Why you shouldn’t have fake pages on your site

Why you shouldn’t have fake pages on your site

I’m in the market for some rack space in a colocation facility. I’ve been running the numbers and it looks like I could save some substantial cash and add redundancy to my websites by buying a couple of servers instead of renting from SoftLayer. But where to colocate?

Ideally it’d be somewhere I either already live, am moving to, or near someone I visit often. I don’t plan on living in Connecticut any longer than I have to but I have no idea where I’m going to move, so that leaves me with the option of near someone I visit often. My parents have a goal of moving overseas so that leaves Becca’s parents in the Roanoke, VA area.

So I search for “roanoke, va colocation” and lucky me! The first result is a Roanoke colo from a company called Coloco! I check the pricing, spend time crunching numbers, checking my bandwidth usage to see what I need, pricing servers, etc. Becca then asks where the colo is actually located. I search their site but can’t find an address. Weird. They give the addresses of other locations.. The page definitely says Roanoke. Where in the world is this colo?

And then I realize what is happening. This company has flooded Google with fake pages that say whatever city name you are looking for. To test my theory, I visit: http://www.coloco.com/colo/colocation_in_your%20mom’s%20basement.HTM

Sure enough, I’m greeted with this entirely convincing sales pitch (emphasis added):

Grrr. I’ve just wasted 30-45 minutes evaluating a spammy company that is at least 3 hours from where I want to host my servers. I’m not sure which misguided individual at their company decided it’d be a good idea to introduce their company to the world using blatant lies, but I’m definitely not going to host with these guys.

I decided to thank them for wasting my time by offering them some free SEO services. I’ve submitted a few of their URLs to Google that were missing before, including your mom’s basement, the ghetto, and the ball pit at your local McDonald’s. I sure hope it gives them some extra traffic.

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Really, Papa John’s? Really?

Really, Papa John’s? Really?

Take a look at this delicious Papa John’s Applepie that oozed all over my table, carpet, and the pepperoni pizza underneath it. Mmmmmm…..

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SoftLayer hardware firewall is awful

I’ve been having a problem lately with people hitting my server more than I’d like. I’ve been using iptables to drop requests from these IPs, but I wanted something that took the load completely off of my server, and could be bypassed in case I put in a bad rule that locked me out. So I decided to try the SoftLayer hardware firewall.

This feature is expensive: $49 per month for a 10Mbps hardware firewall. That is a lot, but I figured it would be worth it to have the added protection for my server. Sadly, I was wrong. The interface to manage the firewall is garbage.

It shows a basic form listing all the firewall rules. You select the rule priority by numbering the rules 1 through however many rules you have. There is, however, no way to add a new rule to the top of the list (or the middle of the list) unless you re-number every single rule. If you have 20 rules, this can be tedious. If you have 100 rules, this can be extremely frustrating. Even worse, if you make a mistake and have a duplicate priority number then the page refreshes with all the rules set to a priority of “1”. So now you have to start all over.

Unlike iptables, there is very little help available for the firewall. SoftLayer provides a handful of knowledge base articles, but none of them include screenshots or advanced examples.

Within a few hours of using the service, I realized that it wasn’t going to work out and I’d be better off with iptables. I started a chat with the billing department, and was told they’d create a ticket to review crediting me for the service, and then they gave me instructions on how to cancel. I followed the instructions and the service was promptly removed from my server.

Sadly, I was informed that the terms of service prevented them from giving me a refund, and they said that the billing department only said they’d look into crediting me for the service, not that they actually would. How deceptive! Do they really expect me to believe that their own billing department doesn’t know what they claim is the standard SoftLayer refund policy? I likely still would have canceled the service, but I feel pretty ripped off having used the service for just a few hours, experiencing several issues with it, being told (from my perspective) that I’d get a refund, and then being stuck with the bill for a full month of service. Egh.

Overall, SoftLayer is awesome. Quality servers at great prices. In this situation though, complete fail. The firewall is garbage and they handled the situation very poorly. I’m not disappointed enough to start immediately hunting for a new host, but I’ll definitely be considering other options for my future server needs.

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How many support reps does it take to fix my voicemail?

Apparently it takes 4 support reps to fix my voicemail.

My old phone (Samsung Intercept) has had the bad habit of randomly calling the wrong people or sending SMS messages to the wrong people. Very annoying to click on the button to call my wife only to have it call a guy from church. The past week or two it has also started randomly rebooting, and sometimes is so slow that I can’t get it to answer a call before it goes to voicemail. Ugh.

So Becca agreed to let me buy an unlocked Galaxy Nexus. This phone uses different cell technology than my old phone, so I had to switch carriers. After looking around a bit, I decided to go with Straight Talk on their $45/month unlimited everything plan. The internet is crazy fast and I no longer have to watch my minutes. Yay!

Almost everything went more smoothly than I could have hoped. My number ported just a few hours after I put in the request and I was off and running on the new network. Except for my voicemail. My phone has had this insistent “you have a voicemail” message. When I call my voicemail, it says my mailbox is invalid. Ugh.

I tried to solve the issue on my own but without success. Basically Straight Talk’s idea of online help is “call our support number”. So I gave up and called.

And wanted to shoot myself. These reps have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. I had to put my cell on speakerphone and play the voicemail “invalid mailbox” message for them to get them to believe me that the problem was on their end. After being transferred multiple times and placed on hold for eternity, I was told to keep my phone turned off while they “updated my phone’s features” (what the heck does that even mean, and why would it matter if my phone was off for this alleged update?). At one point they even had me try changing my voicemail number to my own phone number and, surprise surprise, it made it so I got a busy signal when trying to call voicemail.

I eventually just gave up fighting it when they told me to take the battery out of my phone while they worked on my account. Unless spy movies are right and the government is tracking our phones even when they are turned off, I don’t see how taking the battery out could have any effect whatsoever on my voicemail. Actually, even if spy movies are right I don’t see how taking my battery out is going to make any difference.

Finally, 45 minutes and 42 seconds later, I have voicemail access. In hindsight this was a complete waste of time considering how much I abhor voicemail.

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My first iPod Touch

Last week I got my very first iPod Touch. I had a surge of traffic to my sites from iOS devices, and wanted to test to make sure my websites worked well on them (i.e., I wanted to make sure there were plenty of ads and that they showed up correctly).

My current phone is an Android. It works okay. Most, if not all, of its problems come from me being cheap and buying the least expensive Android phone I could. I don’t fault Android for this. I got what I paid for. However, I frequently hear that iOS is sooo much better and more intuitive and it just works and things like that, and that iPhone/iPod Touch is sooo much faster, etc. Well now that I have one I can finally compare the two side by side.

Note: For a more coherent review of iOS that states many of the points I list below, try this article. I especially liked this statement: “But I disagree that the Apple App Store is substantially better organized than the Android Market. Both are disasters.”

The first thing I noticed is that the physical buttons suck. The power button is meant to be pushed at an angle, so pushing down from the top or forward from the back doesn’t work well. If you aren’t used to this, it requires sort of an awkward whole-hand-gripping-the-iPod sort of thing. Even worse are the volume up/down buttons. I can’t find any angle of pushing on them that makes them easy to push. Surely I’m not the only one that finds the buttons hard to press.

The syncing process is, for the most part, pretty nice. I wasn’t thrilled about installing iTunes (last time I did, iTunes decided that installing Safari was an “update” that didn’t require my permission), but I really like that it will sync over WiFi without me having to plug in the device. What I don’t like is that if I install an app on my iPod, then delete it from my iPod, it somehow magically gets reinstalled the next time I sync. This is probably some configuration issue, but it is super annoying and doesn’t seem like a good default setting.

My real phone, a Samsung Intercept, has a physical qwerty keyboard. Sometimes I use the on-screen keyboard, and it isn’t too awful. The keyboard on the iPod Touch is pretty much the worst thing I’ve ever had to deal with. Aside from there being apparently 3 or 4 different keyboard layouts depending on what app you are in and what type of field you are typing into, it doesn’t have any modern input options that don’t require you to peck each and every letter. Maybe there are replacements out there that make it better, but my Android just works… I didn’t have to find/install a new keyboard app.

The ability to integrate pretty much any email/calendar service with the iPod is pretty awesome. I got my Gmail and Google Calendar set up in about 2 minutes without any issues.

The App Store, like Google’s Android Market, sucks. It is virtually unusable on the iPod unless you know exactly what you want. For example, lets say you are browsing the top 25 free apps. You get to the end of 25 so you click the “show 25 more” button. You then click one of those to read the description, then click the back “Search” button. Bam. You are back at #1. You have to scroll all the way down, click “show 25 more” again, then find where you were at. But only sometimes. Sometimes it works like I feel it should where it remembers where you are at. I’m pretty sure inconsistent button behavior is against the rules of good UX.

The LDS apps on the iPod Touch are awesome. Overall I like them much better than the Android equivalents. I especially like how the Gospel Library app, like Safari, can have multiple windows open so you can flip back and forth. Very very cool.

However, I often find myself missing the context button that Android has. In most Android apps, you can press the context button to bring up an expanded menu that shows icons with text. Apple, and many app developers, seems to think that everyone can decipher what their little text-free icons mean. For example, the Kindle app has a button that looks like “Refresh” but is actually “Sync”. Never would have known if I didn’t click it. It also means that sometimes you have to do weird round-about things to do simple tasks. For example, to delete bookmarks in Safari you have to either swipe the bookmark then click delete, or you have to click edit then select the items you want to delete. Why can’t I just long-hold on them to get a list of options? Maybe if I started on iOS I’d see the long-hold as being the awkward way of doing it, but I don’t think so.

The iPod Touch is super fast. Except when it isn’t. Like my Android, it is sometimes blazing fast and sometimes molasses slow. I haven’t found any way of closing apps on the iPod Touch, and I’ve already had to do a reboot to fix an issue with a core app (the Music app wouldn’t acknowledge me touching the screen, but every other app would). I’ve also had several brand name apps crash on me already. I can’t remember the last time an app on my cheapo Android crashed. I think app crashes and slow downs are just a fact of life. Apple doesn’t have it any more figured out than any of the other device manufacturers.

The iPod Touch is super skinny. It looks really nice and fits well in my pocket. I’d prefer a plastic back though. The metal looks gross most of the time because of finger prints.

Hey Apple, 2007 is calling, they want their proprietary ports back. Put a micro USB port on this thing!

And oh my gosh, if it makes me type in my password one more time I swear I’m going to shoot somebody. Why in the world should I need to type my password to “buy” a free app? No money is changing hands. I have plenty of storage space. Just install the dang thing and let me use it already. I ended up having to change my password to something shorter and easier just so I could actually use my iPod.

Overall, I’m not super impressed with iOS or the iPod Touch. It has pros and cons just like any other device. Its core apps and OS has bugs and slow downs just like Android (or any other mobile platform). The UI has weird inconsistencies here and there, and generally requires me to click more buttons to get things done. I can’t get rid of or hide core apps that I don’t want. The only thing it really has going for it is that it is pretty and probably works well with its expensive cousins (like the iPad and MacBook).

I probably ought to throw this in the “rant” category, too…

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How to go from a pricing error to lost customers

JCPenney.com recently had an amazing deal on Melissa & Doug block sets. These sets are regularly around $50, but with this deal you could get 2 sets for around $24. I immediately placed an order. One set for my baby, and one set as a gift.

Sadly, my order arrived yesterday with just one set in it. I waited for an email letting me know where the other set was, but none ever came. Today I got an email saying that my order was complete. Odd, considering I ordered 2 sets but got only 1.

Knowing that mistakes occasionally happen, I go to JCPenney.com, hit up their contact page, and see that they advertise 30 second response times on their CS toll-free number. Great!

I call them up, wait on hold for 10 minutes (hmm.. seems a little longer than 30 seconds..) and eventually get a guy that decides to blatantly lie to me. Instead of telling me the truth (that it was a pricing mistake and they were only honoring one set per person), he decided to tell me that it was UPS / “the factory’s” fault that I only got one set, and that they were no longer available (despite showing “in stock” at a higher price on the website). I was given a 50% refund on my order. Keep in mind I wouldn’t have gotten refunded for the unshipped item if I didn’t waste 25 minutes on the phone calling them. They would have happily and knowingly stolen my money.

So I started out thrilled that JCP had a great deal that would help with my Christmas shopping, and now I’m so upset with them that I’m not likely to ever shop there again (with the exception of amazingly good deals that probably lose them money anyway).

So what went wrong? How did they go from a simple and common pricing mistake to losing a customer for life?

  1. First, they had a pricing mistake. It happens. Some companies choose to honor pricing mistakes (yay!), and some choose to cancel orders before they ship (oh well). Shipping half an order really isn’t acceptable. You either ship it all or you cancel it all.
  2. Then they didn’t notify customers that their orders weren’t going to be fulfilled.
  3. To make it even worse, they didn’t refund customers for the parts of their orders that weren’t shipped without requiring a lengthy phone call. They knew they only shipped me part of my order, but they were going to keep my money and pretend that they shipped the full order.
  4. They told some customers the truth — that they weren’t going to honor the price even though the item was in stock — and those customers posted about their experiences on the internet. Telling customers the truth is a good thing. The problem is…
  5.  They told some customers a lie — that the item was no longer available and that their system claims both sets were shipped — after wasting 25 minutes of their time on the phone.

So what should they have done? In my opinion they should have honored the pricing mistake and shipped the units at the agreed upon price. They could have put the loss in the advertising budget, because you know JCP got a lot of positive exposure from this.

Alternatively, they could have cancelled all the orders before they shipped, and reversed any credit card charges that had already gone through. This would have been disappointing, but wouldn’t have hurt their reputation in any way (people anticipate great deals getting cancelled before they ship).

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