Wednesday, August 16, 2023


 Here's a fun excerpt of a chat with Verizon customer service, after they screwed up my phone upgrade order, not once but twice.  The initial upgrade order was handled by a rep over chat (NOT RECOMMENDED).  I stated that I really needed it overnight, but they shipped it Economy 2-5 day.  So I figured, no big deal, I'll just get back on with them and have them fix it, right?  I got on again (new rep this time) and explained what happened and that I REALLY needed this order next day.  They said they would take care of it, cancelled my order, AND THAT WAS IT.  Days later, it still shows that an order is shipping, and it won't let me do anything. I'm wondering where the hell my phone is, and the tracking info shows that it was returned to sender. So I got on with a new rep, and here's the conversation. I would change the name of the rep to protect the innocent, but you know as well as I do they use fake names anyway.

Verizon Agent
Cheerful day!! You are now connected to a live person. Welcome to VERIZON
POSTPAID MESSAGING! This is Lumiere, your best and compassionate representative for today! I saw you reaching out about order status. Before we proceed, may I be aware of whom do I have the pleasure of chatting with today? 🙏Ÿ™

Scott McGrath

Verizon Agent
It's my honor to meet you here in Messaging Scott! How are you doing today and how can I help you make your day better? Ÿ🙏

I am trying to establish the status of my new phone order. I ordered it from Verizon on Monday, paid extra for overnight and It is supposed to arrive today

Verizon Agent
I felt your eagerness in waiting for your order Scott, no worries as I am here to help you! Sounds good? 😉

Verizon Agent
If yes, would you mind giving me the order number and location code? 😊

Are you able to review my chat with representatives on Monday? Here's what happened: The first rep I talked to ordered it "Economy 2-5 days" even though I asked them to get it to me as fast as possible. I didn't notice until after the chat ended, so I opened a new chat and got a different rep. The rep told me that they would have to cancel the first order and create a new shipment in order to change the shipping to overnight. I told them to go ahead

Verizon Agent
Oh, that is because the chat automatically closes once 30 - an hour has passed. I am now checking the order here, this is the iPhone SE, correct?

I never got a new shipment order number. I have a tracking number that shows a shipment being returned to sender which I assume was the initial shipment

Verizon Agent
I really apologize but there are no shipment that was made for that, and I am not seeing any order for the device here.
As per checking on the order that was on "Economy 2-5 day Free" it seems like there was a request for it to be returned to the sender, assuming it was because the delivery failed. But no worries, any payments made on that order will be refunded on your payment method.
If you want, we can make a new order now and I will make sure to give you every details you need such as new order number and location code. How about that Scott? 😊
Of course I will also set it be delivered to you overnight.

Verizon Agent
Would that work for you?

I need it today
Or else I wouldn't have had them cancel the first shipment
This is absolutely unacceptable. This is not one but 2 mistakes that has led to this
I need a minute.

Verizon Agent
If that is the case, then I can do a store pick up for you once I process the order here so that you can just pick up the parcel in the store. That is the most easiest way possible for this.
Is this phone an add - a line ?

Verizon Agent
Cellular Sales XXX XXX
(Indirect store)
Curb Side Pickup Enabled

You can pick this one up in this store if you would so prefer. Would that be okay with you?

how long?
This is not adding a line, it's an upgrade for XXX-XXX-XXXX. See previous chat logs

Verizon Agent
As soon as I place the order here on our end, our store will contact you if the parcel is ready for pick up. Would that be okay?

Verizon Agent
Alrighty! I have not made any changes as of yet no worries. 

So you have no idea how long it will take to get the phone to that store?

Verizon Agent
I do, but the preparation for the order is not up to me, it would be up to the actual persons in the store. Please be reminded that there are people preparing the order for us, after the order is processed then they will reach out to you.
It is not that I do not know Scott, there are people working behind the scenes to get this prepared.
As per checking on the order, it seems like we will still need to wait for the order to be cancelled within our system before we can make an order again. If that is the case, I would like to recommend to upgrade another line so that you can have the new phone as soon as possible.
If you are concerned about the line, we do have the switch method on the online account and you can swap numbers in an instant.
How about this Scott? 😊

So that would be swapping one of the other phones on the account to XXXX?

Verizon Agent
Yes, we can upgrade the other line then once the phone arrives we can switch it up online. I can send the direct link for it. How about that? 😊

Verizon Agent
Please be reminded that if we do this, we still have to wait till the order for the line XXXX is cancelled. After that no switch is allowed but you would have the device itself so no worries!
Cancellation may take up to 4-5 business days. The return was just initiated.
Our goal is for you to have the device as soon as today, and that is what I am committed to bring within this chat.
What are your thoughts Scott?

Verizon Agent
If you are not a fan of complications, I would suggest calling UPS for the update of the order and you can request for some adjustments if they would so prefer.

I don't want to change any of my other lines, there are people using those phones. That would be even more inconvenient
Please just create a new shipment to my home address and I will wait

Verizon Agent
If that is the case, then I would suggest adding a line then we can process the switch once the order is fully cancelled.
Once the phone arrives, you can process the switch and then I will notate the account for the disconnection of the spare line.
How about this?
Not only that, to compensate with this experience I will be waiving the activation fee on this line for your convenience.
Good plan right? Shall we proceed?

Waiving an activation fee on a new line is not compensation, this whole situation was created by the two previous verizon reps that agreed to do what I asked and then didn't.
How long will it be if I just do the upgrade I originally wanted

Verizon Agent
I do really apologize for that, would you like an inconvenience fee for the negligence on the part of my colleague?

Verizon Agent
That would be around 4-5 business days since the return for the device for your order was just initiated. It might take time for it to be arrive with Verizon and have it fully cancelled within our system.

Can we get my situation resolved first before we worry about how to keep me as a customer after this

Verizon Agent
Of course, if you prefer it that way Scott.

I am wondering what the process looks like if you ship me the phone I ordered.
Correct me if I'm wrong:

Verizon Agent
Go ahead I am all ears ❤️

1. The initial shipment which is apparently still being returned has to arrive at Verizon
2. When that happens a new shipment can be created as per the upgrade request
3. When that happens a new phone will be shipped to my house overnight

Verizon Agent
Correct so far....

In a few days, let's say 5 just for the sake of having a number, I will get the new phone and I can activated it. And this doesn't involve adding a new line, cancelling a new line, or changing one of my other existing devices on my account

Verizon Agent
It will be automatically activated once the phone arrives with you.  The only thing that we needed to wait is the cancellation of the order made on your line, after that we can swap devices on your online account to get your number to your new phone.

Verizon Agent
If you will just wait for the cancellation of the order of your line, then you can just upgrade it without any complications.

Verizon Agent
If the order has been cancelled, you can re-order again without any need to cancel & add a line.

Verizon Agent
The process that you've mentioned is for adding a line. Just to clear things out Scott. 😊

Okay, I understand. This is pathetic but thanks for your help I know it wasn't your fault

Verizon Agent
Since you mentioned that you wanted to have the phone right now, that I suggested those things.

Yes, I understand, those are the only things within your power because of whatever crazy system limitations they have there

Verizon Agent
But I am really glad to have clarified everything and I really appreciate you being a nice person to chat with today.
May I know what is your plan moving forward? Will you just wait for the time the order is cancelled? So I can do a heads up on your account.

I have been with Verizon for 28 years. I miss the old days..
My plan:
I found an old iPhone 8 in a box in my basement
I transferred the SIM card from the XXXX iPhone to it and it seems to work for the moment
I will try to get by with that until I can finally (re)place the upgrade order I did on monday

Verizon Agent
Thank you so much for your kindness and understanding Scott. I will take this one as an education for me to learn and I will surely raise some improvement plans for concern such as yours in order for us to resolve it more efficiently in the future.

Hopefully the third time ordering my upgrade will result in my actually getting one.

Verizon Agent
Oh! Would you like to activate the iPhone 8 right now?

No, it's working, please don't do anything. The SIM is the one from XXXX it's already activated

Verizon Agent
Actually I am much curious, do you really prefer SE Scott? As far as I know we do have promotions for free phones such as iPhone 14 Series as long as you add a line.

Prefer SE

Verizon Agent
Oh of course no worries, I am not authorized to make any changes as long as we do not have agreement. Rules are strict here and I would not dare lose my job. 😂

Verizon Agent
Oh! Alrighty! I will take note of your plan and I really appreciate you sharing it with me. I will notate your account for your plan so we can get a heads up for the next rep.

I will document what happened to you this past few days to make sure we handle you much much careful the next time you reach out to us in the next 5 days.

Verizon Agent
Sounds good? 😊

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Hellscape that is Google’s Web in 2023

Alternate title: "were we better off in 2015 2007?"

Time now for another anti-capitalist, “get off my lawn” posting for all the folks out there who won’t see it anyway, because they don’t read real blogs for the reasons specified in this very article.

The web has existed for 30 years now. One would think our ability to access information on it would keep getting better. However, I watch as web search is instead devolving every year, to the point where people are giving up and hoping for the next thing.  While this sounds dire, this kind of behavioral change has historical precedent. Remember running your own mail or web server, or better yet, having a phone that you might actually answer calls to, even if you don’t recognize the caller’s number?  Yes, those ideas are gone too. It's all thanks to the uncontrolled thirst for advertising.

Let’s walk through the experience of someone doing a simple Google search for “how to control poison ivy”.  The desired outcome would be to find a great testimony of someone who dealt with this personally, who goes on to procedurally list the approach(es) that worked for them.  

What you actually get: 

  • The first result will be some company peddling their weed control poison 

  • Followed by a bunch of weird “People also ask”  items with dropdowns that may or may not provide the answer to your actual pursuit. 

  • Further down the SERP, you are immersed in a mine of “sponsored” pages with AI generated articles. Unless you fancy yourself a prospector, you can most likely simply discard the first 5 or so results in the Google SERP, which are “sponsored” garbage.

  • By the time you hit “bottom” (wherever that is), you have lost hope in finding anything from a real person without some kind of bias.

Now, let’s say you, dear victim of post-modern web search, find and click on a promising result with an abstract showing, what appears to be, an answer to your question.  Buckle up, my friend.  Here’s what awaits you:

  1. Site cookie acceptance dialog

Ahh yes, thank you so much GPDR, for making sure my privacy is respected.  Every single site uses third-party cookies to track my data for, you guessed it, more advertising. But like Batman, the GPDR is here to ensure the safety of Europeans (and by extension, the world) by enforcing all to click on a full page modal dialog (note: created by the very site designer who wants to track you).  You get to choose:  “Accept cookies”, “Leave Site”  (AKA “Get bent, content is not available if we can’t track you”), or sometimes most favorably, “view without accepting cookies”. When you select this option, the site may come up in its entirety and not track you! At least… not using cookies.  If you trust them.  People who just want to read a couple of sentences of content, without reading and thinking for a whole minute, are trained to simply click “accept”.

  1. Great, you’re on the page.  Wait, here’s a popup in your face about cookies!

Do you want the site to send you notifications? Goodness lord, do NOT click yes on this. The result is pretty much akin to installing a malware taskbar into your browser in 2009.

  1. Okay, you are reading some of the article.  Every blog-type article that ranks in the SERP seems to necessarily start with 2-3 paragraphs of awkward and formulaic cursory BS about why people search for what you searched for, all the things that happened when they tried to fix it the wrong way, etc… I’m guessing, to satisfy some unwieldy SEO requirement.  Scroll, scroll scroll!

  1. Been here for 10 seconds? Decide whether you want to sign up for our newsletter! Again, a modal dialog box that you can’t look past. Disclose your email or (find a way to) close it.

  1. Now… This article is actually getting good. You are close to getting real information, you can feel it!  Oh, hey, wait, it’s: Videos That Start Automatically!  Like Space Invaders, videos and other popup ads descend on you with increasing aggression over the next 30 seconds or so, narrowing your view inside an already minuscule viewport (assuming you had the audacity to do this on a phone). These abominations turn your quest to find urgent information about poison ivy into a horrible game of Whack A Mole. But harder than that, as you have to find and then tap a tiny (and intentionally obscured) ‘x’, in order to close the video/ad popup that obscures what you are trying to read.

  1. Read a single glorious paragraph, and you will be rewarded with a chunk of random affiliate links and ads.   Was that the whole article? Is this the end?  Oh wait, no! There's another paragraph.  These places make Geocities and Tripod websites of the early 2000s look organized and well presented. It’s certainly reminiscent of the unanimously dark period of the WWW, when everyone was implementing their site with frames - certainly at least as offensive, if not more for its brazenness.  And we are not talking about hokey tabloid sites here, this is happening on trustworthy local news stations, local forums and bulletin websites, even school websites, trying to compensate for their insatiable SEO and web hosting costs.

What happened to the authentic articles and blog posts, written by the lowly peer web denizen of yore?  They are all but gone, as Google search algorithm continues to raise the bar for such simple sites to be included in the SERP with any reasonable ranking…  Leaving only the most insidious ones, created by a team of corporate content creators who are backed by a department full of SEO engineers who only have one job: to make this page go to the top. Yes,  a SERP for a given keyword set contains only one top result, and getting to the top is a zero-sum game.  With heavy competition for SERP dominance, it's a race to the bottom as companies copy each others' successful approaches, using them to shill their wares by sprinkling misinformation and links that serve only to redirect honest visitors.  Google Panda (2011, 2021) was, ironically intended to address over-optimized, ad-ridden sites, but instead appears only to have resulted in new spins of canned websites in which ads are carefully disguised as content… At least, in ways that are not outwardly apparent to a dumb web crawler.

It is painful, although not entirely unexpectable, the degree to which Google is a willing participant in this parade. They have answered the fierce call by shareholders for revenue growth by turning the SERP into a 10 ring circus. Searches that once yielded several page results at the top, with useful summaries and first hand authorship, now look as bad as any social media site - as videos, news items, shopping links, and irrelevant “People also ask” Q&A style items (ostensibly based on others popular searches, but triggered by a single stupid keyword in your search). These oddities appear in our faces, and feature sales-driven hyperbole and propaganda that panders to the most vulnerable among us. Every click feeds the bottom line of these advertisers, and in doing so, strengthens the machine to further pollute our attempts to gather useful and simple facts.

To what refuge have people turned as this debacle has unfolded?

Any refuge in this trying environment has experienced its ups and downs.  Take, one website where users developed and willingly invested their knowledge, and created a brain trust. Now reddit is slapping them in the face, by asserting uncompromising control and issuing a litany of new restrictions based on ensuring that information on Reddit is used only for their benefit, which boils down to ad-driven revenue.

High performance AI chatbots have recently surfaced, and people are desperately flocking to them as an alternative.  What’s not to like? Finally you can again ask a question and get a straight answer, (ostensibly) without being bombarded by ads! Even if it’s wrong, or based on a biased point of view.  These nascent tools have been rushed to the people before any effective ethical guardrails can be put in place.  It’s difficult if not impossible to know the source, or whether they are correct. The whole thing subsists on datasets that take massive liberties on  privacy and intellectual property rights. What’s worse, it’s a safe bet that If not now, very soon, the responses will be just another advertising circus.

What is there to do?  

Get back to the fields!  Start your own website! Write that blog post.  Keep content alive, and don’t let the web consist solely of advertising.  Let's form a web ring, like it’s 1997!  A new kind of search engine is needed, one that looks at the web a different way.  One that isn’t driven solely by advertising.  One that doesn’t squander the quality of its performance for the sake of shareholder value.  Bring back community-driven, crowd-sourced spirit. Wikipedia has done it with the world’s most comprehensive encyclopedia.  Let’s do something like that with web search!

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

GWSMO and Outlook Version 2303: Can't select "From" Addresses When Composing New Message

I found a bug/incompatibility with GWSMO (Google Workspace Sync for Microsoft Outlook, the Google Workspace sync integration for Outlook).  Here's what I found:

Steps to reproduce:

  • Install Outlook 365 Version 2010 (I'm using click-to-run build Build 15726.20202)
  • Test with a Google user that has multiple Send Mail As addresses configured properly under "Accounts and Import" tab in Gmail settings.
  • Install GWSMO from .EXE using recommended settings. Follow the steps to authorize with your Google account via OAuth/browser
  • Allow at least 5 minutes after everything is installed for GWSMO synchronization to progress far enough for Google account settings to propagate to Outlook
  • Click on "New Message" in Outlook
  • Click the From: dropdown to select one of the alternative send addresses
  • Observe that the list of available addresses matches the list of Send Mail As addresses in Gmail settings

  • Close Outlook, go into Windows Control Panel->Mail and remove the profile.
  • Remove Outlook from the system
  • Install Outlook Version 2303 (build 16227.20004)
  • Repeat above steps to install GWSMO and configure Outlook, allow to sync, start a new Email, and click the From: dropdown
  • Observe that now the list of available addresses does not appear when you click From:

Google believes this to be a UI issue with Microsoft Outlook, and thus would not look into it.  They told me to let Microsoft know about it, but I have a pretty good idea what they are going to say. Either way I didn't see anything about this issue anywhere on the web, so I decided to post about it.