The ugly man looked at me. Maybe he wasn’t so ugly. Maybe I just didn’t like him.

"What’s your problem?" he said. "Why do you care?"

"I don’t," I said. "Now go fuck yourself."

     —Sara Gran, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, ch. 44 (p. 201 in ISBN 978-0-547-74761-3)

My hotel was guaranteed to come with free wireless. FREE WI-FI, their website said. When I reserved my room, I double-checked.

"You have wireless, right?" I’d asked.

"Absolutely," the clerk assured me. "All of our rooms come equipped with free wireless Internet."

The Internet service hadn’t worked for more than three minutes at a time since I’d been there.

"It’s cocks,” the clerk told me. At first I thought he was describing the men behind the broken wireless service. Later I find out he was talking about Cox, the Internet service provider. “They’re really difficult to deal with. Cox. They just screw you.”

After a few false starts the next morning I found a coffee shop on Frenchman Street that had wireless—not through their own service, which was similarly screwed by Cox, but from the bicycle shop next door.

"Cox loves them,” the girl in the coffee shop told me bitterly as she made my espresso. “Cox always fixes their stuff first.”

    —Sara Gran, Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead (ch. 6; p. 27 in ISBN 978-0-547-74761-3)

So I have been collecting these rectangular objects for a while now. I like them because they have interesting squiggles inside and the outside portions are often brightly colored. What I always forget is what a pain in the ass they are to move.

Books pictured are perhaps two-thirds of my library.

More photos.

Yanno, I was having a perfectly good day until I logged into LinkedIn to respond to a message and LinkedIn decided I needed to endorse people for various skills they listed. And picked my brother for all three slots that it recommended. And when I see this, I think, “Well, fuck. He did, when he was alive. Thanks, LinkedIn, you pushy fucker.”

I’m continuing this particular Twitter-originated conversation here because, yanno, some conversations are best held without a 140-character limit … despite the fact that I think that Twitter is a wonderful tool for many purposes.

For those of my readers who are not @PhotoEphemeris on Twitter, and haven’t been following this particular Twitter-based conversation, I’ve provided the above snapshots of tweets so that you can have context for this particular blog post. Here are links to the original tweets between me and PhotoEphemeris: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that, based on the way that the PhotoEphemeris person or people have interacted with me so far, it may very well be that tweets two, four, six, and/or ten may wind up being deleted in response to this blog post, which is part of the reason why I’ve taken graphic snapshots of them (and, in any case, it’s already a public conversation). But then, that’s just a wild guess. I may be wrong.

@photoEphemis: I initially reported that your website is rendering strangely for two primary reasons: partly because its incompetent design left me unable to find basic sales-driving information, and partly because I think that putting one’s best foot forward, as it were, is important. I’d become aware of your product due to a positive review on a website whose feed I follow. It looked like a useful product, and I wanted more info, but was unable to find it because of heavily overlapping objects and other rendering weirdnesses on your website.

I pointed this out to you not just because I couldn’t find the information that I wanted, but because it makes you look bad. Because, after all, the thing is that, regardless of what add-ons I’m using in Firefox, well over 99% of websites display correctly, and it is, in fact, possible to create websites that display properly regardless of how I’ve configured my standards-compliant browser, and to design websites that degrade gracefully under suboptimal browser configurations. No, I don’t necessarily expect you to design for every possible browser and browser configuration, and people who are using Lynx or Lunascape or AOL Explorer 1.3 or Billy Joe Bob’s Minimalist Web n’ Sister’s Shower Webcam Browser are going to be used to seeing that some websites don’t display as the designer imagined that they might. But we’re not talking about Lynx or Epiphany or Opera or Safari here: we’re talking about Firefox, a browser used by nearly a third of those browsing the web (and, incidentally, about 85% of Firefox users use at least one add-on). Website design is a time-consuming process — I understand that — and it involves choices: I also understand that. What I was pointing out is that, as it seems to me, your desire to use a fairly complex layout that invents HTML tags and attributes and disregards basic HTML structural and nesting rules, and your desire integrate Twitter widgets and similar pieces of web 2.0 trendiness, seem to have eclipsed (what I take to be) one of the basic purposes of your website: to drive sales. More generally, it seems to me that you’ve chosen layout coolness over the actual presentation of information in a useful, readable format.

After all, I’m a busy guy who works 80+ hours a week, and photography is a hobby for me; my free time is precious, since there’s so little of it, and although it might be that using a different browser and/or a different computer would result in an acceptably rendered website, I find the necessity to do this annoying. You lost a potential sale here because I’m not willing to start up a second browser or borrow my girlfriend’s laptop and check whether a website that uses the mythical <emphasis> tag might — just might — happen to render correctly under those circumstances: my free time is precious to me, and I’m not going to spend five minutes, or even fifteen seconds, of it working around your web designer’s incompetence. My assumptions were that, if I’m having this problem, it’s almost certainly not unique to me, and that you may be losing other sales as well. I thought you might appreciate knowing this. What I got in return was a set of defensive tweets insisting that (a) it was my fault for not reading your web designer’s mind and knowing that only bleeding-edge versions of the two most popular operating systems are “acceptable” viewing scenarios, and that (b) pointing out your web design problem hoats yo’ po’ whittow feewings.

I pointed out your presentation problem for the same reasons that, if my department were hiring, and I saw a nervous-looking stranger in a suit waiting outside of the department chair’s office, I would let him know if his fly were open: not because I’d be hoping that he would whip out a wad of cash with which to reward me, nor that I’d hope this would lead to a beneficial professional relationship, nor even that I think I’m entitled to live in a world without open flies, but just because it’s the decent thing to do, and because I hope that someone would let me know if I were in that situation. Do unto others, yes? I hope that someone would tell me if I were about to go into a job interview with my fly open. That’s what I was trying to tell you: your fly is open, and your potential customers see their pre-sales interactions with you as a job interview.

Yes, I realize that you’re selling an application program, not web hosting and/or design, and that your website is therefore not a perfectly accurate index into your company’s application programming capabilities. But it’s the primary index that I have without buying your product, and it is, to a certain extent, a fair one: there are numerous transferable skills that are shared between the two related knowledge domains, such as micro-level attention to detail, designing for and understanding how computers interpret data, and testing on multiple real-world versions of the platform. Your “fuck it, I tried your browser under an OS with an 0.2075% [0.25% of 83%] market share and an OS with a 1.34% market share, that’s good enough” response evinces a very minimalist approach to testing, well below the w3c community’s recommendations. I might mention again that the HTML for your front page is invalid, using tags that don’t exist and breaking other aspects of the expected structure for valid XHTML Strict 1.0 (the standard by which your web page itself asks to be judged), and this might — just might — be part of the problem. (I’m a literary theorist, and I can figure this out. Why can’t your professional web designer[s] bother to take a few minutes and run their pages through the w3c’s totally free validation service before putting them online, for fuck’s sake?) True, your coding of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript isn’t a perfect indicator of your employees’ ability to code in Java, C++, FORTRAN, Python, COBOL, Ruby, BASIC, Pascal, LISP, or whatever it is you use — but it is, I think, a more or less fair index of how your company seems to view the relative importance of basic aspects of coding and testing, and of the general intellectual skill of the people you hire to perform coding-related tasks. Even if this is, for some reason I can’t immediately see, an incorrect assumption, it’s one that other potential customers will make, as well. I thought you might want to know that it was happening and how it was affecting your sales. I guess no good deed goes unmocked.

Moreover, I’ve interpreted the conversation that we’ve had as a sample of how your company deals with (potential) customers and (potential) tech support situations. Going back to the fly-open-before-the-job-interview metaphor, I’d expect someone for whom I’d just done the favor of informing him of that particular presentational problem, if not to thank me, then at least to look into the situation and correct it, and to behave decently to a stranger who’d just done him a favor. What I got in exchange in was the equivalent of “Hey, my fly isn’t down. Maybe you should check the configuration of your glasses" and "Well, feel free to zip my fly up for me if it bothers you so much, dickhead.” Or, to re-invoke my earlier claim that you have to make a choice between devoting time to functionality and devoting time to coolness, it’s as if you told me to go screw myself, because all the cool kids are walking around with their flies open these days, and what fucking business is it of mine, anyway? — and, in this case, I’d certainly make sure that the chair of my department knew about our interaction, because I think that, in that circumstance, he might want to know about how the job candidate had interacted with a stranger who’s already in the department. (Treating the attempt to gather sales as if it were a job interview is, I think, a fair metaphor in many ways. This is a secondary motivation for me to write a blog post on the subject: I have a sneaking suspicion that our interaction is a fair indication of your company’s attitude towards customers, and other potential customers might want to know how you’ve interacted with me, so I’m grouping together our [already public] conversation in a set of images above and commenting on it.)

If I were to purchase your app, and it didn’t work for me, would I receive a better response from your company than what I’ve received so far? Or would I get a “here’s the source code, don’t hold back from fixing it for us, you interfering asshole” or “oh, this particular app is not guaranteed to work on iOS devices on which the app has ever been installed” — a rough equivalent to “oh, our web site is only designed to be viewed on browsers with a particular (non-publicized) configuration and that support tags our incompetent coders have invented on the fly”? Are you more likely to treat me decently after I’ve already given you money than you do when I’m merely a potential customer?

If you feel that I’ve been unfair or snarky, well, then, I apologize. But I might point out that some of your replies have been equally snarky; and I note that our conversation has ended with you blocking me on Twitter. While you can, of course, treat your web presence in any way that you’d like, I wonder (again, in the context of imagining potential future tech-support conversations) about the wisdom of paying money to a company that shuts down dialogue it finds unpleasant, rather than dealing with the issue at stake in that dialogue. You have competitors, and I’ll do business with them instead. Perhaps other readers of this blog post will as well.

In any case, you asked, “why all the snark?” and I’m assuming you actually want an answer — that your question was not merely rhetorical posturing allowing you to play to an audience. This has been your answer.

Posting a letter of complaint here because I’ve had trouble getting in touch with the company any other way. As my father told me repeatedly when I was a child, sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Here is the text of the message, because I want it to be searchable for other (potential) customers:

{my address}
21 August 2012

Michael Kieschnick, CEO
Credo Mobile 101 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

Dear Mr. Kieschnick:

I have to say that, as happy as I am that my bill doesn’t go to support the Tea Party indirectly, I’m incredibly disappointed by three aspects of your service.

  1. I sent a message through your web feedback form nearly a week ago about the same primary issue about which I’m writing today, and no one has gotten back to me yet. Shame on you for slow response time with your customer service. Or for ignoring a customer - whichever it is.
  2. I tried to send another message through your web feedback form this afternoon, and, after spending a quarter of an hour explaining my problem, I pressed the “submit” button. All that happens is that I get an error page saying, “The specified URL cannot be found.” This is just incompetent. While I realize that your company not a web hosting provider, you are a technology company, and being unable to keep your web feedback form working reflects very poorly on the competence of your technicians. It also costs me money: To explain what your web form claims I can explain for free, I now need to pay for paper, printer ink, an envelope, and postage.

And this is the issue I originally sent you feedback about, although this item contains more information than I sent last week:

  1. I get periodic text messages on my phone saying that someone I know has sent me a picture message. This happens perhaps once a month, and since I don’t use the Internet on my phone otherwise, it’s not worthwhile for me to get a data plan. It used to be the case that I could view the picture messages on the web through my computer, but I just called to find out why what I used to do isn’t working, and your rep told me that this service was discontinued this month. She wasn’t able to say why, but tried to sell me a $14.99/month data plan, saying this is the only way to get these messages now.

    When pressed, she admitted that I can get a pay-as-you-go plan, but this is still a way of extracting money for a service that you used to provide for free. Shame on you for being a bunch of greedy bastards. What’s the point of using a phone company that doesn’t support a political party that tries to screw me over if that phone company is trying to screw me over directly?

I’m definitely happy about your political orientation, but if you’re not going to provide the services that I need in the way that I need them, then that consideration trumps your politics, and I’ll be looking for a new cell phone company, Republican supporters or no.

I’d like a real explanation - not an empathy statement or set of empty verbiage - of why you’ve made this change in policy. Why, for instance, don’t you continue to make the web interface available? Surely the support burden for your engineers and other technical people is minimal. Or, at a bare minimum, why can’t you auto-respond to picture messages with a text to the original sender that says, “This user does not accept picture messages”? That would be far better than silently accepting them and then trying to sell me access to them.

Shame on you for screwing your customers. And shame on you for not responding to my earlier attempt to contact you after you screwed me. Finally, shame on you for closing off a communications channel, the web form, that customers can use to get in touch with you - and for not even having the decency to indicate that it’s closed until after I’ve spent time composing a message. All of this is very disappointing.

Since I’ve had trouble getting a response from you in the past, a copy of this letter will be posted to my blog at - perhaps posting it in a public forum will help motivate you to respond to this letter.

In hopes that I can continue to be a CREDO Mobile user,
Patrick Mooney

I tried to place an order online through a local service that delivers food from local businesses to local addresses, only to find out that they’ve changed their policy: Your internet order has to be paid for with cash on delivery. (That’s right: they’ve stopped taking credit cards.) What amazes me is that their delivery area (“UCSB dorms and Isla Vista”) is almost entirely made up of students.

They don’t publicize their e-mail address, insisting instead that you contact them through a web feedback form. Presumably, they don’t want spiders crawling their web page and harvesting their e-mail address and selling it to spammers. ‘Course, they’ve been sending ads to my school address without my ever opting in, or using that address to place an order, but I imagine that, from their perspective, this is different, because it doesn’t clog their e-mail box.

Here’s the comment I sent through their web feedback form:

Really? I have to pay CASH ON DELIVERY for an order I’m putting in on the Internet? Your ONLY method of payment for deliveries is C.O.D.? Do I get a free non-stick pan and some sort of amazing slicing/dicing implement with my order?

The whole point in ordering from you is not to leave the house. I don’t know how people live in your alternate universe, but most of the people I know in the campus community don’t make a real point of having cash on hand at all times. This is because we live in a time where even panhandlers often take credit cards. If I don’t happen to have cash on hand, and have to leave the house to get money from an ATM, I might as well just go directly to the restaurant, because any business in Isla Vista from which I can order place an order through you is within a few blocks — that is, within a one-minute bike ride — of the only ATMs in IV. This is more or less a moot point, because the ATM fees I pay at IV ATMs are more than your delivery charge.

Guess what, though? I can call the restaurant directly and pay THEM with my credit card. This is because the businesses for which you serve as middleman aren’t staffed by people who sit around listening to their amazing quadraphonic sound systems and thinking about how this Diner’s Club fad is going to blow over while wearing Hawaiian shirts and mustaches that say, “Yeah, I’ve been nude on camera. What of it?” Going directly to the business with which I want to deal allows me to avoid Isla Vista ATM fees, a trek to the ATM, and your delivery fee. All this just by not doing business with you!

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: Eight-tracks are out, 1972 is over, and only hillbillies who touch their siblings try to order things C.O.D. any more. This is the Internet. Nobody wants to do business with a company that doesn’t take credit cards. Just sayin’.