Depressed and Disappointed

Puppy vs Borg cube

I try hard to face forward and appreciate what joy, wonder, and beauty, life brings, but the world all too often makes that a challenge. The past few weeks have been especially hard mostly because I’m at the end of my rope with tech companies. I wish I understood why we put up with such awfulness. Factor in the spam, the robocalls, and the junk mail, and I’m ready to go live in the woods far away from any of it.

On the top of my list right now is Apple with Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile in close second place. The library app, Libby, that I’ve raved about before is in third place with WordPress bringing up the rear. Not mention all the little stuff, some corporate, some personal.

Warning: Turn back now. The road ahead is bumpy. Falling rocks.

Apple and Apple News

It was in a post almost exactly a year ago that I wrote:

I decided to pony up for the $9.99/mo for Apple News+ and delete the ad-engorged Google News app I’ve been using for years.

Best ten buck subscription ever. It’s incredible how nice it is to have a news feed with no ads. It’s like eating chocolate after eating shit.

The Apple News+ subscription also gives me access to a bunch of online magazines, Time, Life, Scientific American, and many others. No ads in those, either, other than the occasional self ad about subscribing to the magazine.

I hate ads with a passion, and I’m so happy to be free of them in at least one small corner of life.

Recently, ads started appearing in my news articles. In one case I counted eight in one news article — an ad, sometimes the same damn ad, every few paragraphs.

That is so beyond the pale that I almost can’t find the words. Almost. Unfortunately, most of them I don’t feel entirely comfortable putting in a post. Suffice to say I’ve canceled the subscription and deleted the Apple News app.

For all the good it did me, I complained to Apple, first on a chat with their service and then via a feedback page. Mostly I’ve gotten back the usual glad-handing and market speak about my input being valued.

And that, even with a subscription, there can be ads. Except I enjoyed that subscription for almost a year ad-free, so this is bait-and-switch or some change Apple isn’t admitting to. Frankly, they don’t even seem to understand what my problem is despite my having explained it multiple times.

What seems unfortunate for Apple is that my once glowing word of mouth about that service will be entirely negative going forward, and any thoughts I had about their other services, Apple Music or Apple TV, are now non-starters. No way will I give them another dime I don’t have to. (I’m too deep into iTunes to stop buying music, but I’ll be buying my books from Amazon Kindle now.)

I feel like a tiny spaceship firing my ineffective gun against a Borg cube that couldn’t care less about my pathetic $10/mo, any tiny share of lost business, or the rantings of some asshole on the internet. Once again, I find myself on the fringe. Alone.

Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile

I’ve been a happy Sprint customer since 2009 when a relationship between my company and Sprint offered a good deal on a cell phone. I don’t use a cell phone very often — more like hardly ever — but now that payphones are obsolete, one needs one for emergencies.

For a decade I had a basic flip phone that was all I needed. But I started to worry my Classic iPod would die (battery failure most likely, or maybe its teeny disk drive), plus I thought it was high time for a smart phone. I love my iPod and also the iPad I bought back in 2016, so I figured I’d get an iPhone.

I can’t remember now, but something made me think I should switch from Sprint to someone else. It may have been the utter confusion I felt navigating through all the Sprint phone choices and plans. I tried Verizon, and that seemed to go well, but when my phone didn’t show up, I found they’d canceled the order for some reason (and not told me). Something about my order they didn’t like.

History made an irony of this (because Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile), but I didn’t like T-Mobile’s corporate neon pink, and AT&T didn’t have a great reputation as a cell phone provider (although I like their corporate blue), and that left Sprint (and yellow, which is also not a favored color). But fine, whatever.

I braved those choices, settled on a plan, made my order, and things went fine. My phone showed up, and I’ve enjoyed having my entire music collection, all my eBooks, and all my photos, right in my pocket. Plus, a camera, a video camera, easy text messaging, a phone, and several useful utility apps in the same device.

§

But I kept getting the occasional text message from Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile about being unable to deliver my monthly bill. I had autopay and they weren’t complaining about payment, so I didn’t pay too much attention. I got emails from them, so they obviously knew my email address. I visited the site to see if I noticed anything in my account, but everything seemed fine. I wrote it off as a glitch in their system.

Then about six months ago I began getting increasingly strident text messages, and even emails, about the need to upgrade my phone because 3G was going away. They even offered a free upgrade. But my iPhone is 4G, and they even sent me a new whatchamacallit card because Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile. I didn’t know what to make of those messages.

Finally, I got one that mentioned the phone line and device that needed to be upgraded, and it was the old flip phone that I assumed I’d terminated when I upgraded.

I’d had a suspicion that was the phone they meant, but I’d written that off as another glitch in their system. Some database still retaining that old number. I’d meant to contact them, but my experiences with online support are almost universally negative, so I kept putting it off.

But this had risen to the level that I had to deal with it. I started with the Sprint(-is-now-T-Mobile) app on my phone, which mostly seemed like a sales thing, but after digging deeply enough I found that they were still billing me for that old line. After a long and painful chat session with someone who didn’t seem to get it, all I accomplished was getting that old line removed from my account.

They’d been billing me for it all this time. For years. On a line that, not only did I never use, but for a phone which was never even turned on.

As an aside, when my laptop failed and I bought another, Google noticed I hadn’t logged in with that old laptop and asked if they should remove it as a known device. Not that I love Google, but bravo.

§

This is where the billing thing kicks in. I didn’t notice they were billing me for that old line because of the autopay, and I never questioned the billing amount that showed up on my credit card bill.

After digging deeply enough into my account on their website, I discovered that they have not one, not two, but three email address slots. A primary and a backup, which, fine, but also a separate email address for sending bills to. And that, for some reason, was my old corporate email address.

Which explains those text messages. Which explains why I never noticed they were billing me for the old line.

That useless chat guy directed me to a phone line I could complain to. (Why is it that chat sessions inevitably bounce you to something or someone else?) I spent 20 minutes waiting for someone to answer while listening to annoying music interrupted every 30 seconds with annoying Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile ads. The same annoying ads over and over until I couldn’t take it anymore and hung up. (Naturally. That’s their business plan.)

And I suppose this is just enough on me not checking out the fine print or digging deeply enough or dealing with it soon enough that there’s no way I’ll ever get any kind of refund.

Defeated again by another Borg cube.

Libby (the online library app)

Yet another company I had nothing but positive feelings for has changed those feelings to rage and disappointment.

Libby has a Timeline feature that keeps track of book loans, holds, and returns. It also has a Tags feature that lets you tag books for whatever reason. I have three Tags: Pending (books I plan to read next), Want To Read (books I’ll probably add to the Pending queue), and Possibles (books I’ll read if I ever read all the books in the other two queues).

Libby also has an export feature that lets me export the Timeline and Tags as a JSON file.

Great features that I valued highly. I routinely export the JSON and use a Python app to create nice webpages for my personal website. It’s been working great.

When I first began using Libby, they weren’t able to synchronize my Timeline between my iPad and iPhone, so I made sure to do my checking out and returning on my iPhone. But shortly thereafter, they fixed that, and my Timeline was in synch between devices. It’s been synched for many months.

Then it wasn’t anymore. Worse, when exporting Tags, the JSON file didn’t contain all the books under that Tag. And the ones it did list were reversed in order from how they appeared under the Tag.

I complained, I online chatted, and that was a waste of effort. They insist Timelines don’t sync (ah, but they did) and don’t show much interest in fixing it. Again, the sense of being blown off is strong. They haven’t responded to the Tags issue, which I tendered again as a separate complaint.

Here’s the thing, though: When you export the JSON, you actually get a URL to their website, so obviously that’s where the Timeline is kept. Likewise, the Tags. What’s more, the URL for the Timeline is the same URL regardless of whether I export from the iPhone or iPad!

If I export from the iPhone, the URL gives me one version of the Timeline, and if I export from the iPad, the same URL gives me another version of the Timeline. If they can’t synchronize the two, why are they providing the same URL? And why are they even storing activity differently in the first place? Why isn’t it stored under my library card? And why is the Tag export reversed and sometimes partial. (Multiple attempts eventually result in a complete list.)

This is all new behavior, no doubt due to some change. But I can’t get them to understand the issue let alone admit to the problem. The Borg cube wins again.

WordPress

I’ve posted about the bug that causes some posts, as seen in the WP Reader, to lose their paragraphs and become one big block of text.

I’ve also posted about other issues with the WP Reader.

When I posted an old poem on my programming site, and the WP Reader ignored important formatting, I tried complaining (once again) about the Reader. I also asked about the other issues mentioned in my posts (for instance, emitting invalid CSV files and not recognizing a perfectly valid <P > tag because of the trailing space after the P (which is explicitly called out as legal in the standard).

Suffice to say: ignored and blown off once again. Another Borg victory.

I really hate tech companies. They have us over a barrel, and they know it. They clearly couldn’t care less about us so long as the suckers keep bellying up to their bar. The question is, why do we? Why don’t we demand better?

§ §

Between winter being very old at this point, more of those box elder bugs showing up (several a day now; where are they coming from?), unrelenting robocalls and spam in email and comment sections, the social bullshit of the last five years, plus growing old and other personal challenges, I find myself defeated, dismayed, depressed, disappointed, and discouraged.

Hopefully the Vernal Equinox a week from now will cheer me up.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

20 responses to “Depressed and Disappointed

  • Wyrd Smythe

    The Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile saga continues…

    Last night I got another one of those text messages about being unable to deliver my bill by email. I logged into my account and saw that it showed the email address I’d changed it to back on March 1. So,… WTF?

    Another chat session. Guy said there was a “glitch” of some kind on their end. He said it was fixed now and should work going forth.

    Today I got an email notice about the $40 credit they applied to my account (which is because of canceling that old line), so I guess it is fixed.

    Told him I wasn’t happy. Told him about the 20 minutes on hold and what had happened. He was sympathetic, and said he’d bounce the case up to his supervisor, but we’ll see if anything results in that.

    (Our chat session was supposed to me emailed to me, but I haven’t seen it, yet, so things still don’t seem to be working 100% as far as I can see.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      The Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile saga, chapter whatever.

      I never did get the chat transcript, but this morning I got an emailed ZIP file titled Emergency Bill Reprint// iCare Case ID: ##########. It contained a password-protected 7Zip file (with the password right in the email, so not really secure).

      At first, I thought it might be all the bills I’d never gotten, but it was just the most recent. Which still has that old line on it. But I’d earlier gotten an email saying they were putting a credit on my account for the amount.

      So, I guess I’ll see when I either get my credit card bill or my next Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile bill. Assuming they deliver it correctly.

      Man do I hate these guys now.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    As we’ve discussed before, you have to wonder if the developers in some cases ever use their own products. Many of the frustrations seem too basic, too obvious. Part of the problem is that companies often don’t invest in adequate resources for their development and testing teams, which for a tech company seems inexcusable.

    My own current frustration is with anime streaming services. I watch a lot on Funimation. Most of their stuff is dubbed, which I prefer to subs. And their app, while not perfect, is at least usable. However, Funimation’s parent company, Sony, recently purchased Crunchyroll. I guess they decided Crunchyroll had the better brand name, because now all the Funimation content is being migrated to Crunchyroll and Funimation sent its subscribers an email telling us to get a Crunchyroll account.

    On the one hand, since I already had a Crunchyroll account, it will be nice to consolidate multiple subscriptions to just one. On the other, Crunchyroll’s Roku app is awful. The navigation barely works, and finding content is a miserable experience. I’d like to think the Funimation team will be consolidated with Crunchyroll’s for more effective development, but I strongly suspect the Funimation team just got fired.

    I’m going to be assessing the value of my subscription on a regular basis.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I can totally relate. The difference among various streaming platforms is considerable, with user interface factors being one of the biggest differences. It really does seem the developers don’t use what they develop, or that the organization does little or no user acceptance testing. Based on my years of working as a software designer, I know that many doing that work shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a keyboard. There are a lot of really bad coders out there. My theory was that, as with the medical and legal professions, some see coding as a money-making career. But they don’t have the innate talent (which I believe is critical) or the heart for the job.

      Some of it is the challenge of developing something for each platform and app, but that’s been an issue ever since smart phones and web sites, so it should have been solved long ago. I tend to think it’s more an unwillingness to pay to hire good people and even more unwillingness to pay for perceived no-value-added things like good design, testing, and support. None of those earn a company money in the short term (but I think all of them do in the long term).

      Hulu, for instance, on my LG TV app, has a menu that runs along the top of the screen: Home, Movies, TV, News, My Stuff, Hub. The app for Amazon Prime has something similar. The difference is that, in Prime, I can move along that list without anything changing. I press “enter” on my remote to select a section. In Hulu, as I move along the list, it wants to change to that section. I’ve learned that if I press four times rapidly enough, it’ll move to My Stuff without displaying each screen in between, but if I hesitate or click too few or many times, I’m delayed while the screen changes. I don’t understand the UI logic to that design. Netflix has a different structure, but also requires pressing “enter” to actually change something.

      Hulu’s My Stuff list was broken for most of the years I’ve had their app. It seemed to get confused easily. And I couldn’t remove Futurama from it no matter what I did. OTOH, Netflix recently removed the ability to sort my Watch List, a feature I rather valued. In its place is a randomized order I cannot fathom. It’s not based on anything I can recognize.

      So, I totally feel your pain. I agree, the better (and probably more expensive) developers were probably let go. More and more companies are using cheap overseas job shops with developers who probably have little training or experience and certainly no real investment in their work, let alone the company they’re doing work for. And I’d imagine that the push at those shops is cranking it out ASAP rather than quality.

      As an anime aside, I’ve been watching, and very much enjoying, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? It’s got the light-heartedness I crave, plenty of action, lots of heart, and (as usually the case with Japanese anime) surprising depth. On the other hand, it’s really, really Shōnen.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Part of the problem with a lot of features is they’re not all widely utilized. That makes an underutilized feature that we like vulnerable to being culled. It doesn’t help that sometimes features are accidents they never intended to provide.

        But often companies get it wrong about desired features. Roku for a generation of their devices, did away with the instant rewind feature, to scathing reviews from their customers. They brought it back in the next release, but it still left those of us who bought those models without that feature, or at least without easy access to it.

        Yeah, my tolerance for very shonen stuff isn’t too high, at least unless there’s some pretty compelling story making up for it. I don’t mind light heartedness (as long as it isn’t slapstick), but don’t seem to crave it as much as you do. I’m fine if the story is serious and dark, as long as there are at least some sympathetic characters. But there are limits. I watched Casshern Sins, which is depressing all the way through and ends depressingly, and in retrospect should have given up on it long before the end.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’m guessing you’re referring to what I said about Netflix removing the ability to sort my Watch List? I’m sure you’re right that it wasn’t much used, and it did require a “special” webpage on their site. It was the page that showed your Watch List as a vertical list, and it allowed you to move items up or down that list. Very much how YouTube does with playlists.

        I can see them dropping support for that page, but I wish I could figure out what, if any, order my Watch List has now. It appears totally random. It’s definitely not based on what I’ve watched recently or what shows have new seasons. Things I add to the list appear at the beginning… at first, but then join in the randomness later. It also doesn’t seem based on popularity. It’s weird. I did complain to Netflix, but they never reacted, let alone acted, on it. So now I have to go looking through the list to find the show I want.

        Yeah, the Shōnen aspect can be a bit much sometimes, but there turned out to be enough depth to Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? to make it worthwhile. It’s medieval fantasy, kind of a cross between D&D and Moria, and rather an interesting premise behind it all. (One of the main characters, the goddess Hestia, became a well-known meme in Japan with lots of young women trying to imitate her improbable costume.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I did have the watchlist thing in mind. Of course, continuing to bill you for a phone you no longer use isn’t in that category. (Although the company might see it as a “feature” for them.) Nor WordPress’s bizarre Reader issues. Those are just crappiness.

        Yeah, the thing about watchlists, is I like to keep shows on it between seasons, or stuff I might get around to watching eventually. It would be nice to be able to organize it. But none of the services seem to pay that much attention to them. The Crunchyroll web site seems to have a feature where you can set up multiple lists, but their crappy Roku app doesn’t seem to know about them.

        I might check out Is It Wrong eventually. There are just so many medieval fantasies out there.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Hulu “My Stuff” list, when it’s working, on the TV shows side, does a primary sort between shows where you’ve watched all the episodes and those with new or unwatched episodes. Those in the “All Watched” category sort to the bottom in alphabetical order (which I think is a fine design choice). Shows with unwatched episodes sort by most recently watched, which is also fine with me. The bug was that sometimes shows with unwatched episodes ended up at the bottom of everything. Sometimes the next day they’d be back where they should be. On the movies side, I think it’s just by most recently added for unwatched movies and alphabetical below those if you’ve watched a movie and left it on the list.

        Amazon prime just lists shows and movies in the order added to the list. I’ve found I can order the list by removing and re-adding shows or movies to create the order I want. They treat seasons as separate shows (which I don’t like), so, for instance, I’ve been sorting to keep all seasons of The Expanse together and in order. Kind of a pain, but I value the ability to sort any list I ever make anywhere. Pity that YouTube playlists are about the only place where that’s easy.

        I absolutely leave TV shows on my lists if I’m expecting more seasons. Or liked it so much there’s a chance I’ll watch it again. And for shows I think I’ll watch. I had Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? on it for many months, at first because I just liked the title, and then because a buddy said he liked it. He’d also recommended Gate and Vox Machina, two I probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise and was glad I did (especially Gate, which I thought was excellent).

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Just checked my Hulu list and have to admit I’m pretty casual what I throw in there. It’s a hodgepodge of stuff I’ve watched over the years. That’s really true for the watch lists on the others as well. I’ve never been particularly organized about it. Removing and adding things to sort is way more effort than I typically exert. But I suspect my lists are far shorter.

        I really need to check out Vox Machina. It’s ratings are pretty high.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I think one reason I made a good programmer was an obsessive approach to organization, precision, and detail. At least in my work and hobbies. I’m a pretty awful housekeeper (I really should vacuum and dust one of these months…)

        Finished Pushing Ice. I think I may be done with Reynolds. Another incredibly unsatisfying bloated story. I think, like Stephen Baxter, he’s kind of a hack.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Yeah, we won’t speak about my own housekeeping, particularly dusting and vacuuming.

        I haven’t read Pushing Ice, although I own it. But I can understand Reynolds not working for you. I like his settings, but it seems like the stories themselves could be a lot better.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        A whole lot better! At first, I thought it was going to be good, but the more I read the worse it got. But that’s me; you might have a different take on it.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Here’s the story of my attempt to get a phone from Verizon. It also reminded me of why I’d even tried them; it was more than just difficulty navigating through Sprint’s service and phone selections. It also reminded me of how I’d been a happy Sprint customer since the days of needing a long-distance carrier (some of you will have been born after those days and have no idea what that was like).

  • Anonymole

    Do you use a custom hosts file to suppress ads? https://github.com/StevenBlack/hosts I pretty much depend on one on each PC/laptop.

    Fighting tech? I’ve given up.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      My problem is with the Apple News app on my iPhone, so I’m not sure how a hosts file would help there. I do have an ad-blocker app, but Apple makes it so hard for one app to affect another that I haven’t been convinced it’s doing much.

      Yeah, it’s the Borg motto: You will be assimilated. 😦

  • diotimasladder

    It makes me feel better to know those frustrating things aren’t just happening to (computer illiterate) me. One thing I’ve learned about customer service: try the online chat thing first if possible. It’s not only less of a waste of time, it’s also qualitatively better for some odd reason. At least that’s been my experience.

    I’m pretty happy with Ting, but then again I’m very cheap about cell phones and so my expectations are pretty low. Never had to call customer service. That said, my service isn’t the most reliable when I’m out and about, and sometimes I’ll get a text message an hour after it’s been sent. I guess I just can’t rely on my phone service 100%. I pay about at most 20 bucks a month for two lines, so it doesn’t bother me. I guess deep down I’m still living in the 90’s; when I’m out and about, I don’t bother to answer my phone unless I have a good reason to. And I figure if you’re texting me, it’s not so important that you can’t wait until I get home before you hear back from me.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, I think we’re all in the same half-assed leaky boat.

      I totally agree about using chat when available. I started there with Apple, Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile, and WordPress (Overdrive/Libby doesn’t have chat). Apple referred me to (more than one) webpage(s) for tendering complaints; Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile referred me to that 888 number with hold music and ads for 20 minutes, and WordPress responded with an email that blew me off.

      Ting (from a brief glance at the Wiki page for it) apparently uses either T-Mobile’s or Verizon’s network, apparently depending on how old the account is. Maybe they don’t get the priority of the regular customers for those networks, which is why your text messages are delayed? (I think I am going to have to start looking around at other options for cell phone service. I’m pretty unhappy with Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile right now.)

      Heh, I don’t answer my landline or my cellphone unless I know the caller! (And the list of blocked callers on my cellphone gets longer all the time.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Wow, that Libby app gets worse and worse. It’s like WordPress all over again, a once really great app that seems to be sinking into sheer badness.

    I’ve given up that they’ll ever be able synchronize Timelines between devices, although I really don’t see what the problem is. They synchronize everything else, so WTF?

    It’s the definitely-no-question broken behavior of exporting only some of the books listed under my Tags that’s really aggravating. Again, I just don’t see what the problem can be (other than sheer incompetence). How hard can it be?

    Today these complete fucking idiots added a new behavior I want to document. I just finished reading book and noticed they’d automatically added a “smart Tag” that uses an emoji as its label. If you click into the Tag, you find it’s called “Titles I’ve borrowed in Libby” — which was an option their help line had mentioned as one way to have a Timeline that synched. (Again, they can synch Tags but not the Timeline? W. T. actual F?!)

    When I clicked into the Tag (which had just the book I’d just finished listed), it asked if I wanted to add the 144 books from my Timeline. I let it do it. Thing is, my Timeline has 193 books listed (I read a lot), but whatever.

    And, sure enough, the emoji-labeled “Titles I’ve borrowed in Libby” isn’t a complete list.

    And in the process, the app created a new “smart” Tag (smart; ha!) for most of the books, so I had 80+ new “smart” Tags, each apparently named after a book, each showing zero entries. Unless you clicked into one, and then it showed the book it was named after.

    So, I started deleting them, which takes several clicks, so it’s a pain in the ass. I got bored of that and began to wonder about the zero entries thing. Libby often needs you to back out of a Tag if you’ve changed anything for it to register the new count. That wasn’t really happening here, so I closed the app and re-opened it.

    And all those one-book “smart” Tags were gone. Well, I guess it was a passing thing. Weird. And incompetent. Do these developers never use the software?

    But wait, that’s not all! Because of the emoji label, the exported URL… yep, that’s right contains an emoji, which seems like a really stupid design. It gets converted to “%F0%9F%A7%BE” which is the hex code F09FA7BE, which is the UTF-8 encoding of the hex value 1F9FE, which is the Unicode Supplemental Symbols and Pictographs for the “RECEIPT” emoji.

    (See my Hard-Core Coder post, The Blessing of Unicode, for how to decode UTF-8 sequences.)

    And when I export that list of (supposedly) 145 titles, it only exports 24 of them. In reverse order.

    These folks are beyond incompetent.

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