Category Archives: Technological Difficulties

Aaaaand we’re back!

Thanks to all the comment suggestions on my previous post, I tried disabling all the plugins to see if that was the issue. Nope.

Then, with the help of Neil and Gill, we spent some time going down the rabbit hole of a weird SQL error having to do with language compatibility (UTF-8 vs. Latin-1). That wasn’t it either.

So I finally contacted my host to see if they had any idea what the problem was.

Turns out MY HOST is what the problem was. And also me. But mostly them. Because of me.

I (and this is the part where it’s totally my fault) had been incredibly lax about updating my admin password to something that was remotely secure (previous password having been a 6-lowercase -character dictionary word).

Because that is exceedingly vulnerable, WordPress is very susceptible to password hacks, and I’m on a shared server, my hosting provider put some extra security protocols in place.

Basically, they were terminating the SSL of all WordPress admin logins aimed at their servers, so they could enforce strong passwords (and deny access to those that weren’t strong enough). Fair enough protocol, in the name of good security.

Problem is, THEY DIDN’T BOTHER TELLING ME. Never did I get a notification that they were enacting this particular protocol, and the error it threw up (‘No data returned’) was, let’s say, less than helpful.

But, they were helpful in getting me in so I could re-set my password, so the blog lives again. So hooray? Yes. Hooray.

Now I just need to think of something to write about, now that the ‘broken blog’ excuse no longer applies.

 

 

How much does brand affinity matter?

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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I saw a post the other day about a bad airline experience, and how it tied into a bad email experience. The point the author was making: don’t send promotional emails to someone you’ve just made very unhappy – hit pause on their marketing preferences for a little while. This is very possible with modern marketing technology, so why isn’t it being done?

Not long after that, I came across the new Virgin America safety video:

 

And was surprised by my own reaction. I my chest swelled and my eyes teared up a bit. I thought about flying Virgin, and what that means to me. 

We flew Virgin when relocating to the UK. Their brand is tied up with a whole slew of emotions, and we had an amazingly positive experience at a very stressful time, from the check-in person who didn’t charge us for extra baggage to the amazing in-flight staff who were awesome to us and Isaac.

Even hearing tales of woe from friends who’ve had bad experiences on Virgin hasn’t changed that.

Conversely, I have had horrible experiences with United, and mediocre experiences with everyone else.

But what, exactly, does that change? I still book air travel based on:

  1. Price
  2. Points (though I don’t fly enough these days for a loyalty program to sway me much)
  3. (the aforementioned things being equal – which they never are) Experience.

The author of the first article I linked to also doesn’t seem to be likely to change her behaviour based on their shoddy email. She might think less of the airline, but she’ll still give them her business.

I can’t blame her – I do the same.

So why, then, does she think they should change their email practice?

How to be a Business Grownup: Rules for Autoresponders

In all the ways people can be a competent business grownup (h/t Darren), I think the most abused are communication channels. It’s like we haven’t gotten over the fact that there are Magic! Machines! that we communicate through, and we let our amazement at technology take up the parts of our brain we would otherwise use for communication competence and common courtesy.

The latest thorn in my side is the email autoresponder. It used to be that the worst offense was someone forgetting to turn theirs off after a vacation. But now, thanks to Tim Ferris (maybe? he’s at least the earliest adopter/proponent of this inane practice that I’m aware of), every self-important so-and-so who thinks they’re anybody is setting up a pingback that tells you all the reasons you are not important enough for a personal response. At least not right away, probably not ever.

If you’re not entirely sure what I’m talking about, it’s the practice of someone setting up an automated response in their email system, to reply to every incoming message with a litany of excuses and redirections.

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I happened across this piece from Fast Company today, where the featured Very Important Business Grownups share how they use their autoresponders, and what kind of Very Important Business Activities are keeping them from managing their email, as they try to keep it real, man, and not abandon the little people. All while reminding the little people of their Very Importance.

This, business grownups, is not how you ‘set expectations.’

Unless the expectation you are trying to set is that you are so fragile and insecure that you can’t possibly believe the world can function without a response from you – of any kind – for a few minutes/hours/days. Or that the vast majority of the people who email you are so incompetent that they couldn’t possibly get a response/find some information/connect with you or someone else in your company by any other means, ever.

As I mentioned, this has always been a bit of a bugbear. (aside: you can generally tell how much something annoys me by how much my vocabulary resembles an octogenarian curmudgeon) But I find it especially grating after reading this piece about Jeff Bezos and his ‘question mark’ emails. That’s right. The head of Amazon has a very public email address, and encourages customers to bring issues to his attention, without regard to the amount of useless/misdirected/spammy email he must receive.

And I am pretty sure Jeff Bezos doesn’t have an autoresponder telling people where they can find the feedback link on Amazon’s page, or the company directory, or submit speaking requests, or just to apologize for being a Very Important Business Grownup, or Maybe I’m just Playing With My Dog/Kid, So I Might Take a Few Days to Get Back to you, OK?

I bet he does, however, have some executive assistants monitoring his inbox, ensuring the garbage gets deleted, the mis-routed get redirected, and the things Mr. Bezos needs and wants to see get in front of his eyes in a timely manner. And the ignorable, ignored.

And this, Very Important Business People, is how you manage your email. By setting up your systems and resources so that the people you purportedly care about are treated like people.

If everyone who emails you is really having that much trouble figuring out how to connect with you, or who to contact from your company, maybe add some info to your website (or on your card, or some of the other hojillion places you share your email). The fact that you are this much of a keystone to your organisation is worrying. Don’t you have a competent team? A succession plan?

If you want to stop getting meaningless emails from every Tom, Dick, and Harry, maybe stop replying to them all – via autoresponder or actual email response. Every reply you send teaches them that your personal email is a viable source for that type of information.

If you think giving instant responses to email is unrealistic, then stop doing it. Patience is a virtue. And anyone who truly needs an immediate reply will probably figure out how to get it. Without the links or other contact info you’re firing back. Anyone who doesn’t, will somehow get on with their lives, shocking as that may seem.

And since you can’t talk about Fast Company without some reference to the Church of Steve, Jobs was famous for his email responses – their curtness second only to their rarity. I’m pretty sure nobody doubted his Very Importance.

So, the rules:

When is it ok to use an email autoreponder?

When you are away from the office and not replying to any email communication for an extended period (days/weeks/months – whatever is outside normal absence/delay in your world). Note I said ‘any communication’ – you are letting people know you can’t be contacted right now, not announcing your usual delay in responding.

You may even include details for who to contact in your absence, if there is a particular person handling your urgent issues while you’re incommunicado.

But what about (insert any other excuse here)?

No.

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Update: Of course, not long after posting this, I received an email autoresponse. Except, it didn’t instantly fill me with rage. Why not? It was a business email. When someone submits a sales inquiry, it’s definitely good practice to let that person know their question did not disappear into the ether, and set an expectation for when a salesperson will get back to them.

My rant is solely applied to the world of personal emails (or emails sent to a specific person at a business). They are the email equivalent of the twitter auto-DM. Ain’t nobody got time for that.  

Freedom!

One of the things I had to decide when planning this move is what on earth to do about a cell phone. In a first-world problem of the highest degree, I am unwilling to go without an iPhone.

Credit history doesn’t carry over to the UK from Canada, so getting one on a plan there could potentially be tricky. Also, the new iPhone should be coming out in a few months, and I didn’t want to spend $550 for the same phone, or $750  for the latest model of an unlocked phone here (or even more over there) on what will soon be an old iPhone.

That also didn’t solve the problem of being in a contract with Rogers that still had 18 months of service left owing. I could sell the phone and contract on Craigslist for $100 or so, but that still left me phone-less and with very little coin in my pocket for a new phone.

Enter: the Rogers Factory Unlock service.

I had heard this rumor swirling around, and after checking with iphoneincanada.ca and calling Rogers, it is real, and it is FABULOUS.

Rogers policy is that you may break your contract if you are moving out of any areas they service, but you do still need to pay off your phone subsidy. You can also just opt to have your phone unlocked by Rogers if you are traveling, etc. as long as you pay any remaining subsidy first. Once you’re subsidy-free, there is a $50 unlocking fee.

The unlock process is very simple (though I still managed to get confused):

  1. Call the Rogers Unlock Team (this is only available by phoning customer service – stores do not provide the service)
  2. Rogers will take payment for your remaining subsidy, the unlock fee and plus applicable taxes.
  3. You tell the agent from the unlock team your phone’s IMEI number (under settings/about), and they submit that to Apple. The Apple database now has your phone registered as permanently unlocked.
  4. (This is where I got confused) Sync your phone with iTunes (NOT iCloud) to create a backup, then reset your phone to factory defaults. This will cause a sync-up with the Apple databases and install the latest version of the unlocked firmware on your phone. The unlock team agent told me I had to set up my phone as a new device, or put in an active SIM from a different carrier and sync, to complete the unlock. It was mostly semantics, but I didn’t really understand a reset to factory is the same thing, and that I could restore my backup after that with the unlock intact.
  5. Restore to your backup, continue to use your shiny! new! unlocked! iPhone with whichever damn SIM you choose.

So what did all that cost? I paid $260 (-ish? am I remembering that right?) for a new iPhone4 on a Rogers 3-year term about 18 months ago. According to Rogers, I owed $280 on the subsidy. Then there was the $50 unlock fee. And my phone is now as good as the factory unlocked model people paid $749 for when it came out.

Overall, technical confusion notwithstanding, I’m pretty pleased with how that all worked out. And it’s one less thing for me to hyperventilate about as we tick ever closer to D-Day.

Game On!

Because I was a very good girl this year, Santa left a PS3 under the tree for me!

We’ve been going around in circles since getting our TV as to what kind of peripherals to get for it. Until now we’ve been using my laptop for Netflix (which is okay, except it doesn’t output in particularly high resolution) and debating whether to get an Apple TV and a BluRay player (and maybe a Wii or an XBOX someday), or a PS3.

The ease of having one media player and one input, along with the additional ability to play games (even though from what I can tell, PS Move can’t even begin to compete with XBOX Kinect) won out.

After a day, I’m pretty damn pleased with the features of this console. We’ve setup Netflix, watched a BluRay disc and messed around a bit with the PS Network and some of the network sharing features.

But I have yet to get into the games. And this, gentle reader, is where I ask for your help (*cough*especiallyyouKimli!*cough*).

I am intimidated!

Let me sum up my lifetime gaming experience for you:

Atari: Pong, something with spaceships and shooting
Playing on my uncle’s original Nintendo: Tetris, Mario, Frogger, Duck Hunt and some track & field game on the Power Pad
Playing on my friend’s Super Nintendo: Zelda of some flavour
486 computer: Duke Nukem, Castle Wolfenstein
Sega Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog, Echo the dolphin
Anything this decade: Rockband, Wii Sports
Fin.

I have occasionally touched a modern videogame controller, and am hopeless when faced with the number of buttons and the sensitivity of the controls. I am lost when it comes to the complicated storylines and goals of most modern games. I have (so far) no desire (probably tied to my total lack of ability on modern gaming consoles) to play virtual sports or careen around in a virtual F1 car or skulk about killing virtual zombies or nazis.

So I am looking for suggestions on games that’ll be a kind and gentle (read: stupidly easy and forgiving) to someone who is, for all intents and purposes, new to gaming. We don’t have the PS Move at this point, and I’d like to avoid buying a 2nd controller at least until the post-Christmas cash-stores have been replenished a bit.

I have so far figured out on my own that Little Big Planet is probably a good place to start. But what else do I need to know? Where else should I be looking?

Until then, I’ll be over here on the couch, with my PS3 remote sadly serving the single-purpose of being a glorified NetFlix surfing/video playback device.

Goodbye Cable, Hello OTA+Netflix

I have some news. This may surprise you. Are you sitting down? I hope you are – or were, since the title kinda gives it away.

We canceled cable.

Which means we also got rid of the TiVos.

And what prompted this? We got a new TV.

Stay with me here – it eventually makes sense.

Our previous TV was old. A 100lb Tube monstrosity kinda old. It worked with the TiVo, but the TiVo didn’t work with digital cable. We were being harassed weekly by the cable company to get a digital box before the conversion to all-digital cable happened, but I was not about to embark on even more channels without a PVR, and with a perfectly good TiVo, I was DEFINITELY not going to pay $700 for the cable company’s sub-standard PVR.

And then the cable company’s internet service really started sucking.

And then Neil got a bonus from work.

And lo, the wheels of change were set in motion.

We bought a fancy new TV. We canceled the TiVo subscriptions. We canceled our cable+internet from the cable company, and went with a new internet provider. We bought a cheap HD Antenna and signed up for Netflix.

We are happy!

We followed the advice in this great HD OTA intro and tutorial for Vancouverites from John Bollwitt. We happen to have a balcony with direct line-of-sight to Mt. Seymour, the site of most of the local digital broadcast towers, and we’ve consistently gotten five channels in perfect, crystal-clear HD (CBC, CTV, CityTV, Global and Omni) with a sometimey 6th (KVOS). This should only improve as more networks make the switch to HD. And just those five channels listed cover 85% of the content we used to watch.

I also signed up for Netflix as soon as it came to Canada. It’s important to note that I am apparently an anomaly in TV and Movie-land. I watch fewer than 10 movies a year (that includes both theater visits and rentals). I can only really manage to follow 3 or 4 TV shows at once. And especially these days, a LOT of stuff is just plain on past my bedtime. This makes the content on Netflix PERFECT for me. There are tons of movies I’ve never seen. There are dozens of TV shows I haven’t yet watched (I’m currently starting Season 2 of MadMen. In network-land it just wrapped up season 4).

Currently available in the US, but not yet in Canada, one can even stream Netflix directly from the particular model of TV I have. I’ve got my fingers crossed that functionality will make it across the border soon. In the meantime, I just hook my laptop up to the TV and watch that way. It’s been great. We’ve also been contemplating acquiring a PS3, since it can play Blu-Ray discs and stream Netflix, though neither of us are much for its core purpose: video games.

It’s been four months since we cut cable, and so far I don’t miss it. I do miss having a PVR, but considering we watch so much less TV now overall, it feels much less of a hassle to wait for a commercial break to pee, or sit through commercials at all on the things we do watch live.

I NEVER thought I’d willingly live without cable, but with so many more options, it’s another bill I’m pretty happy to have kissed goodbye.

Give Back!

In the week before I left my last job, I had an epic hardware failure.

My work laptop, which had the most current incarnation of my iTunes library on it (and my iPhone backup data), gave up the ghost and refused to give me anything but a BSOD.

Right around that same time, my iPhone (which I’d recently jailbroken) started getting exceedingly cranky.

I was slowly in the process of restoring my data from both, when I was laid off, and suddenly lost access to the computer with my iTunes. Crap.

I also ended up having to restore my phone to factory defaults, which meant in one week I’d lost about 6 albums worth of recently purchased music and about 20 apps.

I was pretty much resigned to writing off the loss to my own poor planning and lack of backing up, but I started googling, just in case I found some miraculous way to restore my music & app libraries.

Turns out there is a miraculous way. It’s called “Ask Apple Nicely.”

I came across this blog post from way back in 2006, and whaddya know, the link to let Apple know you’re an idiot and beg for mercy still works.

So I did just that, and they re-set my purchase history to download.

And poof! it all came back! Onto my own personal computer, which is now backed up.

So let this be a lesson to ye!

Do not be as foolish as I was. Keep your iTunes library on a computer you are unlikely to suddenly find yourself without, and back that mofo up!

Though if you are insistent on following along my errant path, at least you can take some small comfort in knowing that a well-placed mea culpa is still likely to give you that second chance.

Brushing with SCIENCE!

I know, it’s been a shill-a-minute around these parts, but I have just one more cool product to tell you about before we get back to business as usual.

So, without further ado – The Oral B TRIUMPH with smart guide!

Yes, TRIUMPH necessitates the caps.

I’ve had electric toothbrushes before, and yes, they get your teeth cleaner than manual brushes (noticed by me, anecdotally, and my dentist professionally). But the reason to spring for the $150 TRIUMPH over any other electric brush ($30-50) is the sheer gadget factor.

First off, the stand for it (I prefer the term “dock”) looks like a flying saucer. The toothbrush has metallic touches, and it comes with a wireless digital display that indicates how long to brush (most Oral B electric brushes do now indicate when you’ve hit the 2 minute mark, but this one has a countdown timer!), when to move to the next quadrant of your mouth, four different modes (regular, sensitive, massage and whitening), and a warning indicator to show if you’re brushing too hard.

The other nice thing about the TRIUMPH is that apparently the higher price tag includes the cost of having some usability design people at the product. It comes with a really nice travel case, the charger can be used independently of the dock (and vice versa), and the charger is even a bit more streamlined than other models, with an integrated cord-wrapping velcro-thingie.

So, if you’re heading out for some last-minute shopping, and need a gift for someone dentally challenged, pick up any of the Oral B electronic toothbrush products. And if you’re looking for a special gift for the gadget hound in your life, go for the TRIUMPH! It’s a useful, quality present, with the bonus feature of being really, really cool.

Pretty as a Picture


Heather (aka fubsy, aka nuttymuffin, aka “the hotness”) has put together a 2008 calendar of her beautiful photographs.

This is the same woman who captured me licking my new TiVo at BestBuy waaaaay back in 2005. That’s right – I pioneered the technology licking movement that won Tod Maffin his Wii.

But I digress – Nuttymuffin calendar. I got one, you should too.

Jen-licking-TiVo photo not included.

Bright Lights, Big City

So I’m in New York City! The big apple! The city that never sleeps!

I’m bored.

I’m sitting in a conference centre (Javits) in a dirty, industrial part of town, supervising our trade show booth setup and catching up on some work. Thank god for free wifi.

But it hasn’t been all bad.

Even though I had to get up at sparrow’s fart to get to the airport for my 06:20 flight, I had a fantastic surprise when I got there. The co-worker I was flying with used his status points to upgrade us both to first class for the Vancouver-Chicago leg of the flight.

Or at least he thought he did. Turns out the upgrade didn’t go through for both of us, and I was the one who ended up in first class while he got priority boarding and a bulkhead seat (first class was full by the time we checked in). But I got the bigger seat, and breakfast! With real dishes! It was still airplane food, but I’m not complaining. (Thanks again, Rich!) Our bags also got priority tags, so they made our 40-minute connection at O’Hare.

All in all, yesterday was awesome. Our flights left on time and arrived early. The hotel is pretty and swanky (W Times Square) and with the tiny exception of the insane lineups to get up the Empire State building (which had very nice views once we were up there) everything went as smoothly as possible (including the glasses of scotch we downed in the evening).

Today – less smooth.

The booth is going up veeeeeery slowly (Thanks NY Union Labour!), a major piece of hardware is stuck in customs, the flying has caught up with me and my stomach is hateful, my computer (specifically outlook) keeps crashing.

It’s only 2:00pm here, and I feel like I’ve been up for hours. Oh wait – that’s because I have! After a fitful night of mostly not sleeping, I got up at 6:00am to go meet all the vendors, who’d decided they’d hedge their bets on the Union Electricians not finishing their part on time (which they actually did), and showed up an hour later than they’d scheduled last week. Thanks. I didn’t need that extra hour of sleep.

So now I wait, and watch. And hope that this day ends soon and tomorrow everything’s better.

Phone-y

At the beginning of September, my latest contract with Telus finally came to an end and I made the switch to Rogers.

None of the mobile phone providers here actually offer what I’d call “good” rates on voice or data packages in the range I’m using, so my decision to go with Rogers was made strictly from a CDMA vs. GSM standpoint. I also wanted a smartphone with windows mobile and wifi, and Rogers delivered the option that was within my budget: the HTC S621.

Thanks to the recent arrival number portability in Canada, I was also able to keep my number and just swap it over to the Rogers account. Easy peasy. It only took about 18 seconds for the swap to happen.

And this is where I say FEAR YE THE PORTING OF MOBILE NUMBERS!!!!

Check your cancellation agreements, double check your dates, and make DAMN SURE everything you do is on the up and up. If it’s not, you could find yourself on the receiving end of a hefty fine, like I almost was.

I told the Rogers salesguy (a store manager no-less) while I was purchasing that I wanted to port my number, and I was pretty sure I only had a couple days left on my telus mobility contract. He didn’t mention anything about possible conflicts. I figured it was no biggie. I didn’t actually realize until it was done that the porting thing was instant – I figured it would take a couple days, based on the experience I had transferring my land line from telus to Vonage.

Not so much.

I called telus about an hour later when I got home, and found out that the second my number ported, my telus contract was cancelled and I was automatically levied their termination fee of $100 or $20 for every month or portion remaining, whichever is MORE.

And how “early” was my early cancellation? 13 hours. I ported my number at 11:00am September 3rd. My contract expired September 4th.

But according to the first few folks at telus I spoke to, I cancelled early, that is that, and I owe them $100 plus tax.

But remember that bit at the beginning where I said I “almost” paid a hefty fine? I was unfailingly polite, used every ounce of customer-service-fu I possess and prayed to every deity I could think of. And the unthinkable happened.

TELUS MOBILITY, THAT UNCARING, UNCOUTH LEGACY INCUMBENT BEHEMOTH – THEY OF THE “NO INCENTIVES FOR BEING A CUSTOMER FOR SEVEN LONG YEARS DESPITE THE FACT THAT NEW CUSTOMERS GET A BUCKET OF GOLD AND A BLOWJOB WITH THEIR FREE PHONE” – THEY GAVE ME A GOODWILL DISCOUNT FOR THE VALUE OF THE CANCELLATION FEE!

I know, pick yourself up off the floor, and read it again just to be sure. They waived the fee. I didn’t believe it either, which is why I didn’t blog about it until the bill showed up in my mailbox stating as such. But it did, and I paid my $20-worth of pro-rated fees happily!

Anyhow, I have a new phone, it’s pretty skookum (although I still can’t figure out how to upload pictures to flickr with it – help anyone?), and I managed to find the three people in the telus organization who haven’t succumbed to the borg. I almost feel bad for signing my soul away to their competitor. Almost.

Boring Site Admin Note

The blog is undergoing a long-overdue upgrade to the newest version of WordPress. If you experience any weirdness over the next couple days, that’s probably why.

The management thanks you for your patience.

Update: upgrade complete, and spanky new design now showing! It’s worth clicking through to my actual site to see the loveliness that Kyndra created!