Thursday, March 31, 2011

Puppy power

Lovey (aka LoveBug, aka LoveThug) is nearly five months old now and she has recently begun learning the art of Watchdoggery.

Unfortunately, she is learning it from Puddin', she who thinks anything that moves...or might move is worthy of warning the household about. And while Puddin' pretty much ignores sounds other than the doorbell, neighbourhood barking dogs and people at the gate, Lovey has not yet learned such discrimination. As a result, she has taken to giving the alert at any...and every...unexpected sound--which includes the crowd of birds we host daily.

South African birds are a bit different from American (and I suppose European birds). Where in the US I listened to what can be described as "birdsong," here it is more like the background noises in the old Tarzan films. "Whoot whoot whoot," and "Twee-eep Twee-eep" and noises that cause birds to be named things like "Hoopoe" for their calls fill my back garden. Add the neighbours who have not yet figured out the road in front of the house is NOT an extension of Kyalami (a nearby racetrack), the sound of the local maids and gardeners walking past the house and chatting to each other as they walk to public transport, and, of course, Puddin's rantings about latest leaf that has fallen into the pool (or her attempts to coax the local kitties to come out), and it makes for a multitude of noisy episodes in the house.

One thing's for certain, though...these two are more proactive than an alarm...if someone unauthorized happened to walk into the house, not only would I know about it, so would the entire neighbourhood!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to drive customers to your site…and make sure they never come back

The purpose of a business website is, of course, to get people to go to the site and do something…buy a product, click on an ad, respond to a query or a poll or “comment” section…and hopefully to come back again and again to do it…again and again.

SEO—search engine optimization—is a technique designed to get the search engines (like Google) to find your site and put it at least on the first page of “hits.” How many times do you search for something and go to the fiftieth…or even the fifth…page of hits, after all? Most of us give up after page two, and a significant number of us don’t even get to page two at all!

As a result, savvy web designers do their best to optimize a site to make it show up on that critical first page. But entirely too many of them neglect, ignore, or are just ignorant of things they do to the site design that ensures customers visit only once. Typically, knowledgeable web designers pay attention to such things as load time, site navigation, site security, SEO and page design and layout. While this may seem like a comprehensive list, there are rather a few other things that need to be addressed as well, things that can drive your customers permanently around the bend and never, ever, back to your site!

Sound: sites that open with sound…especially loud sound. Not all computers are equipped with a little button or knob or wheel that can be accessed in a heartbeat to mute the blaring noise…some of us have to do something with the keyboard to access the app that reduces volume or mutes it. Meanwhile, your site keeps broadcasting deafening sound around the office, announcing to all and sundry that somebody is surfing the web on the company computer or, in the case of access from home, waking up the baby or (in my case) scaring the little dog into a barking frenzy. What do I do when I open a site and the first thing I get is noise? I click the “close” box and I never, ever come back.

“Oh, these are amateur sites!” you say. Not true. Just yesterday I went to a professional site dedicated to medical stuff and as soon as the site came up, some male voice started speaking…he was reading the text on the page! Sorry, but I can read, the voiceover was redundant, unnecessary, and annoying. Better that there was a button on the page that I could click and get sound if I wanted it.

Bad ads: all commercial (and many non-commercial) sites have ads. But like anything else, there are good ones and there are bad ones. Certain bad ads will drive me away from your site and I will never, ever come back. These include pop-ups that are designed to defeat Firefox’s pop-up controller, flashing, blinking ads…those merely annoy me, but they can actually trigger epileptic seizures in some people. If you are showing those kinds of ads on your site, I won’t stay long enough to see what you have going on and if I remember you had one of those ads, I won’t be back.

Worst, however, are mouseover ads, especially ones with hidden “close” boxes. I will not focus on the advertised product or service, I will focus on finding that close box and once I do, my mental associations with the company will all be negative…as will my associations with your site! Some mouseover ads commit the additional sin of making noise as I roll over them…that guarantees that I will not even bother to hunt for the close box, I will go straight for the kill switch on your site and never be back.

Video: Not every body has unlimited download ability. The internet is a global medium and some countries make you buy your internet access by the gig. When that is how your access is structured, you don’t do much video because downloads suck up your bandwidth. So, when I open a site expecting text and a video begins loading, I instantly close the site lest it suck down half a month’s bandwidth in a single serving!! If you must put video on your site, please do two things: 1) make it optional…“Click here to download video”; 2) supply text, either a transcript of the conversation or a description of the action on the video. That way everyone who comes to your site can participate.

Navigation: Web designers do pay attention to navigation…or so I am told. From a number of websites I’ve seen, however, they don’t pay attention from a user’s point of view. I understand that home page real estate is a valuable place for ads, but I don’t understand why those ads are more important than the convenience of your users…sacrifice that convenience and you don’t have any users to read (and click on) your ads.

As a user, I do not want to hunt all over the place to find what I am looking for. For example, when I visit a retailer’s site, one of the things I want to know is your shipping info: do you ship overseas? Do you accept foreign credit cards? People inside the US will want to know about shipping, too…they will want to know how much you charge and what their options are. And they want to know this before they place their order, before they fill up the shopping cart, before they give you their credit card info. So, why not make it easy on us and give us a clickable tab called “policies” in which you include your shipping policies? You would be amazed at how much money web designers have saved me by creating sites on which I could not find shipping information!

And don’t be cutesy and hide the buttons necessary to access the site information. You may think it is more artistic to have a fancy splash screen that would be marred by an “enter here” button, but I, as a user, don’t gave a tinker’s damn about artistic…I don’t even want to see a splash screen! I want my data and I want it now and if you impede my progress to it, I will go to another site for it and won’t come back to yours!

Flash conceits: There is a very nice home and garden furnishing company in my town and their stuff is occasionally featured in local home design magazines. I saw some fabulous outdoor lamps in one, lamps that would be perfect on my patio…so I went to their website to find out more about them. Unfortunately, their web designer fancied him/herself to be an artiste…a Flash artiste…and I never really did get to the lamps…I got tired of the techno music (which I hate anyway) and the endless overwrought “artistic” displays of the company’s products (which included no info about them!) and closed the site.

There are a lot of people who buy things over the internet. Either it is more convenient for time-impacted people or, like me, we live where certain things are not available. And we buy internationally, especially if the item is something we really want but can’t get in our location. I don’t recall if it was Hermes or Louis Vuitton now, but one of them has such a lengthy self-indulgent Flash intro to the site that I never bothered to look at the products for sale…I ran out of patience with the cheesy artistic crap that simply would not stop (and took an eternity to load) that I shut it down and moved on.

Location: it may seem obvious to the Daily Bugle that it is located in Podunk, KY, but the internet is international and it is not obvious to some Basque shepherd accessing the internet from his Blackberry high in the Pyrenees. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have discovered just exactly what I want, only to find it is in another city, another province…another country, all because the website didn’t bother to indicate where the damned thing was located. I’m reasonably intelligent, so often I can figure out by the spelling or English syntax that a site is not American, that’s not good enough. If I am accessing news sites, I want to know if your information is local or if I’m sucking up a “wire service” story that is repeated, verbatim, on 10,000 other sites. If you are a business that depends on foot traffic, like a bank or a shop or a restaurant, I want to know where you are. And I don’t want to hunt all over your site for the info, trying this tab after that tab, hoping one of them will tell me if you are located in North Carolina or North Dakota!

And if you are located in a mall or a shopping area or some kind of complex, it is not good enough to give just the name of your mall or complex. What if I am a visitor to your fair city? Do you want to capture my souvenir dollars or do you want your competitors to get them? Tea for Two, Shop 14, Warm Springs Centre, corner Warm Springs and Waterford, Fourways, Gauteng is MUCH more likely to get my business than MyTea Shoppe, Lemontree Centre, Lonehill. Even if I know where Lonehill is, I may have no idea where Lemontree Centre is and guess what…you can’t look up a shopping centre on the index of most maps. If I can’t find you, I can’t spend my money in your business!

If you are a business and you have a web page, the objective of that page is not to draw traffic, it is to make money for you. Drawing traffic is just one step in that process…once you have the traffic there, you have to make it easy for them to do what they need to do to transfer their money into your pocket, and driving people away with loud noise, annoying ads, pointless artistic exercises and dead end navigation is not going to help you do that.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Communications Breakdown

We all know how I feel about Cell C...and that I think Telkom, as bad as it is, is a better alternative for internet access.

I am beginning to rethink that...

After months of sturm und drang regarding that stupid stick and weeks of angst waiting for the Telkom ADSL line to be restored, last week it all finally came together and I had my ADSL line back! But my joy was to be short-lived.

For some reason, my ADSL line crashed and on Friday the technicians showed up...and they were clueless. Three of the four lights on the front of my wireless router were on, and the wireless was working because we were able to print wirelessly, proving that it could both receive (from the computer) a wireless signal and send (to the printer) one. And despite this, the technician declared that my wireless router was "broken" and I needed to install a Telkom router which he conveniently had in his truck...

About this time Hubby, the engineer, came home and upon his arrival the technicians stopped trying to blow smoke up my arse. They had their router in hand and plugged it in and it worked...but when Hubby demanded they plug the data line back into our router voila! magically, our router suddenly showed all four lights and in a matter of seconds, my laptop connected to the internet.

I suspect I know what was going on...if Telkom can convince the customer that the problem is caused by the customer's equipment, not the Telkom line, they get to charge you an extra fee for an "unnecessary call out." By convincing me the router was bad, not only could they sell me the router they brought with them, the could charge me an "unnecessary call out" fee. If the problem was in their line...which it was because once their router worked, my router worked too...then Telkom makes no money on the visit.

Anyway, they left on Friday and for the next three days I enjoyed reasonable speeds and uninterrupted data was such a relief after months of drop outs, painfully show data speeds, and continual rebooting of that accursed stick! But, as I said, my joy was short lived...

Tuesday morning I stepped into the study and saw only two lights glowing on the router. I picked up the phone to call Telkom and the line was dead. I went all around the house, checking to make sure all the phones were properly seated, then called Hubby to make sure he had not forgotten to pay the bill. He had not, but the phone was dead anyway. Monday it was working fine, because I spoke with my contractor on the landline, but sometime during the night it died.

I'll give Telkom credit...reaching someone to report the problem was way easier than trying to reach Cell C to make a report! But like Cell C, unless you were calling from their own phone system, you couldn't make the call without charge. How stupid is that?? Oh, both systems provide toll-free calling to report faults, but in both cases you must be calling from their system...and if your phone that it on their system is the one that is dead, just how are you supposed to call them using their system??

What I found to be even more moronic was Telkom's suggestion that we report faults using their website. Sorry, guys, but that is just plain illogical. If my line is dead it means my ADSL is dead too...just how do you expect me to access your website when I can't get onto the internet because your system has crashed and left me without access??

I managed to get through to a person to report the fault and she said she would SMS me a reference number. She didn't. All day Tuesday I was without a phone or ADSL. The line was not dead as in "open air" sound but no dial tone, it was dead as in "did somebody cut the phone lines or unplug this handset?" Between us, Hubby and I called several times, trying to either get a reference number or some information as to the nature of the fault and estimated duration.

Although it wasn't difficult to get to a technician, getting one who had even a clue was very difficult. In one case, I got a woman who actually asked me if my phone was plugged into the wall...this is after the fault had been logged and I was calling the number you are supposed to use to check on the progress of your report! When I said "of course it is plugged into the wall...where else would I plug it?" she transferred me to someone who told me I needed to call 10212 (fault reporting line). I told her I had called 10212 and that was how I ended up speaking with her...and she repeated herself! I'm sorry, it is not my fault that the last dimbulb I spoke with transferred me to the wrong extension, but did she really think, knowing my phone was dead and I was probably talking to her on a cell phone, that I needed to start the expensive cell-phone minute chewing process all over again? Apparently she did, as she transferred me to 10212 and I had to start the process all over again! On Tuesday, the best we could eventually get was "your report is in the queue and it will be handled."

So, I asked Hubby how long to wait before we called again...he said "Give 'em two days." And so, yesterday morning at about 11, I girded my loins and called again. This time I actually managed to get someone who not only had a brain, she was quite apparently familiar with its operation! She checked my phone line, did a little research on her computer, then came back to tell me that I was not alone, that quite a few people in my area were reporting the same thing. "When will it be fixed?" I asked. She didn't have an answer.

"Well," I said, "since more than one person in my area has the same problem, shouldn't this be a higher priority for you?" She pondered this for a long, silent moment, then said "I will escalate this for you." And escalate it she 3 yesterday aftenoon, phones and ADSL was back on and working perfectly. And when I got up this morning, it was working perfectly still!

I wish I could close this tale with a triumphant, upbeat ending, but this is South Africa and, despite our position as the richest, most technologically advanced nation on the continent, our communications industry is shameful. And, sure enough, by 9 this morning my email refused to send a mail and when I looked to the router, saw only two lights glowing. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I picked up the phone, only to find it just as dead as it was yesterday at this time. Back to square one...and because today is Friday and Monday is a public holiday, I don't expect to see my phone or ADSL active for at least a week.

The locals call the company "Helkom" for a reason...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Cell C lame it's almost funny!

Yesterday I received a comment on my post "Dear Cell C" that was supposedly from the CEO of the company. I dunno if it was really him or a person with a sick sense of humour, but it doesn't matter since I was unable to respond to LPR's offer to help me because LPR didn't bother to leave me a number, email address, or other means to send him my contact details. In case you don't already know, leaving a comment on a blog in no way enables the blogger to contact you back, especially if your own profile is private and the blogger get can't into it to send you a message back!

Then, this morning, I got an email from Cell C's Customer (dis)Service saying...and I quote..."kindly contact up on 140 fro more information on your speed stick." It was followed by a link entitled "Disclaimer."

OK, I wasn't born yesterday and the dismal spelling and (lack of) capitalization put me in mind of a phishing scam. Add to that the fact that dialing "140" on the cell phone got me to a recording that told me there was no such number. I am actually hoping that this email was a phishing scam or some lame attempt at a hoax because if that email really did come from Cell C, the company is even more hopeless than I thought.

Meanwhile, I have been without landline service since Tuesday morning...Telkom tells me this morning that I am not the only one in my area reporting trouble. Ummm...okay...then shouldn't that make this a higher priority than just one lone person calling up to report a line fault? The technician agreed to "escalate" the report, whatever that means. But for the short term, I have no land line, which means no phones, no fax, no ADSL, and this miserable stick...which works capriciously at my only link to the net.

I love South Africa, but if American telecom companies worked like the local companies, there would be some serious head rolling going on!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Will ya still need me, will ya still feed me...

Yesterday I was 64.

Hard to believe, since at one point in my life I seriously doubted I would live past 30.

Even harder to believe that only two siblings (I have six), one of my kids (I have three) and none of my grandkids (I have two adult ones) wished me a Happy Birthday, although I received more than 25 wishes from friends scattered across the globe.

But I have lived past 30...and 40...and 50 and 60, but it makes me pensive. It makes me think about the people I have loved in my life, the people I would have given my life to shelter and protect...and it makes me wonder: if I knew this would be the outcome, if I knew this would be the result, would I have done it? Would I have given up as much, worked as hard, sacrificed as much, willingly subjected myself to the many heartaches that came with my life, if I knew that at 64, I would essentially be forgotten, written off, ignored?

I probably would have, because that is what you do when you love someone. Even if I knew what was in store, I probably would not have let myself believe it and continued down the same road, given up the same things, repeatedly offered my heart and my trust and my faith...because that it what you do when you love.

But McCartney asked a very prophetic question and in the case of my family the answer, obviously, is mostly "no."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why I don't FREECYCLE anymore

When I lived in California, as I cleaned out 20+ years of accumulated stuff in preparation to move to South Africa, I Freecycled...a lot.

Freecycle is an international Yahoo group dedicated to keeping stuff out of the landfills by giving it away to people who can use it. The various Freecycle organizations act as a clearinghouse: those with stuff to get rid of, advertise it for free and those who want it, come get it. Also, those who need stuff can advertise...also for free. It's a win-win situation, especially for the landfills.

Between garage sales, eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle, I managed to clean out a cluttered house in record time and with minimal impact to the landfills. It was so successful that when I got settled in Cape Town, I joined the local Freecycle group. Sure enough...when I was packing to move from Cape Town to Johannesburg five years later, Freecycle came to the rescue again. I advertised a "pick up load of miscellaneous computer stuff, including a G3 Mac" and the phone rang off the hook!!

So, one would expect even better from Johannesburg, right? It is bigger, busier, stingier...all the things that make a "free stuff" website appealing, right?


When I first tried to join the Joburg group the moderator didn't bother to admit me, decline my membership request, or even respond to my emails. Eventually, after I contacted the HQ of the group, the individual got back to me and processed my membership. But this was a harbinger of things to come.

My husband is diabetic and one day at the pharmacy his pharmacist gave him a brand new glucose test kit. The manufacturer was giving them away to selected patients as a promo, and Hubby was selected. After opening the box, examining the machine and reading the literature, he decided he didn't want it and gave it to me to Freecycle. For WEEKS after I submitted my ad, I waited for it to show up on the site. Eventually it did, but the response was disappointingly low.

I began to realize that months...literally months...go by without my seeing a Freecycle ad show up in my mailbox. So few people use the site that it takes weeks to get enough ads to put up a digest of half a dozen items. It took a while for me realize what apparently everybody else around here already knew: the Freecycle site is poorly attended, not because there aren't any interested parties, but because the management of the site is so inattentive that it might as well not exist.

You see, there is another free site here, Gumtree. You can buy and sell stuff, rent apartments, find jobs...kind of a latter-day Craigslist. And, there is a section for free stuff...and people post there. Free stuff changes hands in Johannesburg, it just doesn't do it through Freecycle.

So, today I have a lot of plants to give away. Nice plants dug out of my overgrown garden. The first place I though of was Freecycle, but based on previous experiences with the local group, these plants will long be compost before the ad even appears on the site! So I posted the ad on to me, free to the takers, no Rip van Freecycle to deal with.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Adventures with Telkom

So, Hubby, tired of listening to me moan about that accursed Cell C stick, calls up to get Telkom's ADSL line reinstalled.

After a few days, I get a call from Telkom confirming Hubby's call and confirming the order...except that they have the order wrong. I correct them, they acknowledge.

Monday, the ADSL line is functioning...for about 3 hours. Then it is back to the stick while Hubby calls Telkom to report the line has gone down.

After a few days, Telkom calls to tell him that the technicians will be out Friday (today) at 4:30 to see what is wrong with the line.

At 8 this morning Telkom calls to confirm the technician are coming out: "You want to convert your ADSL line to regular phone lines?" the caller asks me. "No," I say, "I want my ADSL line to work," I tell him. "Oh!" he says, surprise in his voice. "Your line is not working?" He then tells me the technicians will be here at 10 this morning.

At 8:30 my phone rings...the technicians are outside, "testing" my phone line. "There's nothing wrong with my phone," I tell them. "My ADSL line is not working."

A few minutes later they are at the door and after seeing my wireless router, I am asked if I asked for "wireless" when I signed up for the new ADSL line. "I don't need to do that," I told them. "I have used this router in three houses in two cities and NEVER had to sign up for just put an ADSL line into the router and it makes the wireless signal."

He appears unconvinced. Taking the router down from its lofty perch he examines it. "Where is your ethernet cable?" he asks.

"Huh?" I respond. "This is wireless, it doesn't use an ethernet cable."

He sends his partner out to their truck to bring in their own wireless router which, when plugged in, shows the four lights necessary for connection...mine had only been showing three."

"Your router is broken!" he tells me.

"It was working just fine earlier in the had all four lights and I had an ADSL connection, then suddenly the ADSL line was dead."

By this time my husband, the engineer, has come home. They cannot blow smoke up his arse because he knows more about this than they do. "There is nothing wrong with the router," he tells them. "The wireless is working just fine...we can print to the wireless printer using it...the problem is your ADSL line."

The techs are not convinced. I leave the room so Hubby and the techs can talk jargon and try to convince each other that the other party is wrong. Eventually the techs call their office on the landline, have the person at the other end synchronize something, plug my router back into the ADSL line and voila! all four lights come flashing on!

My router is fine, just as Hubby said, but the technician is not convinced. He then unplugs the ADSL line to see which light goes off on the router...he is sure my router is faulty, despite the evidence that was before his very eyes!

Eventually, Hubby convinces him that the router is fine, and now they have fixed the ADSL line so everything is working. He escorts them to the front door and goes back to his office, thankfully only five minutes away.

Amazingly, this fiasco...which ended in preferable to the ridiculousness of the Cell C experience because at least I can reach someone on Telkom's phone and eventually someone comes out to fix the problem. Three months with Cell C and the problems were never resolved...

I know how weird it sounds, but I am actually glad to be back in the clutches of Telkom for my internet connection!!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Dear Cell C

I have two of your "speed sticks," a white one and a black one. I have had them since December. I HATE them. HATE HATE HATE them. I hate them so much that next week I am going back to Helkom and their ADSL.

I put up a blog entry in December, a week after I got these pieces of crap, complaining about them. That blog entry has had more than 30 responses, and all of them hate this nasty little stick too. You've already seen the blog entry. You've already contacted me about it. Your "fix" was to make promises that were never fulfilled. I am not the only person who has had this experience with your customer dis-service organization, either...see the blog.

Do you realize you are engaging false advertising? This stick does NOT work as advertised...and neither does your customer service. When I call the 084140 number, the prompt asks for my Cell C telephone number---I do not have one and, considering the dismal performance of this horrid little stick, do you honestly think I would be stupid enough to get a cell phone that works on this miserable excuse for a network?? OK, eventually bright spark in your organization got an idea and added a prompt for people who are too smart to get one of your phones...but stupid enough to believe your false advertising and get one of your sticks. When I press the prompt designed for such people I am transferred to 30 seconds of dead air space, after which the line disconnects. can maintain a fiction inside the organization that your stupid stick is as wonderful as you advertise it to be because you PREVENT COMPLAINING CUSTOMERS FROM REACHING THE SERVICE ORGANIZATION.

Last week I had a four hour drop out...the light on the stick said it was connected but no data flowed. I rebooted everything except my feet, but it just sat there, plugged into my laptop, winking from one colour to another in its slobbering stupidity. Because I had URGENT business to transact that REQUIRED an internet connection, my poor husband had to leave work, pick up the data from me on a thumb drive, then drive back to his office and send the necessary stuff from his work computer...using his employer's bandwidth because MINE WAS INACCESSIBLE.

Yesterday this piece of (expletive deleted) shut itself off twice...yup, just shut itself light blinking on the stick or anything. Today I am experiencing data transfer so excruciatingly slow I actually went out to the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea and when I got back to the computer it STILL had not connected to the website I needed!! I have had to reboot the stick four times in the last five hours just to keep that excruciatingly slow trickle of data flowing.

You people should be ashamed...abjectly, red-faced, head-hanging ashamed...for not only putting a product this bad into the marketplace but for your baldfaced lies about it in your advertising and your cleverly constructed telephone labyrinth that keeps complaining customers at bay. You should be further ashamed of making token passes at customer service, like calling me up and promising the problem will be referred to technical support and someone from there will call me...I've been waiting for TWO MONTHS for that hasn't happened yet!

What I do get is operators on your main line who, after hearing that I cannot use 084140 because I don't have a Cell C phone, put me through to it anyway. Or they transfer me to a supervisor who doesn't answer his/her phone. On the rare occasion I have managed to reach someone marginally technical, I have literally had to make a dozen or more phone calls and waste 90 minutes or MORE, just in the attempt to reach someone who MIGHT be able to help me.

I hate this thing. I truly, honestly, from the bottom of my heart, hate this thing. It doesn't do what what you say it does...not even once in a while. And your company's obtuseness when it comes to providing customer service just exacerbates the problem. But most of all, I hate that with your on-going advertising campaign of lies, you keep sucking in more and more of the unsuspecting, people who end up on my blog...sometimes within HOURS of purchase!...who are just as unhappy and disappointed with it as I am.

It would be very nice if someone from your organization who actually has the power to change things would contact me in response to this email. If all you can muster, however, is some little drone who can only send me scripted replies/links (like your telephone operators and the customer service people who have contacted me in the past) then please do not waste your time or mine. If you cannot hook me up with someone who actually has the authority to FIX things, then just send me a note with the procedure I need to follow to return these turkeys and get my money back.

Sincerely (and I MEAN that)

Sweet Violet