Thursday, April 14, 2011

Evolution of the Web, If You Don't Adapt, You Still Survive

Just a quick rant for this evening...  Checking my Google Adsense stats for the month and noticed that one of my sites wasn't producing much revenue. The site in question is a client's site that is partially ad-supported. I've received basically no revenue from this site within the past two weeks via Adsense. So I did a search on Google for the site.  It's there, indexed and loading fine.

However, it's as ugly as fuck. The client hasn't updated it in awhile, but that's beside the point. When this client signed on, I can remember designing a killer kick-ass site in all html (this was about 6 years ago). It was pretty, functional, simple and direct. The client previewed the site and said that they liked Microsoft Word Art...................fuck. They also had several other "design modifications" that they wanted to make.

So basically they took all my work and ended up throwing it all out except the cool Mid-century background. Fast-forward to 2011, and it sucks royally. It looks like something that the Wayback Machine puked out and then took a shit in a pile of its own vomit. Buuuuttttt, the clients like it and are happy, so all is well.

Technology moves fast. Evolution moves slow. Technological evolution moves at warp speed. Try not to get stuck in 2005. It seems like yesterday, but where the internet is concerned, it might-as-well be 1868.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Facebook Ads, I'd Buy That for a Dollar....To Wipe My Ass With

Ugh...Facebook. I'm not shy about my disdain for the site. It's the biggest social engineering feat ever; congrats to Mark Z. and crew for that anyway. But as far as functionality and usability go, Facebook is like eBay in the dark days or Twitter during an Iran Green Day.

While flipping through the latest edition of Entrepreneur Magazine, I found a full page double-sided ad for Facebook, offering $50 worth of free ads. Being bored while updating one of my Facebook accounts, I decided (unwisely) to try the ads and redeem the coupon. What could it hurt?

I applied the coupon to an account that was linked to a page that was linked to a site that sells a certain type of nostalgic item. The "suggested" bid per click was a mere $2.51 cents. Yeah, two and a half bucks to have an ad on Facebook, that links back to my Facebook page where my "fans" have the opportunity to click the F*ing thumbs-up button when I post something about my site. If they are really smart and advanced, they can find the link to my website and click through to it, where they can browse and maybe find something they like, and possibly purchase something.

Only $2.51 per click? What a deal!

I saw Frosted Mini Wheat ads today on Facebook. Who cares? Really, when I'm out of cereal, I go to the store and buy the kind that I like, bring it home and eat it. Do I really ever need to, or even feel a desire to click on an ad for cereal that takes me to that cereal's official Facebook page....where I can read comments about the cereal and become a fan of a staple with some type of white sugar-like coating?

Anyway, I could rant for, well, several more minutes about how stupid that is, but...

So I signed up for my $50 worth of free ads on Facebook.  Since starting the process, I've encountered no less than 10 freakin' errors along the way. Sure, I made it through, my ads were approved (I bid 2¢ opposed to the $2.51 suggested - we'll see how that turns out), and they seem to be working, but I'm still getting errors every other thing that I click. Perhaps I need to clear my cookies and cache (a classic old eBay CS rep suggestion). Or perhaps Facebook just sucks.

Now I realize that nothing is completely foolproof, but when your company is valued at $8 billion, you'd think that at least they could get the revenue producing portions of the site to function with less than 5 or 6 errors. When my brother-in-law wants to complain about his shitty job, everything seems to work fine - I get his status updates. When my cousin posts that she ate a cheese sandwich and took a big dump - I get her status updates just fine...

Like the existence of God or the Hicks boson, you could argue all day about the benefits of Facebook, but as long as it keeps lobbing errors at my browser, I'm still going to rant about it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Everybody Hates Their Job

I recently overheard one employee telling another how much they hated their job and I found this picture at to be quite appropriate. Everybody hates their job - to some degree. Those who say they love their jobs are either bored and their job is the only interesting thing in their lives or they know they are getting paid much much more than they deserve.

Everybody has something they'd rather do than work. I'm my own boss and picked my line of work, and I still have dozens of things that I would rather do than work. But the generation of kids graduating high school right now seem to have a higher than normal hatred of work. After spending 30 hours a week in school for 13 years (the rest spent playing xbox and texting apparently) they somehow seem to think that they should be able to find a job for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year that is going to pay them assloads of money, while being an orgasm-a-minute fun, never be boring and provide them with entertainment during the workday.

That isn't how the real world works.

I place a large portion of the blame for this mentality on the education system in the US. Teachers have had 13 years to indoctrinate these kids with the sheer fact that work sucks and the reality that they will need to work the rest of their lives, but still they graduate and enter the workforce with this delusional attitude that simply because they are high school graduates they will find a good paying job and love it. Lower expectations from the beginning would result in much higher job satisfaction for these uneducated, unskilled would-be workers.

It's too bad that the role models (whether they like it or not) of students are teachers, who are happier than most with their employment status and job details in general. Students see teachers making pretty good salaries with ironclad job security where they only have to know a limited range of memorized facts, which they relay to students for less than 2/3 of the year with weeks of vacation and sick days (not to mention short work days). 

"Mr. Smith seems to really like his job and he's got to deal with a room full of assholes like us....gee, working must not be that bad."

Then comes the real world where you don't get paid sabbaticals or vacation days or $50,000 per year for working 180 seven hour days. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Online Store Makes Customers Sign Agreement About Reviews

Today has a piece about an online appliance store requiring customers to sign an agreement concerning their possible reviews of their products and services. The site apparently threatens libel suits if the company does not like a review left by a customer. There's a whole lot wrong with this, from legality to the shear stupidity of it all, but the site owner has the right idea, or at least a legitimate gripe about online reviews. There are a whole array of online review sites, methods and companies and each payment processor and online shopping mall has their own set of reviews - none of which are perfect, and all rely on customers' experiences.

The most glaring example of review stupidity is the way eBay ran their feedback system, which is only eclipsed by the way they now run their feedback system. Offering a positive, negative and neutral rating would have been fine, but assigning a negative rating to the equation for feedback rating while requiring sellers to maintain 97%+ leads buyers to be less than truthful. And sellers could previously rate the buyer, but no longer. Now the seller is at the mercy of anyone who clicks the Buy It Now button, whether they pay for the product or not.

Sites using Google Checkout as a processor are often greeted with poor reviews, some of which are directed at the Checkout process itself rather than the actual retailer. Also, like other feedback/rating systems, Google sends out a questionnaire via email to the customer. In the case of services offered online, this questionnaire is sent out much to early for some services to be completed, thus resulting in poor "I haven't received what I paid for yet!"

The major issue with reviews is that the intelligent customer who is reading them, must parse together an opinion of a company based on other intelligent customers as well as the brain dead ones that lack any sign of common sense. Usually the bad ones are easy to pick out, they are obviously vile, or irrelevant to the products/services offered, or place blame on the etailer for obvious customer ignorance. But a customer who just quickly checks review stars or percentages may be influenced by low stars or ratings without actually reading the reviews. If the site in question sells and delivers a Maytag washer that breaks, is it really the fault of the company? No. The rating should not be based on the product, but rather the sales transaction, experience, and how the etailer deals with issues that might arise (like a washer that breaks).

Of the numerous sites that I manage, one of them (only one) offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee that says we will replace an item for virtually any reason (house burnt down, product inside, covered) and if a replacement is not available, and cannot be found, we will refund the customer.  Still, this site gets more poor reviews than any of our other sites. Somebody buys a CD and for reasons unknown it doesn't play a movie when they put it in their Blue Ray player....imagine that! So we get a bad review. Others will order a product that doesn't work, instead of calling or emailing (which would have resulted in a replacement being sent out at no cost without having to return the defective item) they just do nothing, lose their money, and post a poor review.

The problem got so big with this particular site that we amended our guarantee with a line that says that the guarantee is void if customer leaves a poor review. Is it enforceable? Not with our current software, but a few years down the road with millions of dollars worth of product sold, we can not afford and have no desire to honor a guarantee that is so ironclad that a poor review should never occur. I would have no problem replacing something even if the customer is at fault for ordering the wrong product or broke the product, even with a mediocre review (say 3 of 5 stars), but when they leave a 1 star and a comment such as "This company is awful, product broke, they rape kittens," I feel that they really don't deserve the guarantee.

And yes, we do get people occasionally who leave a scathing review for a product that is 100% replaceable at no expense to the customer, and then contact us wanting to take advantage of the guarantee. But there is no method on most review sites for the customer to go back and change or add to their review. Customer may be mentally handicapped, order wrong product, leave bad review, we accommodate them, they get right product, are happy, but still that review will live on forever.

Would I like to have a written agreement that all customers must read and sign prior to purchases? Sure, if it would work, but it won't. Customers would read it about as closely as they read the user agreement for a Google product. (One of our former employees is locked into a year long contract at $20 per month because she didn't read a user agreement). I understand the appliance store owner's frustration, but for lack of being able to come up with a universal rating and review system that is able to be edited to show how poor reviews where responded to by companies, you can't just threaten to sue people. Even if they are stupid

Friday, February 11, 2011

Employee Quits Job to "Fuck the Government" - Part 2

This story is part 2 in the continuing saga, here's the first part.

In our last installment of venting, I told you about an employee who quit her job to "fuck the government." Well, now I have an update after speaking with her when she came to pick up her last check. If not entertaining, then this story can serve as a warning to any would-be morons out there who have ever thought about pulling this trick.

So she gathered up her bills and went to the assistance office to try to get them to pay her three months of back rent, for which she is being evicted in two weeks. Keep in mind that I'm not making this up. She was told to drop the papers off. She did. She called later to check her progress.

Her (to worker at assistance office): Hi, I just quit my job so that you guys would pay my rent.
Assistance worker: What?
Her: I couldn't pay my rent, so I quit my job.
Assistance worker: Please hold. (does not put her on hold, just hold phone away from her face and says loudly to the other workers in the office...) Hey guys, this woman just said she quit her job so that welfare would pay for her apartment. [laughter erupts]
Her: Well you wouldn't pay my rent or give me money because I made too much at work, so I quit so I don't make that much money anymore.
Assistance Worker: Seriously?
Her: Yeah, in this economy, it's easier to not work and just get on welfare.

The welfare office refused her claim. In fact, they sanctioned her. Sanctioned, as in pulled all financial aid of any kind from her. No more food stamps, no more medical card, no more subsidized housing. It wasn't clear yet whether she would lose her son's disability check or not.

Now obviously this poses a problem for her. No job, no income, no assistance, and her son has a genetic disease that requires hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical care. She called back to the assistance office begging them not to take what benefits she had. The assistance worker repeated the conversation and told her basically that she was trying to commit fraud by quitting a job because it would be easier to just get welfare. So she went into that mode that some people go into when they try to justify things but not directly lie...obfuscation.

Assistance worker: You said, "[repeats girl's earlier comments]"
Her: That isn't what I meant.
Assistance Worker: But that's exactly what you said, it was pretty clear.
Her: Yeah, but what I meant that I needed money to pay rent because my son is sick.
Assistance Worker: With his genetic condition?
Her: Yes
Assistance Worker: Is he deteriorating?
Her: No
Assistance Worker: Is his condition manageable?
Her: Yes
Assistance Worker: Is his condition currently under control?
Her: Yes
Assistance Worker: Then that is no reason to quit a job and ask for welfare either.

I'm guessing this is when the sobbing began. When she last spoke with the assistance worker she was still sanctioned, but the assistance worker did say that she's consult with her manager about the situation - which probably means that she will entertain her boss with a stupid person story the next time she sees him/her.

And if this isn't bad enough, when she came to pick up her check and told this story, she actually had the nerve to call the assistance worker a "stupid cunt." This girl makes forced sterilizations seem like not such a bad idea after all.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

With Unemployment at 9% Employee Quits to "Fuck the Government"

She'd worked for us for a year and a half. Not the best worker by any means. Slow, unmotivated, lazy, likes to text and play on the internet. We offered her full time, she chose to be scheduled for 30 hours instead - on average would work about 24 of those hours in a week. She has a one year old baby with health problems that are manageable, but still require daily meds and monthly trips to the children's hospital.

Yesterday she got an eviction notice - 17 days to vacate her apartment. Last night she quit her job because she doesn't have any money.

Manager: Why don't you just work some more hours if you need money?
Worker: I don't want to work.
Manager: Well what are you going to do for money, if you can't pay your bills now?
Worker: I'm going to fuck the government.

Now when she says "fuck the government," I'm assuming that she meant that she would try to get welfare. Maybe it could me that she's going to start whoring herself out to government employees? God only knows with her.

Currently, this individual receives a $700 per month SSI disability check for her son, who has a genetic disease (he's functional and otherwise healthy both physically and mentally, and the condition is manageable). In addition to SSI she also receives food stamps, WIC, subsidized housing, medical card and has taken advantage of cash payouts numerous times (for back rent, to fix her car, etc.).  She also hits up local charities any time she can (food bank, church charities, toys for tots, etc.).

She is everything that is wrong with the welfare system today. She is almost $1000 behind on the rent for her subsidized apartment, which she shares with her live-in boyfriend (which is against the rules in the government housing projects) despite having a job and getting a monthly check.

Keep in mind that this employee was offered a full time position, but chooses to work less. She's 21 and single, perfectly healthy and capable and working. Our company offers full-time employees three raises based on attendance, and after that the raises are performance based. She only ever made the first raise, which was for working a full 40 hour week. The second raise comes after two consecutive 40 hour weeks with no call-offs. This proved to be a hurdle that she could not clear in over a year and a half.

She is exactly the type of person that Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity describes when they rant about big government and welfare states. Instead of using these programs as a temporary crutch, this girl tries to use them as a power wheelchair. It isn't the system that's broken, it's the people in the system. I believe that a lot of today's problems like this stem from the horrendous educational system in the US. Recent high school graduates should be ready to be productive members of society, instead many seem dead set on becoming a drain.

Oh well. I'm just wondering if she thinks she's going to be able to get unemployment after quitting.

Update: There's now more to the continuing saga here.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Does Anyone Ever Read Anything When Buying Online!?!?

A few weeks ago, a customer calls concerning a couple of products that they purchased from one of our online stores. The items were parts that did not fit. She wanted to exchange to parts for others of different sizes....even said she'd pay for the shipping. Cool. That particular site has a strict no returns policy, but I was willing to let it slide since she was making an upgrade, paying the difference and shipping both ways.

So now today I get an email from this customer....her replacement parts did not fit. She wants to return them and wants us to credit her credit card. WTF? For a bit of background, the site has a no return policy. Why? Because we basically got tired of dealing with this type of shit. Many of the products are old stock parts for specific types of toys. They made tons of different sizes, and it is impossible for us to know what size a customer needs, partly because many of these toys didn't have specific model names and have numerous sizes of each model.

We tried at first to help the customer by telling them what size of parts they'd need, but that didn't work - too hard to tell over the phone or email (even with pictures) what size was needed. Then we tried to have customer measure the toys and we'd suggest the appropriate size of part. That didn't work, because apparently most people have forgotten how to measure, either that, or there are a lot of elementary school dropouts running around. So tired of taking returns because some clod was too stupid to measure their widget correctly, we instituted a no returns policy. During the checkout process we highlight this policy on no less than two pages with bright red letters in the shopping cart, directly above the product (the rest of the page is black & white).

Still, we get requests for returns. This lady has wasted at least 2 man hours with her questions, orders, questions, reorders, questions, returns, etc. And for what? A $40 order....that she now wants refunded. My head is going to explode.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I Dislike Huge Winter Storms - I Hate the Weather Channel More

Winter storms suck. They make a mess, they're cold, the make it hard to drive...etc. But I hate the weather channel more! Sure it's crappy outside, and maybe somewhere there are stranded motorists whose cars have frozen into the road and are slowly icing over, making them coffins for their owners who dared brave the precipitation....but not here.

The Weather Channel's website posted apocalyptic graphics and images and referred to this storm as nothing less than the end of the world as we know it. Sooo...I have no employees today. Never mind that it has only snowed about 1-2 inches at most, and that the roads aren't icy, that doesn't matter. " says we're all gonna die, I wanna be at home with my family if we're gonna die."  Tomorrow isn't supposed to be better either, in fact tomorrow is when the rest of the survivors from today will die of exposure or collapsing roofs...or whatever. Fact is, everyone is going to die in the northeast either today or tomorrow because of the weather, and nobody wants to work on their last day on the planet.

I just hope that if my employees somehow make it through the next two days, that our accountant does as well. I'd hate for the paychecks to be stranded in a snowbank under an avalanche of ice and snow. Every time we get a bad forecast that assures that workers will call off, I wish the storm had happened on a Friday, because I'm sure they'd make it in to work even if they had to wear snowshoes and walk 12 miles in an ice storm, just to make sure they got their checks.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Harvard Business Review Says to Think at Work to Increase Productivity

From the Harvard Business Review: "...when you sit down at your desk in the morning, pause before your turn on your computer or pick up the phone. Take a deep breath and give thought to what you are about to do. You may find this focus helps you accomplish tasks more carefully and productively."

That's advice from one of the foremost business schools in the world "give thought to what you are about to do." Have we as as species devolved so much that the smartest among us must tell the rest of us that we need to think in order to do our work?

The quote above was taken from Reuters website and adapted from Peter Bregman's The Value of Ritual in Your Workday, which isn't a study, but just an article not much longer than the Reuters tip-o-the-day. Bregman had an epiphany while watching The Last Samurai (the second time), so perhaps I will try to institute some rituals into my day. Rituals that don't include stopping, taking a deep breath, and thinking about reasons not to shoot myself in the face as I watch one of the employees do something that will ultimately cost far more than they are worth. And perhaps I can get my employees to do something ritualistic that result in better productivity and less all-around stupidity.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

I Opened an eBay Dispute - Just to Be a Dick

The other day I ordered a lot of items on eBay...reluctantly.  I needed something.  I didn't want to pay anywhere retail, and I figured the chance that I'd have to deal with some idiot eBay seller was worth the huge savings that I'd get by shopping there.

Ordered item.  Received item in timely manner. Opened box. On top was a stack of newspapers about 1-2 inches thick, not balled up, just a stack of newspapers thrown in to fill the last 2 inches.

Two of the items had obvious damage - damage that was not described. Everything was covered in about 20 years of dust and grime. The items look like they could have been salvaged from the Got Junk trucks after a filming of an episode of Animal Hoarders. And to top it all off, the seller paid postage and printed a label for a large flat rate box, but shipped the items in a #7 priority box (which is larger, and cannot be shipped via flat rate).

Annoyed, I emailed the seller. He emails back and says that I should have read the description [I had read it] and was passive aggressive and offered no type of apology. This lot of items would retail for well over $200. I paid $30, including shipping, so it wasn't a money thing, more of a principle thing.

As I was typing, seller responded to the case. Defiant and rude. Dude, if I escalate this case, you're gonna be out of your items, the $15 I paid for the item, the $15 you paid for shipping and your eBay and Paypal fees...learn to compromise and apologize.  At least he could do is fake a bit of sincerity for the sake of customer service and to not lose $30+.

Ah, gotta love eBay.

How to Center Google Adsense Gadget in Blogger

OK, a note to futre self, who won't remember this and to anyone who has ever asked the question: How do I center my Google Adsense ads in blogger when created with a gadget in a Blogger template?

1. Choose 'Design' tab.
2. Click 'Edit html'
3. Click check-box above code (expand widget templates)
4. Find the following code (ctrl-F and search for "adsense" until you find something similar):
5: Your code will look something like the above code, except for the align='center' bit, it won't be there, so add it like pictured.  This should center your adds in your template.

Best Reason of the Week to Call Off Work

As an employer, you've heard every excuse under the sun why an employees NEEDS the day off or just can't make it in.  The best reason I head this week comes from one of our employees who has been around for a while. It went something like this:

"I don't think I can make it in today. My boyfriend came home drunk last night and was falling down and breaking stuff.  When I told him to leave, he started smashing shit and woke up the baby. I had to call the cops. So I didn't get any sleep. it's snowing really bad outside and I don't know if I can make it there. I think I will just get some sleep and then work from home."

Said employee lives 10 miles from work in next town.  She was seen later that day in town, driving to meet someone.  Then later in the day she did a Facebook update from another town 20 miles away. To be fair, she did log-in for about an hour from home that evening.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Employer Fined $4000 for Looking at Email Accounts of Employees

Techdirt alerts us to a story about an employer who was fined $4000 for snooping through an employee's email, not company email, but a personal email. The email was able to be accessed because the former employees (one of whom was fired, the other quit) saved their passwords on the company's computer. Stupid employees. Stupid judicial system.  These employees should owe the employer $4000 for the wages they were paid while playing on their personal email on his time!
      As social networking continues to gain popularity and the masses become computer literate and workplaces become more reliant on computers and online services, this type of situation will become more prevalent. There have been numerous stories about worker's online exploits during work that have resulted in the courts siding with the worker.
      What is disturbing is that in order to check on employees that you suspect are off task and abusing the internet, you have to look at what they are doing.  Should you need a court order to open a worker's web history and view their activities?
      We recently had to terminate an employee who abused the internet. Other managers and I would catch the employee on sites that were off-limits except during breaks. He was told repeatedly about his usage of email, Facebook, forums, etc. Still he visited them on an hourly basis.  One day he visited 260 pages that were non-work related in one shift. After his shift our IT person blocked certain sites from his workstation (including Facebook, his online email provider, etc.).  The next day he used proxy sites to gain access to Facebook, where he proceeded to post negative remarks about work. So after his shift, IT blocked over 200 proxy sites. The next day he found even more proxies. This went on for three days until he was finally terminated.
      And then there's the issue of these idiots staying signed in to their email and Facebook. Nobody in their right mind should save any passwords at work, especially on a shared computer, but still they do. The workers who come in for second shift started checking Facebook (among other sites) to see if the person from the last shift had stayed logged in. So when they find that they can access the other worker's accounts, more time gets wasted, and then they start to banter back and forth about what stupidity was posted and it becomes a contest to see who can waste the most time.
       Sure, we could block everything except our company's websites, but there is a lot of research that goes into many jobs here, therefore there is a need to have pretty broad access to the internet. Needless to say, today we implemented a policy where the employees are not allowed to access certain sites and have added a clause to our company rules that allow access to workers' web history and access to pages visited, including password protected pages, provided that the password is saved on the machine and/or the worker is still logged in.

Does Visiting a Website Entitle You to Free Information?

Why is it that so many people think that just because a website exists, they should get unfettered access to the minds behind the website? Or is it that these people actually don't realize that websites are run by humans - perhaps they think that websites are some type sentient beings put on earth by God to help the stupid navigate through life.

The usual format of questions from people seeking info goes something like this: [No greeting] "I have this antique that was my grandma's.  It looks like a duck without a head, wings, feet or tail, but is pink and I'm sure it is made of gold. What's it worth? [no thanks, just signed] Mr. Stupidwebvisitor" [no photo attached]

This happens on a daily basis, a friggin' hourly basis! What makes you think that I want to provide you with free information that took me years of education, trial and error and hard knocks (oh and don't forget reading hundreds of books) to learn?   ...and for free! The hundreds of thousands of products in my online inventory didn't get there by themselves and there is no free database of antique descriptions that I can use to describe the item and categorize it. No, that stuff I had to learn on my own, or pay employees to do it for me.

Perhaps it is I, who is the stupid one. Perhaps that next time I have a leaking pipe, I should go to the first plumbing website I find and send them an email describing my problem, without a picture, and ask them to help me. Or go find the first doctors website that I find and email a list of symptoms and demand a diagnosis. If you thought to yourself about either example, "Hmm, that's a good idea!" you should be dragged through the streets by your ears. You wouldn't open up the yellow pages and start calling retail businesses or service providers looking for free information, so why do so many people feel it's OK to do so online?

While I'm ranting on the subject.... What's up with seems like a lot of these people being unable to ask an actual question? I've gotten to the point where I just ignore most questions looking for free info, but I most certainly ignore any question that, well, isn't a question. It seems that half the world missed the three week period in second grade where they covered sentence types, specifically interrogative sentences.

This is the basic structure for many o' questions: "Hi. I have (something). It has (lame description that could describe anything from a turd to a FabergĂ© egg). (signed with a first name)." Statements are not questions! Therefore they should not require a response. If all webmasters out there implemented a policy not to respond to statements, maybe these people would eventually get it.