Tales from the trenches

I told myself when I started the previous incarnation of this blog that I’d try to avoid talking about work at all. But quite frankly, sometimes the only way to vent about something or share a funny story with other people is to put it here, so there we go.

Let me tell you about yesterday’s experience.

Our service is just that: a service. Like any utility or subscription – electric, cable, what have you. If you pay your bills, your service stays on. If you don’t, it doesn’t. It’s very simple. For some reason, though, various people seem to think this is different. I haven’t quite figured out why that is, exactly. Is it because it’s all Internet-based, and thus doesn’t seem quite real, or that they have a strange notion that it costs us nothing to actually run it? No matter; this is half about people who can’t grasp the concept that this is a business and half about people being deadbeats.

We’ve always been fairly lax about suspension policies, which isn’t exactly what we’d like to do, but there always seems to be something other than searching through billing for nonpayers to be done. Toss in the last few years with everything that’s been going on, and it makes the situation worse. We’ve been addressing that, and being more aggressive about either getting people to pay their bills or getting them gone. Cost efficient, the beancounters like it, and it cleans up the billing system. Works. We understand that sometimes circumstances result in an invoice here or there being declined. Credit cards are stolen. People get sick. They have an issue. Believe me, we understand, and really, our clients know that if they have some temporary problem and let us know, we’re fine with it. However…

Periodically, we rerun failed invoices, as people will update their billing information so the processing can be completed. Yesterday, we did just that. We then received an email from someone telling us that only one of her accounts was set to payment by credit card, so why were there two invoices processed? Well, that would be because you had the current invoice as well as the previous invoice outstanding. This is a paraphrase of her response.

“I didn’t know there was another invoice too, and now this is going to cost me another $35 because there is no money in that account. Take it off the card and put it on Paypal with (other account).”

Let’s examine this, shall we? At the bottom of every invoice is a notation of any other open invoices that might exist, and the total due of those other invoices, so if you’re actually looking at anything that’s being sent to you – and since you’re asking about two processing notices, you appear to be – or if you simply log in to the billing system to look at your account, there is no reason for you not to know about this. The total charge here, for these two invoices, was a grand total of $12. If you don’t have $12 to pay for your service, and you’re habitually behind on invoices, perhaps you should rethink having that service. Beyond that, you’ve just told us to take it off the card and change it to payment by Paypal. That’s what the above means to us, and being the nice people we are, and even though we will incur an additional transaction fee, we void those two invoices. In the meantime, we’ve looked at the billing for the other two accounts you have, and lo and behold, you have half a dozen invoices open for one, and two on the other, which doesn’t make us inclined to do what we’ve just done for you so you can avoid whatever overdraft fees you have. So we ask you, nicely: when can we expect payment for these other accounts? This is the response we received, verbatim:

“Please stop with the tone – I’m doing what I can – go ahead and just park the (name) site and that won’t be an issue right?
(Other site) may get caught up on the 5th, the other one on the 20th.”

Let’s examine this, shall we? First of all, you’re lucky that the one account still exists at all, given that it’s so far behind, and that any of them are still up, period. Second, whatever “tone” you think there is in a simple question is a mystery, but guess what? This isn’t a charity, and being a bitch to us isn’t helping your case. Third (and this is rich), “doing what you can” and telling us on the 29th of a month that one account “may” get caught up in a week, and the other in three weeks is entirely insufficient. You know what all that gets you? Suspended.

And that’s what we did. Which, in turn, led to this same person telling us we were “petty and vindictive”, that she just made payment in December, and that she wanted the sites back on because having them down was “impacting a lot of people”. Wrong: this business is not a not-for-profit enterprise, and no matter how much of a unique snowflake you believe yourself to be, you are not above our policies. And yes, you made a payment in December. To pay not one, but six open invoices on one of the accounts, for June through November, which still leaves you with December and January invoices open and past due. As to the third: well, quite frankly, the impact to others is being caused by your failure to address your obligations. Perhaps they should have chosen someone more capable of dealing with keeping the account current to handle this.

She further went on to claim that she had been asking for the three different billing system profiles to be put into one, and since it hadn’t been done, that was the reason she hadn’t paid. Au contraire: no such request had ever been made, but even if it had been and wasn’t done, leaping from there to the conclusion that it absolves someone of having to pay open invoices is absurd to say the least. It certainly has no basis in reality.

It also led to another rather amusing little game on her part. As we moved through helpdesk tickets, I came across one from someone asking how long an account upgrade would take. Not long, I replied. Just long enough for whoever caught the ticket to do it. The response to that was “Good. There is currently a problem with my account (name) and two others, because they were suspended and I think that’s unethical.”

I see. Apparently it’s unethical for us to expect to be paid, but opening a support ticket under a dummy name, using a freebie email account, and asking a bogus question in order to waste our time is entirely ethical.

In the end, because she continued to insist that we were wrong to suspend the sites, wrong that she had told us to take any charges off and recreate them, wrong to claim she was behind by two months (rather than one) on one account, and just plain wrong about anything else, we told her to move along. Others may live in bizarro world, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be dragged down into it as well.

All of this took away from the time I was spending tracing power cables in order to put together a plan for replacing certain power distribution units and moving some equipment off one buss to even the loads. I completed a bit of that work, but there is more yet to be done. Now that the current nasty, seemingly crazy person has been dealt with, though, maybe we’ll catch a break until the next one comes along and we can get some real work done for our real (paying) clients. I am not sure, though, that there will ever be enough time in the world to understand why peopl behave in the manner this person did. It strikes me as a rather odd way to move through life.

Worm poop

Mom had been out of town for the weekend, off gallivanting in another state. When she got back, she couldn’t resist opening one of the boxes of worm poop to take a look. It looks, I told her, as she held out two palms worth of the castings, just like worm poop: tiny balls of waste. I remember we used to see this a lot when I was a kid, in yards where the soil was rich and the temperatures not terribly extreme to kill off the worms. When I was much younger, we used to head out to Pirate’s Cove to go fishing. The adults would be fishing and drinking and the younger one would be poking at the fire, trying our hand at shrimping, and poking at the worms. You could be guaranteed to get worm poop on your hands at some point while playing with the worms before they met their grisly fate.

At the time, I didn’t really give much thought to the whole thing. After all, when you’re young, you’re indestructible and unconcerned most of the time with whatever is going on outside your own little planetary system. These days, my mind is awash with gardening and homesteading-related things. I’ve always had trouble sleeping because my brain won’t shut up, but it seems to be getting worse as time goes by. Sometimes I wish I could be like the cat curled up on my desk or the dogs curled up at my feet. They have that simple sleep and seem to know that when it is time to sleep, that’s just what you do. You don’t let your brain go off thinking about layouts for frames, how much soil needs to be mixed, whether to try a bunch of several kinds of tomatoes or several of a bunch of kinds of tomatoes – which naturally leads to the thought that the season can really be as long as you make it, so do you really have to choose? What about the trees, and where shall position the trellises for the climbing plants, like beans and cukes? If things go well, how much time will be devoted to canning and pickling, and who the heck will be eating all this stuff anyway?

I’m getting a bit sleepy now, and always think that those moments should be seized for a nap. Otherwise, the moment passes, and I’m off and running once more.

Frosty mornings

Our freeze/no-freeze/frost overnight betting pool – wouldn’t you love to be the weather person, where you really don’t need to get it right, ever? – turned out to be frost. I stepped outside with my sister as she was getting ready to head to classes: lock frozen, windows iced, clear and very cold. The veggies were covered in ice crystals, but not rock-hard frozen, and I suppose they’ll make it. The garlic is really the only thing that concerns me. I don’t eat collards, the broccoli, as I mentioned before, isn’t right, the brussels sprouts I don’t eat and are not doing anything from their transplanted states, and the lettuces/spinach seem to be just fine, although they also seem to be frozen in time, having not changed in size very much over the past couple of weeks. Looking across the road to our neighbors, I saw the western side of their roof covered in frost and glistening as the sun came up.

Standing outside for less than ten minutes made me appreciate even more having the ability to work from anywhere there is a connection to the internet. Even right at home, at my desk, with my heater going full blast under my desk to warm my feet after being outside.

It’s a tough job

But someone has to be the Princess.

The Princess is not amused.

Now that I’m no longer watching Food Network and football season is drawing to a close, I have discovered some of the strangest shows I’ve ever seen – they’re new to me, since I rarely watch television other than sports, documentaries, and movies. Among these are shows like Clean House, Clean Sweep, and the one on right now called Wasted Spaces where I gather they usually help people turn wasted space into something useful but on this one are showing a junk-filled house like the other two do normally. I’m sure everyone else is up to speed on these shows, but they surprised the hell out of me. Not because I don’t think people won’t watch them. On the contrary, I have no doubt that there are people quite unlike me, who tune in to every episode of these shows in the same way people tune in to whatever their favorite sitcom happens to be.

What I do not get about these shows is why on earth anyone would want to display their junk for the world to see. Some of these places are hideous, and quite honestly, I’d be ashamed to let anyone see crap piled up in every single room in the house. There is no way I’d be able to live like that – just looking at it gives me the creeps.

At the end of all these shows, the result is pretty much the same: the house is in order, nice and clean, and the people are happy to have their junkiness taken care of for them. What I’d like to know is what happens six months down the road. Does anyone know if these shows go back to the places they’ve cleaned to show what these people are doing now?

Where’s the food, already?

I know, a real dearth of food and garden stuff lately. This morning when I got back up after my few hours of sleep, it was 35 degrees and rainy outside. Brrr. Where’s my spring?

It’s also that time of the year when the whirlpool of month end and previous year end paperwork/filings/activities are at full blast, which leaves only a little time for the other things I like to do. Since it’s still spitting rain and not going to warm up outside past 50 or so, and everyone is gone, leaving just me and the animals, it’s a perfect day to blast through as much of this stuff as humanly possible.

We will return to the goodies eventually – next week, we will be building more frames and mixing the soil to fill them, getting seeds started, and in general working on more prep for the garden. For some reason, I don’t give as much love to the winter garden as the summer. It may be because half the stuff I cannot/will not eat (lettuces for the former, brussels sprouts for the latter), and this year it may be because I hate the plants we picked up from Home Depot to transplant and get us kickstarted (that would be the broccoli, which has been a complete loser, in my opinion – we’ll be starting some anew from seed). The garlic is going gangbusters, though. I just hope it doesn’t rot in the ground from the weird rains we’ve been having.

The spring and summer gardens should be huge, given all the seed we have. In the past two days, we’ve received shipments of worm castings, chicken manure, and a batch of tomato and pepper seed varieties we’re going to try. We’re awaiting the arrival of some worms and a will have a bin for our wormy friends to do some composting in addition to the regular compost pile we have. There are also more seeds en route because – and there’s no other way to put it – I must be insane.

We still need to:

- find a permanent place for the asparagus.

- build a coop for the upcoming chick parade, with laying boxes.

- get the greenhouse up, but only after the latest five loads of topsoil that isn’t really topsoil is spread – it’s swamp muck more than topsoil, and completely unlike the nice loads we got last time from this very same place. Since they’re not entirely as consistent as we’d like, as they apparently do not go to the same pit on a load to load basis, we will simply find another supplier. Topsoil ain’t exactly cheap, and since we need a lot of it around here to top off our sand and fill various areas, it makes no sense to use a provider who cannot perform to the standards we need.

- figure out which trees we will plant where out front when it does warm up into spring.

- plant all these damn sagos my uncle keeps giving my mother and she keeps bringing in.

- edge off the driveway to keep the slag in place.

- figure out where we’ll put the fences around the huge garden area we’ll have to keep the bunnies from thinking it’s a free lunch around here.

- put up some solar-powered exterior lights on the corner of the barn.

- pick up some more coastal hay for mulching and moisture control as I continue my quest to extend our grassy area out front.

- get the pasturegrass started on the west side of the property, as a place for the rolling coop and an area where we can eventually cut our own hay.

- put together a menu that will help keep cholesterol ranges in the norm. Mom’s latest bloodwork came back with a sky high count, my sister’s is also high, and I’m sure now that I’m eating again, mine has gone back up to my BC levels. In our family’s case, it’s more hereditary than dietary (although diet of course contributes), so there are limits to what diet alone can do – that’s why there are drugs for that and why we’ll probably all be on them at some point. I was, until the first surgery, in fact.

- various other things too numerous to mention, but which all fit right in with our homestead theme.

Best quote of the day (so far)

Stacy pointed me off to this story, and even though overall it’s rather cool that they built the thing (not so cool that they were planning on evading regulations and such), out of the entire story, this is the quote I love:

“I understand there is also a cannon.”

Hell, yeah. If you’re going to build a secret castle in the hopes of having no one find it for four years so regulators can’t do anything about it, by all means you should have at least one cannon. Maybe more.

Lessons not learned (Or, why my dogs are smarter than some of our clients)

I don’t mind helping people learn new things. During my college days, I used to tutor people in various subjects, and one of my instructors tried pretty hard to get me to change over to an education major. No thanks.

What I do mind, however, is people who refuse to even attempt to do anything for themselves, or who complain about things being “too technical” when they are not, or who insist that everything is – and this is a direct quote – “ridiculous” or that we must be “kidding”.

I can assure you that the only thing ridiculous when we deal with someone like you – is you. And no, we are most certainly not kidding about any of it.

Let me tell you a story.

We have two dogs now, both rescued from the pound. Great dogs. They have managed to learn a number of things in the course of the last year. One of the dogs will not push open a door. He was the one who was abused by whoever had him previously. The other dog will nose open anything at all, because he’s a goofy puppy. We have taught them to work together for certain situations. For instance, when they have to go outside, we open the door for them, let them out, and then leave the door not quite closed. The little dog does his business and then generally comes right back to the door while the goofy puppy runs around sticking his nose into things. Little dog whines a bit, as a signal, and goofy puppy, having learned that this is his job, comes running over to muscle open the door.

There is a gate to the side yard, and one afternoon, both dogs had gone out the gate. Goofy puppy had come pounding back inside, knocking open the door. I was in the middle of something and did not immediately close it. He ran off to another room. In the meantime, the wind had pushed the gate almost closed, so there was insufficient space for little dog to walk through. We all heard him calling because he could not get back in the gate. That includes goofy puppy, who came tearing around from the other room, flew through the open door, and who went over to the gate and knocked it open for little dog to enter.

Smart. Learned do a task after a couple of tries and subsequently performed that task without any issues at all.

If we could get some of our clients to do the same thing, it would be a miracle, because quite frankly, certain types do not have it in them. If we could get them to simply be less rude, that would work, too, but alas, all hopes we may have had for that have long since passed.

Want to know how to really irritate tech support – people, I might add, that you are contacting for assistance, not the other way around?

Be a jackass, for no reason, or when you are clearly wrong.

For instance, open a ticket with a subject line that does not seem all that incredibly urgent, with a first post that indicates nothing more than the subject does. The problem is solved. Then come back a day or so later, berating us because something was not working for two hours, and now you have to explain it to people. Here’s a tip: if something is an emergency, then say so. If whatever you’re opening a request for means some part of the site or server isn’t working, then perhaps you should indicate that, rather than just saying “abc isn’t working, please check it”, when “abc” isn’t required for the server itself to be operational. If you further bitch about the time it took because your subject line was so nondescript that a level one tech couldn’t really see anything wrong and had to bump it up, then perhaps you should use a tool that is readily available to you to have a higher up look at it immediately.

Or let’s say you want to give someone access to a portion of your site, without giving them your login details. If we give you a step by step on how to create login details for that person and then tell you exactly how to go about accessing the site with that information, and you respond with “It’s not letting me login” with exactly zero further information: you are not helping. If you further bitch and moan about the very precise, very clearly laid out information you are subsequently provided in the course of half a dozen back and forths because you simply were doing it wrong, asking us if we are “kidding”: you are being a jackass. No, we’re not kidding. Neither are we interested in spending boatloads of time telling you exactly how to do something that is not recommended in the first place. That is why we gave you the exact link that you need to use. All you needed to do was cut and paste it. Instead, you’re berating the people who resolved your issue. Do you think that will make us more or less inclined to think you are anything other than a rude moron?

Or, let’s take you, user who hasn’t been able to check his mail for “two weeks”. Who is also emailing us using an address from which you have already said you cannot receive mail. It would behoove you to use some alternate email address to contact us, just as it would behoove you not to let 43,000 (well, technically, 42,749) pieces of mail pile up in the main account that you never check but yet left active anyway despite recommendations that you not do this. We will be polite. We will suggest that you use, or provide, some other email address when you contact us and that you reset the main account not to collect mail. If you write back to us, telling us that you provided otheraddress@somewhere.com to contact you: we can read. Had you provided it, we would have used it. You did not. Therefore, you look even more foolish to us because you can’t read your own original request – which is embedded at the bottom of our response to you, something you received when we cleared out a little room to work in the mailbox.

And finally, if you act indignant, order us to “look into” why your site is deactivated, and we find that you have several invoices outstanding, have ignored the notices from the billing system itself, have ignored the requests that the billing department has sent you about your overdue account, and have not bothered to pay any of those invoices even after we’ve suspended your site: you are being a deadbeat. But I must say that I sometimes get some wry amusement out of the fact that suddenly the situation is rather urgent to you when you seemed to feel no particular urgency previously although you were warned that your account would in fact be suspended. And on this same topic, the reason we are not as lenient as we used to be is precisely because of the people who like to say “we will address all open invoices by specific date” and then do exactly nothing about paying their invoices. That includes you, Miss “I’ll pay all invoices by Friday” who not only didn’t pay a dime but also moved your accounts elsewhere. You, particularly, will be held up as a prime example of why there simply won’t be any exceptions any longer. Congratulations. You are the winning jackass for this round.

Embracing your inner geek

Some days, that’s what it feels like. Especially days where you put seven servers online at once, bringing your total to thirteen in the past six days. And when you have to do the year end inventory audit plus trace wires to make sure everything is labeled properly. Your inner geek can surely make your back hurt. And to make it even better – so that your brain hurts just as much – there is bound to be at least one asshat in the helpdesk telling you that they’re “seriously considering a hosting change” because their mail is delayed. And you look at the delivery attempts, only to find their mailbox is full. And you have to tell them this without just replying with a couple of choice words about that “serious consideration”.