – on a one-time basis – the 30 day two-way no-charge shipping provision of my warranty, so as to fulfill the already logged warranty repairs/replacements:
RGAHR00998 specifies repairs to the suspect clockwise-slewing RA servo-motor drive and replacement of the flawed rubber light guard of the 26 mm Super Plössl eyepiece which was cracked and perforated when removed from its packaging. Also, so as to avoid further warranty issues, I look forward to Meade performing, as with all units returned to factory for service, comprehensive functional diagnostics with recalibration/replacement of any components failing to perform according to specifications.
Once the shipping issue is amicably resolved with the RGA service completed and found acceptable, my lost email acknowledged and customer feedback welcomed – at last my months of time wasted in futile diagnostics, unpacking and repacking three successive ETX 90 PE/UHTC units may be brought to a happy end. Should Meade Corporation also take pity upon me in my months of endless frustration, deprived the use of a functioning telescope, and be so gracious as to compensate me – if only by means of an apology – then I will be a happy man, able to join the ranks of loyal, satisfied ETX owners.
I do look forward to your getting in touch with me, by mail, telephone and/or email as specified at the top of this letter. Thank you for your time, attention and consideration.
From: Tom Farrell [email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, July 22, 2007 7:57 AM
Subject: Supervisor assistance needed on RGAHR00998
Tracking: Recipient Read
'firstname.lastname@example.org' Read: 7/24/2007 5:26 PM
Mr. Robertson –
I have obtained your email address after having just spend a second half hour waiting to speak to a second customer representative after being transferred to a supervisor’s voice mail and encountering a full queue.
I am not irate, only weary and frustrated, and not just about today. I understand this is not the customer representative’s fault and in fact they give excellent service – when I can get through to them. I appreciate Meade’s reputation for quality optics, but am – I do hope – at the tail end of dealing with a seemingly endless set of issues in simply trying to obtain – through an implausible number of warranty repairs and replacements – the perfectly working brand new ETX 90 Premium Edition with UHTC telescope I thought I had purchased a number of months ago.
What I need is quite simple: for you to approve shipping for on RGAHR00998 at Meade’s expense, so as to correct – at no cost to me – what I pray proves to be the sole remaining ETX 90 PE/UHTC flaw I will have to deal with. Evidently, the shipping requires your approval, since the unit in question arrived more than one month ago. However, there are a number of extenuating circumstances warranting your consideration which I will discuss gladly with you (704-770-0420) if desired:
· Original unit faulty brand new out of box and still faulty even after return from factory for repairs (faulty motor drives, randomness in LNT and AutoStar function).
· First replacement unit not properly manufactured and unable to power up (LED on base would not light – battery contacts sliding around, not fastened to battery compartment, power lead(s) evidently not securely soldered).
· Second replacement unit delivered with perforated rubber light-guard on eyepiece and non-functioning AutoStar which, when replaced, finally proved the ETX 90 PE/UHTC to perform according to specifications (and even beyond my expectations!) – but with an aberration in one motor drive I would be a fool not to have repaired under warranty so as to avoid potential failure later on (when slewing clockwise ONLY, a loud, irritating sound on top of the expected motor drive sounds – not unlike motion picture film shuttling through a projector (tick-tick-tick-tick-tick …) – suspect of a loose, flawed or improperly installed gear – which did not go away but even got worse with use).
Honestly, I have always felt incredulous when having to telephone Meade to request these various repairs/replacements. I have a hard time understanding how one customer could encounter all these problems – yet I know that none were imagined, improperly diagnosed or in any way trivial. Only when I could diagnose a flaw with certainty and repeatability (as is my training in the field of software development) and only when a Meade customer representative agreed with me, have I requested warranty service. My diagnostic procedures have not been sloppy or rash as I would imagine is the case with many customers. I fully read the instruction manual multiple times, consulted with Meade customer support representatives and tried everything they suggested, studied the more detailed set of procedures posted by users on the “Mighty ETX” website – checked, rechecked and had friends verify everything – from battery life and polarity to why Polaris wasn’t a few degrees south of due east as my first unit kept insisting – and spent many, many, many nights checking off each step involved in proper setup, alignment, calibration and use of my telescope, reviewing and repeating procedures till my fingers nearly froze off.
Until just recently, once the replacement AutoStar finally arrived, I had never even seen a targeted alignment star anywhere near the SmartFinder viewer – had never even one of these telescopes be able to slew itself anyplace near the moon. I was so relieved and delighted to finally see that – with everything finally functioning correctly – the ETX 90 PE/UHTC provides near turn-key performance.
In short, I hope you can see how the situation I find myself in is not of my own making – and I believe that, considering all I have had to endure, Meade owes it to me to pay to the shipping for warranty repair of the only remaining flaw I ever hope to encounter. I think at this point that, considering the track record, it is better to fix one known bug rather than swap out for yet another replacement unit with unknown possible issues of its own.
Let me assure you I am still upbeat about Meade and my ETX 90 PE/UHTC and know that manufacturing flaws do occasionally occur – though the chances of as many as I have encountered with this telescope are … well … astronomical. I have appreciated Meade’s professionalism throughout. I look forward to getting my telescope back from repair, being able to recommend Meade to anybody who asks, and nights of happy star-gazing.
Only then I’m sure I’m going to want one of those cool new MySky devices.
Thank you for your time and attention.