DAY IS DONE. ME TOO

It was one of Those Days. Started out normal. We had to get up a bit early because I had a doctor appointment and even though we left plenty of time, we got out of the house a bit late. Time slipped away.

My appointment went fine. Next stop? Grocery store.

We couldn’t get to the store. There had been a fire. Or something. The street was closed. Not the whole street, just the couple of hundred feet in front of the parking lot. Other than the fire engine with the flashing lights, there was no hint of a fire, or any evidence of anything. No smoke. No injuries. No water on the street. No crime scene tape. A blocked street where we needed to go. They were allowing cars to drive through from the other direction. So there was no legitimate reason we couldn’t go a few dozen feet to Hannaford’s parking lot. But nope, we had to take the detour.

75-MainStreetCR

Uxbridge not being a real city, a detour isn’t a quick trip around a city block. We were in Douglas before we could start looping back to town. By which time they had parked the fire truck and there were no official obstructions.

Shopping concluded, leaving town was our next trial. Civic excitement is rare in our little town, so everyone had to take a long look at the … what? Fire? Crime scene? False alarm? One of the rubberneckers was riding a bicycle. We were behind him, trying to drive at 1 mph. As soon as we (finally) got around him, someone pulled out of a side street, slowed down to about 10 mph. Directly in front of us. We crawled home. Karma is.

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Groceries unpacked. Television turned on. Surprise! Half our premium channels aren’t working. “Temporarily Off the Air. Try Again Later.” I call Charter. They’ve been having a bad week too and this is my third call in two days. Any day I have to call Charter is not a great day.

After a long hold, the agent assures me they are merely doing (more) repair work, but hope it will be finished any day now. They’ll call when it’s finished. Maybe even today. I go to make dinner and step in a pool of dog pee. I don’t know which of the little furry menaces did it, but I don’t get it. Why? They’ve got their own door and it isn’t even raining.

Eventually, dinner having been served, eaten, and cleared, the phone rings. Charter (recorded message) says “Repairs are complete, thank you for your patience.” But it is not fixed. Half the hi-def channels are “Temporarily Off the Air. Try Again Later.”

Any day on which I have to call Charter once is not great. Twice? Very bad. They tell me to reboot. They send a repair signal. My channels do not come back. They can’t get a tech here until Thursday.  I am grumpy, but make the appointment. I need to write it down, so I turn on the light.

The bulb explodes.

My day is done.

I LOVE YOU, AUDIBLE.COM

I joined Audible.com in 2002.

I had a long commute and I’d been buying audiobooks for a few years from Books On Tape and Recorded Books.

Books On Tape had recently announced they were discontinuing non-institutional services. Bummer. Recorded Books didn’t have much of a selection and were expensive.

Audible was a relatively new concept. Downloading was slow, but the price was good. For $16.95, I could have two books a month. I would own them, but wouldn’t have to store them. They were digital files and would be stored in my library on Audible’s server.

audible home page

Twelve years later, I have close to a thousand books in my Audible library. A few have disappeared. They may be there somewhere, but the search engine can’t find them and I don’t remember what they were. It doesn’t matter. There are so many.

A few years ago, Amazon bought Audible. For once, I was unperturbed by the acquisition. Amazon and I have had a great relationship since Amazon was an online bookstore selling real books. Kindles and e-books didn’t exist. The closest thing to an e-book was a PDF file.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Audible is bigger and better. Higher quality audio files, many more books. Famous actors and brilliant narrators. Almost every book from any publisher has an audio version. You can buy twinned Kindle and Audible books that synchronize. That’s overkill for me, but I often own both versions because listening and reading are different experiences. I listen, then read, then listen again. My eyes are increasingly reluctant to focus on print, so I listen more, read less. Audible has become primary and reading is now an alternative to listening.

Times change. I’ve changed.

Late the other night, already tucked in bed, I decided to select this month’s audiobooks. I still have the original plan I subscribed to. New subscribers pay more, but I’m “grandfathered.” The only thing I don’t have that newer plans include are “rollover” credits. I have to use my credits within the month or lose them. Technically, anyhow. The only time I didn’t use them — I didn’t forget, but I was in the hospital — they gave the credits back and threw in a couple of extra because I’d been sick.

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This month, I wanted two books, both not yet released. Pre-orders. The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey, Book Six in the Sandman Slim series, to be released on August 26th. And The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison, the 13th and final book in The Hollows series, to be released September 9th. I ordered the books using this month’s credits. Except when I completed the order, I had a credit left. I figured that meant they would charge the book to my credit card on delivery. I cancelled the order and redid it. Same thing happened.

It was 1:30 in the morning, but I knew I could call Audible and get this fixed. Unlike other customer service, I like calling Audible. Even before they become part of the Amazon family, they were friendly folks who wanted to make you happy.

A nice lady answered. I explained what happened. She said: “Let’s make this simple. I’ll just put the Kim Harrison book in your library. You keep the extra credit. Have a nice night. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I double-checked: “You mean, I actually have an extra credit?”

“Yes, you do. I put The Witch With No Name into your library. When it’s released, you will automatically receive it. You can use your other credit for whatever you like.” Indeed, the book was already in my library. I ordered another book.

I was smiling. How often do you smile after talking to customer service?

I love you, Audible.com. 

FOLLOW-UP: WORDPRESS CAME THROUGH!

I have gotten so used to customer disservice, it always surprises me when they live up to their promises.

Shortly after I posted 175,000 HITS AND A SERIOUS CHAT WITH WORD PRESS, my site became unavailable. WordPress said they were doing “routine server maintenance.”

wordpress1There’s nothing routine about having my site down in the middle of a Tuesday. Moreover, I found test files created by someone named Jason — coincidentally the name of the rep with whom I chatted at length yesterday — in my trash. When I tried to restore one (I’m nosy), it vanished. Poof. A test file. That is not part of regular maintenance. They had me offline four times for more than an hour. When I was back, my Add Media function was working the way it used to, more or less.

It doesn’t look the same. The graphical interface is new, but I can scroll and the keyword search brings up all or most of my pictures.

I would prefer the thumbnails to display data — file name, date, and maybe key words? But I’m delighted to be able to find pictures again.  I use a lot of pictures, not only as photographic posts, but as illustrations in stuff I write. Which is one reason it’s so important I be able to use stored images.

There’s a second, even more important, reason. I use 3 computers regularly and a tablet occasionally. I do not have access to all my photos on each machine. The only photographic central repository is Serendipity’s media library on WordPress.

This is why I was willing to pay for the premium package. It is customization plus bumped up storage and a domain. Other benefits include custom fonts and colors. I can customize any theme. I’ve never found a premium theme I like well enough to buy. I am too fond of changing my theme, sometimes just tweaking it, often switching templates. On a whim.

Writing is my vocation, but graphics are — always were — my hobby. To overuse an analogy, writing is dinner. Graphics are dessert. Being able to design my site, play with photos, fonts, widgets, headers — makes my day. My week.

WordPress came through. They couldn’t and probably won’t roll back the software changes, many of which I believe are misguided. They traded functionality for a prettier interface. In software, that’s always a bad trade. But I’m glad to get back most of the functionality I lost.

It’s possible my site was actually broken and needed repair. That it wasn’t software changes at the root of the problem, but something on my site had gone wrong. I’ll probably never know, but it’s okay. As long as it works, I’m happy.

I’ve invested more effort into launching and maintaining this website than I put into writing my book. I’ve refined its look, upgraded my skills as a writer and photographer. When I went to have my heart remodeled in March, I was as concerned this site be cared for as I was about the house or the bills. Serendipity has become central to my life. I would hate to lose it.

It keeps my brain from going soft by challenging me to write, take pictures, produce something creative. Every day, even when I’m tired, busy, or not feeling well. When you stop working a regular job, having something that forces you to think, create is important to good mental health. It’s a critical component of mine.

Thank you WordPress. You came through.

Thank you Jason. You kept your word.

A bit of my faith in the world has been restored. I needed that.

175,000 HITS AND A SERIOUS CHAT WITH WORD PRESS

Today I discovered that the new format for inserting media into a post has eliminated all the search tools that worked. If you are a photographer, this is disastrous. Those of you who work with pictures will see what I mean as soon as you try to use this “new, improved” version of the software.

INSERT MEDIA PAGE

It took me an hour today to find a photograph in my library. You cannot insert directly from the media library. All you can do is look around and see what’s there. It is dead storage. The alternative is uploading every picture and not re-using the pictures stored in your library. In which case, what’s the point of the library at all?

stats 175,000+

How ironic that yesterday I crossed the threshold and now have more than 175,000 hits.

For all practical purposes, WordPress is saying I’ve outgrown them. I’ve invested a huge amount of time and effort into this site and have no interest in moving. I think I’d rather give up blogging altogether. When a hobby becomes work and the fun goes away, what’s the point?

Here’s the conversation. Make of it what you will. I have trimmed it, but it’s still long. I dumped most of the repetitive stuff and cleaned it up for readability.


Marilyn – The new format for media (pictures) does not let me find pictures in my media library. I have 5200 photographs. When inserting media, even if I know the name of the picture, the date, the post in which it was used, I still can’t bring it up. The search option in “insert media” are non-existent. My only choice would be re-importing each image, not reusing them. Which negates the value of the library.

Jason – Hi there, I’m sorry. I was trying to read through everything. Give me just a minute. OK, I’m happy to help you with this.

Marilyn – There is no way now to find and insert pictures from my library. You have eliminated ALL of the search functions except the search box and it doesn’t work by date, doesn’t recognize the words, finds like five or six pictures out of hundreds. You’ve eliminated scrolling, so I’m effectively unable to use my media library at all. Exactly what was your goal?

Jason – I see what you mean about not being able to sort images in the media inserter.

Marilyn – It is useless for a photographer.

Jason – If you are finding you have outgrown the free hosted version of WordPress.com, you might consider looking at a self-hosted installation. There are plug-ins which you can install on self-hosted installations that are specifically designed to add search capabilities in the media insert section.

Marilyn – So you are telling me that I cannot access the files in my library — for which I pay a premium — and that the library is essentially useless?

Jason – No, I’m just trying to offer you additional solutions since you do not find the media insert search useful.

Marilyn – If I’m going to do that, I will dump WordPress. If I have to start over, I don’t need you. I can do that anywhere. I’m already paying you, why continue since you’ve made the previously useful tools worthless? It worked fine until yesterday. You changed it . And ruined it. Was this so that I would pay more money? If so, you miscalculated.

Jason – WordPress.com and WordPress.org are two different services, and I’m only associated to WordPress.com.

Marilyn – The entire reason for my being on WordPress was that you had the tools and I didn’t have to self-host.

Jason – May I ask a question?

Marilyn – Sure, ask away.

Jason – First, this is an actual question because I do want to help. Is the issue that you no longer have access to images by date, or does it have more to do with the search function not working well for you?

Marilyn – There is no search function on insert. Just a search box. You eliminated it everything else.

Jason – OK, now we are getting somewhere. I was under the impression it just wasn’t functioning as you expected. I apologize.

Marilyn – I knew the date the picture was used, its name, the post it was in. I still could not reuse it in a new post.

Jason – OK, that should not be the case. Most definitely. Give me one minute to take a look at a couple of the settings on your blog.

Marilyn – You have to open Add Post, then Add Media. There’s a search box and that’s it.

Jason – I’m looking through everything for you.

Marilyn – No date search. No search by post. No keywords search. All my media are jpg so that’s meaningless. And when things come up, there are no titles, no information, no data.

Jason – This is all very helpful information. The search does work by searching the title of the image. When you select an image, the details pertaining to that image appear on the right of the pop-up window (title, etc).

Marilyn – That’s assuming it gets found at all. And this information is not available in the search results, only if you actually click on the image. Otherwise, it’s just a thumbnail with pieces missing. Just bring back the tools that worked. Or make it possible to grab pictures from the library and insert them into post. Right now, the library is dead storage.

Jason – This was a recent update. I will relay this to the team right now. I can’t give you an ETA on when they will make changes, but I can promise that the issue will be brought up.

Marilyn – The whole point of paying for storage is you can use the stuff in storage. If I can’t use it, I’m paying for nothing. It’s like having a storage unit, but no key to get in. How do you make changes like this without opening a dialog with the people affected?

Jason – I don’t think there is a quick solution I can offer you. I apologize for this, but I will elevate this to our development team. I’m sorry I can’t offer an instant solution, but I will submit this ticket. Hopefully the developers can come up with something that provides the information you are looking for with your images. I hope that you understand only through constructive feedback can we continue to make WordPress.com a better environment for our users. Is there anything I can help you with regarding the services we do have available? I will submit the issue regarding the Media Insert function as soon as I am off this ticket. I will pass the feedback on to the developers. I hope you do give us a little time to resolve this issue, but understand if your business can’t wait. I would recommend taking a look at a self-hosted installation of WordPress. It would allow you to directly transfer your existing site to another host and not lose data. You can find information here: http://en.support.wordpress.com/moving-a-blog/#moving-to-wordpress-org

NOTE: I guess he didn’t believe I’m not a business.

Marilyn – I do not want to self-host. I am not a commercial site. This is supposed to be fun, a hobby. Not a job.

Jason – I am support dedicated to non-commercial bloggers. That said, I will pass your concerns on. If there is nothing else I can help you with, I will get this ticket created.

TECH SUPPORT – WHERE “BAD” IS THE NEW “GOOD”

Bad customer and technical support is the new good. You only think it’s bad. The problem is your attitude. Or so they’d have you think.

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE

Death cust servAll the big technology companies are working hard to save a few bucks. The competition is fierce. Every penny counts. Since executives won’t accept lower pay nor will stockholders accept lower returns, it’s customers who fill the cost-cutting gap.

In the race to be the cheapest, tech companies stopped including chargers with devices. No manuals. No system software. No reinstallation software. Short power cords that don’t go from an outlet to a desktop. No connector for printers, speakers or whatever. Everything you need to finish setting up costs extra.

Customer service was the first thing to go. They hired people who don’t know anything, don’t understand or speak English. For all I know, they don’t understand or speak Spanish either. They aren’t trained, don’t know the products. And since manufacturers no longer include documentation, you don’t have the option of taking care of it yourself.

No company — not cameras, computers or software — includes documentation. I became obsolete years ago when the industry decided no one reads the manuals. So they fired the tech writers, put some generated information in an online PDF. They figured customer service techs would handle the fallout. But they don’t. Many of us would be happy to fix minor glitches but have no alternative to spending our time on the phone, frustrated and angry.

THE PLAN IN ACTION

You can’t say they didn’t have a plan. The big corporations indeed had a plan. A bad one.Customer Service waiting

It was so bad, it was immediately adopted by everyone. Globally.

It’s not a Microsoft problem, a Dell problem, or any company’s individual problem, though some are more awful than others and a few are notorious. It’s a cross-industry problem, affecting virtually every organization in this country.

Bad is the new good. Because good is remarkable.

WOULD IT KILL THEM TO INCLUDE A MANUAL?

CustServCartoon In every industry, business, service — service support stinks. It doesn’t matter where you go. You’ll get the same lousy service. It’s the great leveler.

Sometimes, you get lucky. The guy or gal you connect with actually knows the product and you think “Wow, that wasn’t bad! Maybe it’s improving.” The next time, it’s the same old, same old.

AMAZON – THE BRIGHT SPOT

There is a bright spot. Amazon and Audible (a subsidiary of Amazon) still have terrific customer service. That could change any time on the whim of a company exec, but for now, it’s great.

It’s no accident I shop through Amazon. They offer really good service. You have a problem, they go out of their way to make it right. You need to return something? They don’t question you, make you jump through hoops.

I wish I could buy everything from them.

10 LITTLE THINGS TO MAKE YOU CRY UNCLE

Customer Service waiting

Why does the translator always pop up and offer to translate my Spam? Isn’t there some way to make that go away and never come back?

When I get put on hold, they always tell me how important I am to them, often just before they disconnect me or start playing the most annoying music ever to assault the ears of humankind:

  1. If I’m that important, hire a person to answer the phone.
  2. Is there a special place everyone goes to buy really annoying music so you can not only be on hold for hours, but listen to the same orchestral rendition of Something From the 70s over and over and over?

You call customer service. They ask for your account number, phone number, social security number, date of birth, home address. When — if — someone comes on the line, they will ask for the same information again. All of it.

CustServCartoon

You will be required to listen to a menu from which you must select your “problem” because “our menu items have recently changed” even though you’ve been working with this company for years and the menu has never changed. You cannot skip ahead to the menu selection you know you need.

The menu goes on forever. All the choices are apparently irrelevant. By number 7, you have no idea what the first six choices were and anyhow, you need to talk to someone. If — in desperation — you are fool enough to select from the list, you will get a robot that will send you back to the same menu.

If you press none of the selections and just wait, you may get a live person. Or disconnected. It’s a crap shoot.

Whoever you get will tell you it’s not their department. The department to which they direct you will tell you to go to the place that just sent you to them. If you point that out, they will disconnect you by “accident.”

Every company records every conversation “for quality assurance purposes” (and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you), but the call during which they promised to fix your problem/refund your money was (oddly enough) not recorded. Nor did the person with whom you spent an hour on the phone add that all important note to your file.

Death cust serv

If you remember to get the name and some kind of ID of the person you are talking to, he or she will not exist when you call back.

No one has a number you can call back. Ever.

Is it just me? Or is there an international conspiracy to make us simply give up and live with whatever crap they throw at us?