Photography Challenges

I mentioned in my (non-)resolution post that I wasn’t entirely sure I would participate in one of the yearlong challenges I was contemplating because of some recent events that had left me feeling a bit disenchanted. As of today I have made up my mind. Before I go on I want to stress one thing: I have no wish to deter anyone from participating in this photography challenge. This is purely my experience and my personal feelings.

Yesterday I unrolled my yoga mat, placed a foam block and my water bottle on top of it and took a photo. It was set up and taken specifically for Project Life 365 to represent the day’s theme of “resolution.” You might have seen the image, but it’s since been deleted.

On Sunday I purchased a copy of the field guide, which isn’t required to participate but was advertised as a good source of inspiration and I thought might be a beneficial read with a year of daily photos looming ahead of me. It should be noted that due to the nature of my work through ICGOLD Photography I’ve made use of many of Design Aglow‘s products; I’ve always found them completely worth the investment. So, anyway, I jumped right into reading the guide and for the most part I thought it was worth the $25; however, it contained numerous typographical errors beginning with the very first sentence. Not just missing words or simple errors spell check would overlook, but incomplete URLs, duplicated sentences and poor grammar. Honestly, it didn’t just seem like it could use to be copy edited, but that it hadn’t had even a cursory second glance given to it.

This is not what I’ve come to expect of DA’s products, so when I saw the guide being pushed again on the challenge’s Facebook page, I left a comment stating this fact. Now looking back I admit it wasn’t the most constructive comment I’ve ever written and this might not have been the best venue to disseminate such information, but in any case a few hours later I noticed that other comments had received replies and mine had been deleted. There was no mention on the page about the discovery of any errors in the guide and so my only conclusion was that my comment had been purposefully ignored.

I left a second comment, stating again that the guide had errors and that I was quite frankly offended that I’d been ignored and my comment deleted. I also posted this on Facebook, which I still maintain is an important aspect of utilizing social media as a business. About an hour later I noticed that my second comment was also deleted and that I no longer had the ability to leave comments or post on the page. Before I could turn into a mass of boiling rage, I received an email from one of the staff at Design Aglow regarding my comment. We emailed back and forth for the next hour. I gave a vague explanation of the errors I’d found in the field guide, noting that I wasn’t about to look up each specific instance since there were so many. And let’s face it, I wasn’t going to do their work for them. I also stated that I was more upset with how things had been handled: that my first comment was ignored and deleted; that rather than acknowledge the issue upfront I was privately emailed after my second comment was also deleted; and that I seemed to have been blocked from their Facebook page.

The person I was emailing with wasn’t aware of what had transpired before my second comment, but did apologize for the situation. I was told that their preferred method for customer service was direct communication rather than utilizing Facebook. I was assured that the guide would be proofed and there was a lengthy explanation given as to the cause of the errors. I was told I’d be sent a new copy and I was offered a credit to the store in the amount I’d spent. Both of which I refused because (a.) I’d already read the guide, errors and all and didn’t need a second copy; (b.) I wasn’t so upset by the product itself as to need an incentive to maintain my business with the company; (c.) regardless of their policy, I still felt that contacting me privately after deleting my comments was trying to hide the issue from public scrutiny; but mostly (d.) absolutely no acknowledgement was made whatsoever about the fact that I’d been blocked from their Facebook page. I mentioned it in two emails. And I even tweeted about it.

I’ve stated my feelings before about not utilizing Facebook properly as a business. If you aren’t going to allow for feedback from your customers, then I don’t really see the point. Mostly, though, banning me from any further comments makes me feel like my opinions don’t matter. I was willing to accept that it was a snap judgment or even a mistake, but since no one will acknowledge that it even happened I’m left feeling that it was intentional. Further, now it’s impossible for me to participate in the challenge via one of their main social networks! [EDIT: Seems they have an FB group set up for the purpose of sharing photos.]

In specific to my issue with the product, the only means of contacting them is through a form on the website. There isn’t any clear direction that you can or even should use it if you have a product issue, which doesn’t instill much confidence in me that I would have received a reply. Whereas they seem quite active on social media and do interact with customers. However I have since noted that I don’t see anything specifically negative on their wall or in comments. More to the point, I wasn’t exactly in need of support, which is why I left the comment initially rather than go the length of officially contacting them.

What I find the most confusing and bothersome is that they emailed me from the address I placed my order, which isn’t the same email I use on Facebook by the way. Not that I’m attempting any type of anonymity, but they could have messaged me through Facebook. Since being contacted, though, that email I used to order things has been subscribed to at least two of their mailing lists. Interesting fact? I was already subscribed to their mailing lists but with an entirely different email that isn’t easily associated with my name so I’ve since been receiving duplicate messages and so far as I know I only opted in with one email. In the end I’m just very conflicted about the entire thing. I’m not claiming their customer service is lax or their products are sub-par, but I am more than a little offended and so I don’t really feel like being a part of their community challenge.

I’m not turned off to all the challenges I vaguely mentioned before, though, and I do still intend to keep up with the photo-a-day goal. In fact, I am hoping to drag a friend with me to wander through Vale Park later today. I’ve never been and something about the idea of a cemetery covered in snow is hauntingly beautiful to me.

Help(less) Emma

After watching this, I am literally sick to my stomach. It’s an utterly deplorable advertisement. It disgusts me that blindness is so often thought of as synonymous with helpless and I said as much on Twitter. (Disabilities in general, for that matter.) But having the Royal National Institute of Blind People perpetuate this myth in their efforts to fundraise?!

Wow just doesn’t seem a strong enough word.

EDIT: There isn’t a whole lot of chatter on Twitter from RNIB about this, but this thread would still be noteworthy regardless.

First, “based on a true story” is not the same thing as “a true story” or “the facts are these.” No matter how close that story is to the truth there is obviously an element of sensationalism added or it wouldn’t be based on anything, it would just be the story. Second, and more important, is the simple fact that presenting blind people as helpless is not only ENTIRELY inaccurate but a disservice to all blind and visually impaired people. This sympathetic view only garners pity, which isn’t helpful to anyone. Defending such an outlook is not the stance RNIB should have; they should be completely ashamed of this advertisement.

Google, You Suck!

I’ve been slowly breaking up with Google, which I know seems amusing coming after my breakup with the public as a whole. But I was being facetious about the public whereas I really have been slowly distancing myself from Google.

It pains me because for the longest time I was one of the champions of promoting Google. Their products worked! They were simple and easy to use! They offered so much to the user, e.g. lots of email space! They were magic with spam! And they were accessible!

Yeah, not so much these days. And what’s worse is the more complicated and inaccessible their services become, the more they force them on the user base. Because if it’s totally broken it makes sense for everyone to use it, right? Couple that with their new terms of service, their increasingly scary collection of your personal data, and the arbitrary way they decide whether to show websites (specifically blogs) in search results and, well, I’ve had one foot out the door for months now.

Today, I am seriously contemplating just deleting my account once and for all. I’ve been helping a friend migrate her Blogger blog to a self-hosted WordPress install and today I had to poke around in her Blogger account a few times. Both times left me wanting to hurt people and break things after I was done.

Yes, I admit my knowledge of how Blogger works is pretty much nonexistent having never used the service. I started blogging on LiveJournal — before the term “blogging” had really caught on — and since moving to my own website I have exclusively used WordPress. But this isn’t like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory learning to swim on the Internet; it shouldn’t have been too complicated for me to figure out how to navigate another blogging platform. Except it totally was. And at one point I had to switch the account to the new interface – the utterly inaccessible interface — because the option I needed wasn’t in the old interface.

If that doesn’t tell you how little Google cares about a user, well, I’m not even wasting the energy to keep typing.

In short: ugh!

Warranty Woes

I have a love-hate relationship with computers. Well, electronics in general. I’ve bemoaned the untimely demises of several in the last year. Most recently I have had an external hard drive cease working. It was entirely random; it was working one minute and quite literally the next was not. That was a month ago and I’m still dealing with it. (And, yes, it’s certainly a contributing factor to my lack of presence here.)

I tried to troubleshoot the issue myself and in doing so discovered much to my own surprise that the device was under warranty through the manufacturer. Seemed odd since I bought it refurbished — and it arrived with very obvious cosmetic damage. But I decided to give the manufacturer a call and inquire further. During the course of the lengthy phone conversation I learned that the drive was truly under warranty, though the serial number was pulling up information for a different drive. This was extremely baffling, but I was basically rushed off the phone after the return was authorized.

While making sure to fully comply with the packing/shipping requirements — as was stressed several times by the CSR I initially spoke with — I ended up reading the manufacturer’s warranty notes, which stated plainly that opening an external drive’s case automatically voids the warranty. So, before wasting time shipping the drive just to have it rejected, I called the manufacturer again the next morning and waded through all the automated red tape required to get a human being on the line again. I immediately questioned the warranty’s validity in light of the fact that the drive was purchased refurbished and while it was obviously opened (or at the very least the case was damaged to the point it would appear as such) it was in the exact condition that I had purchased it in. I was assured that wouldn’t be an issue, but rather the fact that the serial number was pulling up incorrect information was more of a problem. I was instructed to take a photo of the drive and email it to support — and much to my displeasure as I had already meticulously packed up the drive the intial RMA (and the UPS label I purchased) were canceled.

Absurd as the instructions were, I complied. A day later support replied with a request for a receipt, which I promptly sent to them. I heard nothing more for two days and so I called the manufacturer again and got nowhere. A week went by and I called once more, this time demanding to speak with a supervisor. I rambled for a good twenty minutes in the poor man’s ear about the entire set of events. The supervisor seemed just as keen as the initial representative was to get me off the phone. He generated a new RMA, added a detailed note in it referencing the drive’s “cosmetic damage” and sent me a new UPS label free-of-charge. Interestingly, he also stressed the need to follow their packaging requirements and bid me farewell.

I carefully packed the drive once more and practically stalked its delivery progress with UPS over the next week. The manufacturer received it last Monday and according to both the supervisor I spoke with and a notation on the website a replacement should be sent out between five and seven business days. The notation also notes that the drive was received at the warehouse, but hasn’t been processed, which should take three business days. So, as it’s now the seventh business day, I decided to call and find out what’s going on. This required having to reiterate the entire sequence of events to yet another person and sit on hold for a good thirty minutes only to be told that I should call back tomorrow afternoon if I haven’t heard anything still. He did assure me that the defective drive is in their possession, though didn’t give me any reason as to why it hasn’t been processed. (Actually, I think he said that it’s in data recovery, which is a baffling thing unto itself as there was never any mention of retrieving data from the drive. And it’s moot anyway since, thankfully, I had a backup of the drive.)

I’m failing to see how this is actually an improvement over past electronic devices that have died on me. I’ve griped how they all were out of warranty — in fact, my last external hard drive to break did so exactly one day outside of its warranty! But I’m almost regretting that I discovered this had a warranty at all because I would have long since bought a replacement and I certainly wouldn’t have had to deal with all this fuss!

Caveat Emptor

Nothing like seeing $25 missing from your checking account on a Monday morning when you’re sick to start the week off right.

I forget exactly how I heard of them, probably Twitter, but I signed up to try Disabled Discounts.1 The fact that you couldn’t see any of the supposed discounts without first forking over $25 should have been a clue in and of itself, but it promised savings to disabled persons all over the country and I thought, “What could I lose?” A lot apparently.

I went through the registration and they happily took my money and then logged in. I checked out the local stuff and was hardly impressed. It wasn’t anything I couldn’t have found without just searching for local sales and nothing was disabled specific! I didn’t even bother looking elsewhere, though they admittedly have listings all over the country. If there wasn’t anything local, what use would it be to me?

I poked around the site to figure out if I could get my money back and came up with nada. There was a link in the account to cancel my subscription and I clicked that as the site clearly stated they would just as happily keep taking $25 from me each year unless I told them not to. I sent them an email asking for my money back and it bounced back to me. They had a phone number I could call, hut it was just an answering machine and no one ever bothered to phone me back. So, oh, well. I figured that was just a mistake I would have to live with.

That was last June. I know this because I poked through my checking account looking for the previous charge. I remembered the whole automatic renewal thing and was quite confused to find that it was well over a year since I had initiated a subscription. So, how is it that I was automatically renewed? First, I canceled my subscription. Second, if this was automatic, why did it take an extra four months to go through?

I went to the website and emailed them via their contact page. I also went to their Facebook page and left a note there. Their phone number is no longer listed on their contact page, but the transaction from my bank had one attached to it and I intended to call that if I didn’t hear something this morning. Before I could, though they started to reply. First to my email:

You never contacted us via email as you agreed to regarding the automatic renewal. We have reviewed our records regarding same and find nothing from you.

Incorrect, but even so that doesn’t explain how an automatic yearly renewal actually took 16 months. They do go on to state they will refund me my subscription this one time even though it was totally my mistake. Whatever. The email continues:

We do not wish you to be a member of organization.

Well at least we agree on something there. The email ends with a reply about my statement that I will be reporting them to the Better Business Bureau:

As for the BBB: Please go right ahead. We will be more than happy to furnish the BBB with the documentation that you agreed to twice regarding the automatic renewal.

How was I able to agree to a second renewal when I’ve only ever logged into the site one day? Let alone I still am confused about how an automatic renewal is automatic when the charges are not in the designated time frame. Sounds like fraud to me.

On Facebook I received a similar response that they didn’t find any record of me canceling my subscription, but I was most amused and baffled by the following:

Since we have received less than 10 phone calls over that past 60 days but dozens and dozens of [thank you] emails,we have deleted the phone to keep costs down for everyone . . . In addition, since there are hundreds of listings for each state and county how could you have possibly found nothing to be useful to you?

How are they getting any phone calls without a phone number listed now? I searched the Internet and found a number that matched the one on my bank statement, but again it’s just an answering machine and it doesn’t identify the phone as part of any business. Perhaps if they actually answered their phone or gave some indication they were a real live business they might receive more than 10 phone calls. Moreover, what does it matter how many other people find the service useful or how many listings they have because I didn’t find it useful. That’s the point! There are lots of people who find a great use for yellow squash, but you’ll never see me pay for one because I think they’re disgusting. It doesn’t mean that other people can’t find them yummy and satisfying or that if I was charged for one randomly I wouldn’t say something about it.

Between lying to me about my cancellation and subscription renewal, flat out telling me that you don’t want me as a customer and the baffling logic of throwing your satisfied customers in my face I truly don’t understand how they make any money whatsoever. The Internet says they’re making about $57,000 yearly, which isn’t amazing but that’s a lot of $25 subscriptions. How many of those are being taken without permission?

Buyer beware indeed.

  1. Google them if you wish, I’m not giving them the honor of referrer rank from me.