Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Oh yeah? Well my internet problems were worse than yours!

Reading Aline’s post yesterday, boy, could I sympathize!

A few years ago I ran into real difficulties with the Internet. I kept notes which I have consulted in writing this piece. Here are some startling facts from running afoul of the Internet gods: I spent 68.5 hours on the phone (I am not exaggerating), it took 27 working days to get resolved, no one at my ISP (Internet Service Provider) would take responsibility, and I wouldn’t have found out exactly what happened unless one of their second level technicians hadn’t spilled the beans (What? You’ve never heard of a second level tech?).

Since Type M is not dedicated to whinging complaints about Internet service, it needs a tie-in to what our “mandate” is, i.e. informing readers about the writers’ life (in part). Since maintaining a website is something that writers are now expected to do, and since most of us have to handle that ourselves – or rope a spouse, offspring, or the twelve-year-old kid down the block into doing – my tale of woe is one that might just help someone out if you find yourself in similar straits. Mine is most definitely a cautionary tale for anyone with a website.

I loathe spammers. There is not a circle of hell horrible enough to hold these bottom-dwelling, scum-sucking creatures who populate the dark corners of cyberspace. They prey on the weak and unknowledgeable, and will stoop to any depth to achieve their goal: sending everyone announcements about erectile dysfunction aids, cheap stocks, Russian girls who want to have your children, pornography, alerts that your bank accounts (mostly in banks where you don’t even have an account) have been cleaned out, you name it, they’ll spam you with it.

Well, like many of us writers who have websites, the email address I posted there in order for people to communicate with me was almost immediately poached by spammers to use as an address for their communicatory endeavors. I didn’t know it at the time but rickblechta.com became a purveyor of pills, girls, land swindles, smut and even internet selling advice.

Things became so bad that my website came to the attention of the people whose purpose in life is to attempt to block these things (good luck on that!), so rickblechta.com was officially “blackholed”, apparently by a German anit-spam website.

Practically speaking, what this meant is that my emails going out were blocked by servers all over the world based on the German findings, and incoming email was blasted into nothingness before it got to me. My website was still up and functional, but people were being warned away from it as being unsafe. To say the least, this was a disaster since I also use my email address at rickblechta.com for my graphic design business and musical gigging contacts.

I called my Internet service provider. No matter to whom I spoke, it was all my fault because: I use a Mac computer so they couldn’t properly help me, there’s nothing they can do for me, and no, they couldn’t suggest who might help. I spent hours on the phone. No. I spent days on the phone. My web host said there was nothing they could do because all they did was syphon through any email traffic to my actual ISP. The problem lay with them. And then they explained how the headers on my emails showed where things were stopping.

After two weeks trying the “nice guy” approach, the “concerned consumer” approach, the “irate customer” tirade, the “I’m going to haul your asses into court if you don’t bloody well fix this” threat, I was truly at my wit’s end. None of their technicians could tell me why emails didn’t come in or where the outgoing ones disappeared off to. Since my dander was now up – and for me, follicly-challenged as I am, that’s a big deal – I just wasn’t going to cancel my service and go elsewhere, this became a Crusade for Internet Righteousness. In short, I was going to win this battle!

Which is where the mysterious “Technician S” comes in.

One day, after spending a few more hours on hold, I asked if there was a technician who knew more than the one I was speaking to did. No doubt wanting to get rid of me (we’d been trying for over two hours to fix my issue yet again), he gave me a number and said to call it. “It’s a second level tech who really knows Mac computers.”

I called.

TS was sympathetic to my long litany of woe. “Well, what you’ve been told is total BS. The first level techs really know nothing. Your computer has nothing to do with this. Your mail program is working perfectly. The problem is that any emails seeing to come and go from your website are being deleted because your website has been blackholed. But the problem really isn’t with my company, either.” My heart sank with those words. He continued, “But I have an idea where the problem is and what might be done about it. Call me back tomorrow at this time. I may have news.”

Next day, I duly called and got this: “I’ve found the source of the deletions. It’s at Microsoft.” “But I hate Microsoft,” I screamed. “That’s why I have a Mac. MS Word is the worst program ever and Windows is simply a blot on humanity. What do they have to do with me? Fie! I spit on them!” “Well, Rick, MS runs our service’s upstream servers. We contracted to them last year. Everything goes through MS’s servers now. I’ve traced the route of your emails and that’s where they’re disappearing.” “What can you do about it?” “Well... It’s difficult. You see, our techs are not allowed to speak to their techs?” “Why not?” “We’re just not.” “May I talk to them.” “No, they never speak to members of the public.” “So you mean I’m completely out of luck? Up a cyber Shit Creek without a virtual paddle?” “I need to speak to a third level tech I know. (They have these things?) Sometimes they’re allowed to speak with the MS techs. Call back on Monday. Have a nice weekend.”

I hung up the phone and pounded my head on my desk for 45 minutes. At least when I finally stopped, it felt better.

And this post has gone on long enough. I had to wait 3 days to find out what would happen next. You’re going to have to wait a week.

Sometimes, things never change…

An update to the piece I wrote last month about writers’ scams (There Be Monsters Here), which focus on Xlibris’s offering of a ridiculous package to host a book signing at Word on the Street here in Toronto later this month. If you want to read more on the subject – and other dubious offerings by the same company, which is owned by Penguin/Random House, by the way – please click on the following link: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/penguin-random-house-merger-helps-author-solutions-exploit-writers/ Believe me, it is more depressing than you can imagine. I cannot wrap my brain around the fact that the largest publishing house in the world is engaging in these type of business practices. It really is despicable.


Donis Casey said...

Oh, man. sometimes I think I'd just like to write my stories out on parchment with a quill pen and tack them up on a tree trunk for passers-by to read.

Rick Blechta said...

What about going back to the age of troubadours and ballads?

Charlotte Hinger said...

Ok, Rick. You've got me beat. By the way, if you're even thinking about installing Google Chrome it won't let you enter the ubiquitous Captcha letters like the ones I'm just now going to have to type to get this through

Aline Templeton said...

Reading your post, Rick, did leave me feeling that I should be thankful for small mercies!

Rick Blechta said...

The whole episode was sort of like shadow boxing, or as a friend called it, "Dancing with ghosts." No one took responsibility, they kept telling me the same things (until I stumbled on to my second level tech) which turned out to completely wrong, and then there was the whole very odd thing about Microsoft. To say the least, past the exceptional frustration, the situation was surreal. If Kafka were alive today, he'd write a novel about this sort of thing.

Wait a minute…

Carol N Wong said...

I have spent oodles of hours, and some money on the Geek Squad who gave up, $176 with Toshiba and called so often that they know the sound of my voice. I have been keeping notes on what they do. I hate calling anyone because they want me to unplug and plug in again over and over again before going to the next step.

So far, I know how to get Internet back if there is a storm, how to get it if the computer forgot to have the on part as on and how to restore to a previous date in order to get Internet back. It is so doggone frustrating even if you have learned to fix it.

Rick Blechta said...

The real issue is that it's only going to get worse as computers get more complicated. Customer service is handled by people who are not really computer geeks, just people hired to answer the phone. They're given scripts to read based on what callers tell them. Go off that script because your problem isn't exactly like what the script says and it's, "Hold on for a moment. I have to speak to someone." They may or may not understand what the "someone" says, and then they'll get back to you. Often, the advice either doesn't work, or makes the issue worse. God help you if the tech is in another country.

Thanks for commenting, Carol! And good luck, may your Internet connection help you live long and proper.