Merrill Lynch “Macs are no good. Go to your library and use a PC”

My mother works for a certain large company and has a 401k with them managed by Merrill Lynch. She also has a Mac Mini, which will show up again later. The first part of this was relayed to me by my mother and sister, I didn’t become involved until later on.

Yesterday my mother starting having massive issues getting into her account, and apparently so did many, many other people. She ended up getting on the phone trying to get support. She didn’t want to deal with the automated phone robot and took the option to speak to a representative. She was told that due to “high call volume” that she could leave her phone number and a representative would call her back between 1 hour 45 minutes and 3 hours. Wow. I can only assume that there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of other people having the same issue. She had nothing else to do that day so she waited.

In the interim she apparently had managed to get into her account briefly, but was booted off and was unable to get back in.

After a while, a representative called her and was very condescending to her saying things like “Have you ever even used a computer before?”. Now my parents bought an Apple II in 1983, and my mother was primary user of it. Besides helping me learn BASIC programming, she ran her small business on it. She’s had a computer ever since. So while she may be a bit overwhelmed by the whole web thing, yes, my mother has used a computer before.

The tech ended up emailing her a link to use to login to her account which also worked, but then this exchange ended the phone call. I think the tech was trying to get her to create a bookmark, not really sure though.

ML: Click on the “Start” button and…
Mom: I don’t have a start button.
ML: Excuse me?
Mom: I have a Mac-
ML: Macs are no good. I suggest you go to your local library and use the PCs there. I cannot help you if you’re using a Mac. Have a good day.

Well, of course Macs are good, or good enough before yesterday to use They were also usable at that very moment as she was able to get into the site.

I told my mother that they probably just updated the site, pushed out some bug and fixed it within a couple of hours. That was yesterday.

Today I got phone call from my mother saying that she couldn’t remember the administrative password for her Mac, and was asking for it. Alarm bells were going off in my head. Why would be triggering basically a sudo command? I fired up a VNC session so I could see what the hell was going on. I see she has the following page open:


“See? It’s saying it was my Administrative User ID and Password” my mother says. Nope, I’m not sure why it says “Administrative Site” there, but it’s totally different from the OS X system pop up. I asked her to try to login, she gets a “login failed” error. Strange. I look at the URL which is

Now my total amount of experience with can be measured in minutes at this point, but I’m thinking that maybe this is some sort of non-public login. Regular users shouldn’t be using this. As an experiment, I trim out the “/adm” from the URL so now we have:

Which is this page:

Very similar. I ask my mother to login here, and amazingly, it works.

Now I’m curious. How did my mother get to that wrong login page? I click the log out link and open a new blank browser tab. “Mom, show me how you normally get to the site.” She types “ml benefits login” into the Safari’s search window, which brings up this Google results page:


See that “LOG IN” link right there in the quicklinks? Guess where that goes?

That’s right.

How many millions of people browse the web this way? Enter something, even the domain name of the site they want, into Google, Bing, etc, and click on the top link? What happens when one of those links is incorrect? Even if the user ends up on the correct site?

This isn’t a Mac issue. This won’t even be remedied by going to the library and using their PCs. This is’s issue probably after a very recent Google update. Some robots.txt / nofollow magic will fix this during the next Google refresh. Until then, a quick refer check to see if the user came from Google at the top of the /adm script will fix it now and save ml tons of money in support. I can totally see the reasoning behind the “Administrative Site” in red caps on the /adm page. Crap, I’ve done similar things myself, although never on a site of this level. Guess what though, it doesn’t help. Massive UX lesson to be learned here.

Dear Subaru, Why Don’t Your Dealers Want Me To Buy One of Your Cars?

A little background first,

Currently we have 2 Subarus, one owned and one leased. We had owned another one previously to taking on the current lease, which expires at the end of this month. We LOVE our cars. AWD is great in the Vermont winters, my WRX is pushing 275hp now, has 150,000 miles and still gets 30mpg.

As above, my wife’s Impreza is due back at the end of this month and we were looking for a replacement. We’ve looked at everything in the compact SUV / crossover market, and we’ve decided that we’d like something with 7 seats. That’s the Tribeca. When we started looking, we found that we could lease a 2010 model for about $389. (screenshot as the deal expired on 11/1/10)

We stopped by the local Subaru dealership on a Friday afternoon to review the Tribeca and possibly look at a Forester. On the sales floor there only appeared to be one salesman helping 2 or 3 other people and we were told that he would be with us in a minute. We had Isaac, our 2 year old with us, so were trying to stay near the toy section to keep him occupied while we waited. It just so happens that there is an office directly next to the waiting area with the toys and we started hear raised voices from the office. Raised voices turned in to obscenities and I looked around the corner to see what was going on. I looked in through the large office windows just in time to see that the person yelling, was an employee, manager or salesman, not sure, yelling into the phone with two other employees watching. After a final explicative directed at whoever was at the other end of the line, the yeller slammed the phone down and proceeded to throw the entire phone against the wall. Needless to say we packed up and left, down the street to the Buick dealership to look at the Enclave. That’s another story, but the salesman there didn’t really want to make a sale either. In fact he actually told us that he wouldn’t allow himself to sell us the car we came in to see.

Jump forward a couple of weeks or so where we actually drove 75 miles to look at Kias and Hyundais, and also visited another Subaru dealership where we briefly considered trading in my WRX as well and leasing both a new Tribeca and a new WRX. The dealership even got the payments combined for us, $689/mo for both, however they didn’t have any 2010 Tribecas in stock, but there were some at our hometown dealership. So back to there we go.

So we set up test drive and managed to get a test drive without any drama. We took the car to our house to check to see how it would fit into our garage. While we were at the house, I noticed that the fuel light was on, and had been on the entire drive. I checked the computerize mpg gauge and it said we had 2 miles of fuel left. This concerned me as we were about 5 miles from the dealership. I pointed this out to the salesman who came with us and his response was that we better hope that it was wrong. This should’ve been warning sign number 1. However we had built up a nice little relationship, we both host international students, I’m familiar with the school where his students go, etc. I also talked to him about our experience with Buick which really upset him, he called their tactics “bait and switch” and blamed “slimy sales methods” for why GM was failing.

We managed to get the car back to the dealership without running out of gas, and the real magic started. We saw that they had a 2008 Tribeca that just got off lease and we inquired about purchasing that. That lead to 75 minutes of him walking back and forth from his desk to “his manager’s office” to check on what we were asking about in regards to price. Except he would never actually name a final price, only what the payments would be. Finally before the 8th or 9th trip I asked him what exactly the interest rate is, if he wasn’t interested in telling us the price, which was on a paper in the back of the car anyways. He came back with a number of “5 or 6%”. It turned out to be 11.75%. Nice. Glad we’re not dealing with any slimy sales methods here.

Realizing that we weren’t going to get an honest deal on the used Tribeca, we set out to start the lease process for a new one. Except the salesman either thought we were idiots, or didn’t want to make a sale. I mean, we had our checkbook out, ready to make the down payment on the car, but he comes back with the payment number: $700/mo for the lease. I initially thought that he had pulled up the deal the other dealership had for us or something. I said that we were only interested in just 1 car. He said it was just one car, the Tribeca. I asked if he was serious. He said, “Well it’s a $30k vehicle. If you want to put more money down, for every $1,000 I can reduce the payments by $20 or so.”. I countered back with the same down payment, and payments of $389. He said “Nope, can’t do it.” I told him that we already had a quote from another dealer for that price. “They’re lying to you. No way.” And with that we left.

Are there any Subaru dealers in the north east that actually want to sell a car?

Update: Big thanks to Ivan and Franco at Copeland Toyota who found us a great 2008 Tribeca at an amazing price, and even drove it 200 miles to deliver it to our house! Also thanks to Idy and Joe at Sunnyside who also found us a great Tribeca, but we just couldn’t meet on a deal.

Update #2: The Buick dealership we went to is now closed. The quick story on that is: We were looking at the base model Enclave, which was listed on at $27k with the options we wanted. We printed out the sheet with what we wanted and the salesman told us we were lucky, there was one exactly like this in stock. We took it for a test drive and brought it to our house to make sure it would fit in our garage. We were remarking about the sat nav, leather and DVD player. “These are standard?” I asked. “Oh yes! Of course! Buicks are fantastic!” said the salesman. We got back to the dealership and were ready to buy the thing, and the salesman drew up all the paperwork and the total was… $79k. “Um, it says on that this model is $27k. You seem to be pretty far off the sticker price there.” Salesman: “Oh, that’s just the base model. You don’t want that.” Us: “Yes, we do. That’s exactly what we want.” Salesman: “Well I’d be doing you a disservice to sell you just the base model.” Us: “Ok, good day!”.