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>> Rackspace Shmackspace

Wed, Feb 27th 10:09am 2008 >> Bad People

Don't you hate it when what appears to be a good reputation turns out to actually be just overpowered marketing? We're running upwards of 80 servers here in Melbourne and growing all the time, but we need to start rolling out some infrastructure in the US as well. I've used a few US-based dedicated server providers in the past including Servepath, Dreamhost, and others, and had generally good experiences with them. This time though I wanted to start with a machine that we could do virtualisation on and start small, with just a few VMs initially and then provision more physical and virtual hosts as needed, and being so far away I wanted to be sure any problems we had would be fixed ASAP since we don't have physical access to the boxes. And what I really wanted was either an Ubuntu or Debian host so it would be consistent with our server SOE and our purpose-built cluster management tools would work nicely with it. In the end I decided to go with Rackspace on the strength of their reputation for tech support: 24 hour phone hotline, dedicated account manager, etc. They couldn't provide an Ubuntu or Debian machine, but said they could provide RHEL which has good Xen support. That sucked a bit because it means we can't integrate the machine into our management infrastructure, but I was willing to put up with that annoyance (and pay more than twice what I would have elsewhere) to get the "fanatical support" that they promise. A trade-off, but I thought it was worthwhile. The problems began right from the start. I don't think I've ever asked a single question of their tech support and got a straight answer the first time. It's usually been a case of asking the question, getting a useless answer, saying "no, that's not what I wanted to know, the original question was...", getting another obtuse answer, repeat until enough information could be gleaned. In all my dealings with them it's been as if they simply don't hear what I say, and I have to keep repeating myself until they do. A classic example of missing the point was early on when they supplied the server with RHEL4 after I had spent much time on the phone explaining exactly what/why we needed the server: primarily as a virtualisation platform. But RHEL4 doesn't have good Xen support, so it wasn't any use to us! So they suggested reinstalling the server with RHEL5 in order to provide all the necessary Xen packages, which they then did. After it had been reinstalled I logged in and tried to get the Xen tools installed and found they weren't available through Yum, and I couldn't even install a Xen-capable kernel. After hassling tech support a bit about why there were no Xen packages available, they responded saying that when the server was reinstalled they'd forgotten to enable the virtualisation channel. Hello? Is anyone listening? That was a trivial problem compared with the network shenannigans. I had asked for additional IP addresses so we could use them for virtual machines, and the entries in the trouble ticket go something like this (paraphrased for brevity): Me: "I've been provided one additional IP address but no details of netmask, gateway, etc. I have brought up a dummy interface to test it but I need to know what the details should be". Them: "Here are the details of your interface: " (they then pasted in the 'ifconfig' output from the dummy interface that *I* had created!) Me: "No, that's the one I created and it didn't answer my question about what the netmask and gateway should be." (Then while I'm logged into the server eth0 mysteriously vanishes, and I'm cut off) Me: "Eth0 has gone away." Them: "Sorry, we dropped it by mistake. Here are the additional network details:" (they provided a single address with a .248 netmask, with the address not at the start of the range but at the second available host address and no further explanation). Me: "This server was set up for virtualisation. The additional address provided is on a different subnet to the host address and can't be bridged to the host adaptor." (I experiment a bit to figure out what's going on with the routing of the subnet they've specified) Me: "It looks like the entire /29 is being routed to our server, but we've been told we have a single additional IP address available. What about the rest of the range?" (I experiment a bit more, adding one of the other IP addresses in the range as an alias to the host adaptor, set up a virtual bridge, set up a virtual machine, set the route on the VM through the aliased IP on the host, and check that it works. It does, but at this point I've effectively hijacked an IP address that I hadn't been authorised to use). Me: I explain what I've done above, and ask *again* for clarification on what additional IP's we've actually been assigned and the network configuration. Them: Reply saying that yes, my analysis was correct and in fact the entire /29 is routed to our server after all. Elapsed from first request to actual helpful answer (which was really just saying that what I had figured out for myself was correct): 20 hours, and 10 comments in the trouble ticket. Grrr, why couldn't they have just answered the bloody question in the first place? Those weren't the only problems I had, but they're indicative of my whole Rackspace experience. Maybe I was just having a bad run. Maybe because our requirements are a bit outside the norm they're having trouble providing us with support. That's understandable, so let's part as friends and terminate the contract, no major harm done. So I went looking for a cancellation form on their site or in their support area. No dice. Then I submitted a support ticket asking about the cancellation procedure. Not only did the response not answer my actual question (as usual), but I got a hard-ass response saying that we were locked into a contract and they were going to hold us to it until the day it expires. *That* blew my top. I'm not giving them the benefit of the doubt anymore: now I'm just pissed off. Any company that actually cared about customer service would understand that the small financial gain from holding a disgruntled customer to the exact terms of their contract are far outweighed by the resentment and bad will that it causes. Until that response to my cancellation request I would have walked away disappointed that it hadn't worked out, but not upset. Now I'm mad. Then to really rub salt in the wound, the response also said: "With specific regards to your configuration, the Managed Department of Rackspace does not support Virtualization at all, and I believe that the majority of your issues with our Support Team originate with this fact." They don't support virtualisation at all? Hmmm. I've written enough already, so I'll end with this screencap from the Rackspace homepage. Pay close attention to the message across the top, then the bit in the bottom right corner. Fanatical support indeed.

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>> Some people are idiots

Wed, Dec 5th 10:21am 2007 >> Bad People

In June this year Neil Evenden and I ran an e-Business seminar as part of a series of events run by Eastern Business Network. The seminar was aimed at people who already had a website but wanted to do more with it, and it was a bargain: EBN only charged the participants about $20 each for the 3 hour session, and we didn't charge EBN a cent for running it. I was just happy to be helping out some other local small business owners. It couldn't possibly have been any better value. Except it was. We also took along a pile of copies of How To Build A Website And Stay Sane and at the end we let people buy them for $20 / copy (they cost us $30 / copy, so we were actually losing $10 / copy by selling them at that price) and to make it really easy for people who didn't have money with them we even let them just leave their details so we could invoice them later. And since the participants asked heaps of questions and wanted to keep going, we ended up running well over the scheduled time rather than cutting it off at 3 hours. I gave people the option of ending there and everyone wanted to keep going, other than a couple of people who had other commitments and had to leave. So some time later we sent out invoices to the people who had taken books without paying, and they all happily paid their $20. Except one. 5 months after taking the book, and after being sent reminders of the outstanding invoice, Leslie Cachia of Letac Drafting Services emailed this response: "since the lecture was not complete due to the extra time he spent with other clients rather then the actual subject, I feel the book will be an excellent compensation for my time wasted" Aha. Right. So he needs to be compensated for the fact that I responded to questions from participants, donated thousands of dollars of my time for free, and sold copies of my book at below cost. And stealing a copy of the book therefore makes everything alright. As anyone who knows me will tell you I'm pretty accepting of people's differences and opinions. There have been very few times in my life when someone has really pissed me off. Leslie Cachia, you're now on that list, and all for the princely sum of $20.

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>> Wasting telemarketers' time

Wed, Feb 7th 10:14am 2007 >> Bad People

Russell blogged about asking a telemarketer to wait and then putting the phone down until they hung up: his particular telemarketer lasted 8 minutes 20 seconds. We used to have a guy working here who would do almost the same thing. When he'd get a telemarketing call asking for someone in the company he'd say "sure, I'll transfer you now" and put them on hold, then just go back to whatever he was doing. A few minutes later the phone system would complain that the caller was still on hold so he'd pick it up again, say "they'll be with you soon", and put them back on hold. He'd just keep doing that until they gave up and went away. He had other tactics as well and he'd often have us listening over his shoulder and crying with laughter while he made telemarketers jump through ridiculous hoops. The basic economics of telemarketing are quite similar to spam: they're working on the basis of making a certain number of calls per hour, some of which convert to leads, some of which then convert to sales. The number drops off massively at each conversion point so the trick is to maximise the initial figure of calls per hour per staff member, and any delay that can be injected into the early part of the cycle has a flow-on effect that increases their final cost per sale. Spammers obviously work on the same principle: cost approaching zero per initial message with an extremely low response rate. Increasing the cost per initial message even a tiny amount would make it uneconomical to spam, which is the basis for proposals such as introducing a tiny charge per email sent to make spamming too expensive to sustain while making it cheap enough that people sending legitimate messages don't care.

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>> I've just been eBay-scammed

Wed, Dec 13th 8:41pm 2006 >> Bad People

Scumsucking parasite. I won an auction for a Nokia e61 a few days ago and after the auction I got in touch to arrange payment. The item was listed in Melbourne so I said I could collect it personally, but they said it ships from their store in Tasmania so it would have to be posted. Warning sign #1, which I ignored. So I transferred funds to them (yes, I'm an idiot) and haven't heard a single thing since. They've stopped replying to email entirely. Warning sign #2. At least I'd started to figure something was up by this point. Tonight I logged in to eBay to see if anything had changed and noticed the user ("bonny_4_life") is now listed as "no longer a registered user". Oh crap. So I started digging deeper, and in retrospect the user's feedback profile is *really* suspicious. The user has only been registered for 2 weeks, but even more odd is that there are 12 feedback entries and many of them are from duplicate users. For example, user "$1clearance" left them 5 feedback entries for different items and 3 of them were in the same minute, but with quite different text in each. If those had been real transactions then $1clearance would probably have just written the same thing in for each item. Just submitting 3 feedback items with different text in 60 seconds wouldn't be easy: you'd need to have canned responses ready to copy-n-paste, which indicates this is a well organised scam involving multiple people (or multiple accounts controlled by one person) which artificially boost feedback ratings with fake entries. Which means that eBay users "$1clearance" and "zacandcorey" are probably scammers as well, if not actually the same person as "bonny_4_life". The email address that bonny_4_life used to contact me was "pieman@iburst.chilli.net.au". It looks like Chilli has iBurst coverage in most Australian capital cities, so I can't narrow their actual location down much further. The originating machine that sent me the email was 124.109.65.80 and identified itself to smtp.chilli.net.au as "leecompter1", but tracing back ends in Sydney at the link from alter.net to Chilli. Are they really located in Sydney? Or Melbourne? Or Tasmania? Only Chilli's billing records know for sure.

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>> Innovation award, oh yeah :-)

Tue, Oct 17th 6:20pm 2006 >> Bad People
Innovation award, oh yeah  :-)
It seems the "i" word has been popping up everywhere in my life recently. I've been on the board of Swinburne University's "Center for Collaborative Business Innovation" for a while now, I did a talk at AUUG2006 last week about the impact of widespread FOSS deployment on national innovation, and now IVT has won the "Excellence in Innovation" category of the Maroondah Business Awards for our work on the SiteBuilder web application suite! Woot! So we get a piece of nicely sculpted glass, some press coverage and some bragging rights, but no holiday to Tahiti or anything. Damn. More blurb: IVT wins Excellence in Innovation category of Maroondah Business Awards

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>> Yet another happy coincidence

Wed, Oct 11th 8:25pm 2006 >> Bad People

A little while ago I came across a happy little coincidence where a story about a Microsoft product launch for an ID system was immediately followed by a story about major Microsoft security flaws: jon.oxer.com.au/blog/id/82. Pretty long odds, right? Seems not long enough!



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>> Amex sucks even harder

Wed, Aug 23rd 5:27pm 2006 >> Bad People

After my previous bad experience of Amex suspending my card while I was trying to pay for my travel to OSCON I got a bit paranoid about it, so after they reactivated the card I paid an extra $1000 onto it even though the next bill hadn't even been sent to me yet. AFAIK it's not possible to have a positive account balance on Amex: you spend the money, they send you a statement, and you have a month to pay it. But I didn't want to end up in the US desperately needing the card only to find out they'd sent out a statement while I was gone and suspended the card again, so the extra grand was a show of good faith that the next bill would be paid. So what happens? In the US I arrive at the hotel in Portland, try to pay on Amex, and it's declined. Again. *After* I've sent them an extra $1k. *Before* the next statement is due. I think I've set a new record. Not only have I had an Amex card suspended when my account was fully paid up, but I've now had one suspended after I had paid them more than they'd asked me for. My reaction last time was "screw you, Amex". That doesn't even start to cover it this time.

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>> Stupid Amex

Sat, Jul 8th 9:54pm 2006 >> Bad People

Went to the travel agent today to pay for the flights for OSCON, swiped the Amex through the machine, and ... DECLINED. Um, huh? I used this card to buy petrol just 2 days ago. Worked fine then. And the account is fully paid up, there's nothing owing on it at the moment. The helpful travel agent tried putting it through a couple of times with no joy. So I got on the phone to the Amex 24 hour customer help line and am put through to an Indian call center. The gentleman on the other end was very polite and could see that the card had been blocked, but not why. So he put me on hold while he looked into it. A minute later he came back on the line and said my card had been blocked "because of a history of making late payments". True enough, some of my previous statements had been paid late. But not the last couple! So I ask "Is there anything outstanding on my account right now?" "No sir, your account is fully paid up and nothing is owing." "So why has my card been blocked?" "As I said sir, a number of previous statements were paid late". WTF? By their own admission I don't owe them anything. The statements have been up to date for months. And out of the blue they decide to block my card? And to make it worse the customer "assistance" representative can't do anything about it because the accounts department is closed until Monday, so I'm left at the travel agent looking like a dipstick unable to pay for the travel I've booked. Screw you, Amex.

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