Archive for August, 2006

Dealing With Technical Support

August 31, 2006

Everybody who reads PChuck’s Network will eventually experience a problem that, regrettably, can’t be fixed by reading PChuck’s Network. As will the majority of the world’s population, those who don’t read PChuck’s Network.

So you will eventually have to deal with Technical Support, for the product or service that isn’t performing properly.

Now support techs have heard everything, so yelling at them, in any way, will cut no ice. Just be very calm and objective, but don’t take no for an answer. Be persistent.

Sometimes even persistence doesn’t produce results.

I spent half an hour on the phone discussing the problem. I was very polite, and the tech on the other end was likewise. But it was obvious, to me anyway, that we were getting nowhere.

So I closed the conversation. I played a little dirty here.

May I please speak to a supervisor?

Please hold.

(A minute on hold)

I’m sorry, we don’t have anyone available today.

(WTH? They work without supervision?)

OK, I guess we will have to work on this tomorrow?

(a few seconds for the tech to start closing the ticket)

May I have a ticket number?

Thank you. Are you filling out the ticket? Did you indicate how polite I was?
Good.

Please indicate in the ticket that the customer was very polite, but indicated at the end that he was extremely pissed off.

Please hold.

(5 minutes on hold, and I waited patiently)
And I got a senior supervisor, that had some ability to deal with the problem.

Be very objective and polite, don’t take no for an answer, and hit them hard when they don’t expect it.

There are other ways to deal with them too. If you have a connectivity problem, for instance, using a tool like PingPlotter, to identify a time pattern, and / or where the loss of connectivity is occurring, is a good start.

If this is your first call to a given Tech Support group, go prepared to ask and answer questions. Get a ticket number, and be prepared to contact them again with more information.

If this is your second (or more) call, you know (sort of) what to expect. Documentation, or an organised description of the problem, can go a long way towards making them listen to you. As will an objective demeanour.

Most tech support people really would like to solve your problem. Try and meet them half way, but make it clear to them that you expect results. Work with them, and both of you may be pleasantly rewarded.

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Predicted Effect Of Blogger Beta

August 29, 2006

In my previous post, The Real Blogger Status – Beta, I predicted that the Blogger Beta would cause resource reallocation within Blogger, and stubborn holdouts who continue to use Classic Blogger will soon find themselves without service or support.

Today, in Google Blogger Help – Publishing Trouble: Is something wrong with Blogger today? (and there is an open ended question that in itself should have acquired 200% more trolls than it did), I see a copy of the latest botmail:

Hi there,

This is an automated update from Blogger Support. We are currently focusing all of our efforts on Blogger in beta, and are unable to provide personal responses to other issues.

What the hell? Personal responses?? When have they ever provided personal responses? And please don’t try and count Blogger Employee appearing in Google Blogger Help as a personal response.

This was a true C&C moment.

(Edit): In Google Blogger Help – Something Is Broken: Unable to provide responses – because they’re trying to fix Blogger Beta, I see just one more bit of bullshite

In the Blogger Help Group, experienced users can answer your questions, or you may find that your question has already been asked and answered in the archives. We also have a Blogger employee monitoring the group to provide assistance.

Yeah, if assistance consists of

Hi There,

Thanks for your feedback. Please fill out the Help Form.

And this was yet another a true C&C moment, and the poster has been warned twice now. Label your posts

[C&C]: Unable to provide responses – because they’re trying to fix Blogger Beta

Please.

(Edit 9/28): Have the problems started this week?

What Is A CrossOver Cable, and Why Do I Need One

August 29, 2006

In any conversation between two people or computers, you speak and the other listens. Or it speaks, and your computer listens. This means that your mouth has to connect to the ear on the other end. This is called cross-over.

If you look at any hub / switch / router 10 years ago, you would probably see the various ports labeled “X-1”, “X-2”, “X-3″… This meant those were cross-over ports. Your computer would speak (transmit) thru a pair of wires in the Ethernet cable. When the connection went into the router port at the other end, the cross-over function connected the transmit wire pair from your computer to the receive port at the other end, and the receive pair from your computer to the transmit pair at the other end.

If you had to connect a pair of routers directly to each other, you would have a cross-over port at one end connecting to a cross-over port at the other end. This would cause a cancellation of the cross-over function, so you would use a cross-over cable.

If you connected a pair of computers directly, you would similarly need a cross-over cable.

This meant that everybody with a computer network had to have cross-over cables handy.

To eliminate the need for using cross-over cables, router manufacturers developed Auto-MDIX. A router port with Auto-MDIX will listen to see if it is connected to another cross-over port, and switch itself to non-cross-over mode if necessary. Some computers, likewise, have Auto-MDIX. If you connect a pair of computers directly, and one (or both) have Auto-MDIX, you can use a straight-thru (aka patch) cable, and they will connect just fine.

Auto-MDIX is a significant development, in the networking world. Having said that, I don’t believe that Auto-MDIX can be relied upon, as a complete solution. I will still advise you to have a cross-over cable, or connector, handy for diagnosing network problems.

Replacing The Blog Title With An Image

August 28, 2006

Those of you who are artistic, and handy with Photoshop or another image processor, eventually decide that having a blog labeled in text is boring. So you spice it up. And one of the easiest things you can do is to replace the blog title with a picture.

(Question): Is this a Beta blog? If so, read Customising The Header In A Beta Blog, first.

(Note): The code below has extra line breaks liberally inserted, to avoid yet another post / sidebar alignment problem.

The hardest part in doing this is to get the image hosted somewhere. If you use Flickr, Photobucket, et al, this is not an issue (hopefully you know the URL). You can’t do image upload when editing your template. If I want my image hosted by Blogger, this is what I do.

  • Create a new post in the blog, and Title it “Photos” or whatever.
  • Upload my picture to the post.
  • Look carefully at the code created in the upload. In my case, I have

    <a onblur=”try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}”
    href=”http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger2/
    560/527000594325287/
    1600/RBS%20Header%201.gif”><img
    style=”float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 0;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;”
    src=”http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger2/
    560/527000594325287/
    320/RBS%20Header%201.gif”
    border=”0″ alt=”” /></a>

  • My picture is now

    http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger2/
    560/527000594325287/
    1600/RBS%20Header%201.gif

  • Very important: Save the post as Draft. I don’t want my title image showing up in a post, in the middle of the blog. Untidy to say the least.

Go to template edit.

  • Find the coding for the blog title.

    <ItemPage><a href=”<$BlogURL$>”></ItemPage>
    <$BlogTitle$>
    <ItemPage></a></ItemPage>

  • And replace it with

    <ItemPage><a href=”<$BlogURL$>”></ItemPage>
    <img src=”http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger2/
    560/527000594325287/
    1600/RBS%20Header%201.gif”>
    <ItemPage></a></ItemPage>

  • Save, and Republish.

Easy, no? That part was. To make it as it is now (see the header above), you’ll have to do just a little more work.

Migration From Blogger Classic To Blogger Beta

August 27, 2006

I have several Blogger blogs, among the various websites and other web presences that I maintain. Two of my biggest blogs – PChuck’s Network, and The Real Blogger Status – simply can’t be migrated, given the current level of problems, and of design deficiencies, to Blogger Beta. The latter blog (this blog), which I call RBS, absolutely won’t be migrated to Beta, until there are no more Classic blogs. Maybe this blog won’t ever be migrated.

Having said all of that, I will move ahead with using Blogger Beta. There are just so many improvements in Beta, which I have discussed in detail, separately, that I intend to enjoy.

This blog will continue to exist, though, probably as long as I base my web presence in Blogger. I’ll use static links between this blog and the Beta, in various mirrored posts. And, I’ll have dynamic digests – syndicated feeds, for instance my Blogger Beta feed. See the RBS Beta mirror post for a project description, complete with code examples.

The feeds won’t give complete relevant content, I’ll still have a lot of static linking to do. I do that anyway, in all of my blogs. Without hyperlinks, my blogs would be a bit less useful.

In some IT migration strategies, this is called a bridge. I suspect that this looks complicated, at first glance. It was simpler to do, than to write about. Setting up the bridge took maybe an hour. Writing the tutorials, with the examples, took close to 2 hours.

Firewall Behaviour – And Windows Networking

August 27, 2006

The classical personal firewalls, which would be installed on most personal computers in a typical Small Office / Home Office environment, block only specific network traffic. By default, they are open, and pass all traffic.

Modern firewalls, used by more cautious network experts, permit only specific network traffic. By default, they are closed, and pass no traffic. After installing this type of firewall, you must run a manager and configure the firewall to pass your desired traffic.

My suspicion is that the nVidia nForce hardware firewall falls in the latter category. If you don’t run the firewall manager, it will pass only a minimum of traffic, probably just enough for you to surf to the nVidia website and get software upgrades. This intentionally blocks SMBs (whether NetBT hosted, or directly hosted), and protects against the dangers offered by Windows Networking. If you’re going to use Windows Networking over TCP/IP, you must run the firewall manager, and intentionally configure it for Windows Networking.

Short of configuring the firewall for Windows Networking over TCP/IP, you have no choice but to install an alternate transport such as IPX/SPX or NetBEUI, which bypasses the firewall completely.

For ongoing discussion about this issue, see these threads in the Microsoft Public WindowsXP Network_Web forum:

  • Selling my soul to the devil is the next step…
  • NVIDIA “hidden firewall” causes networking problem, by the Original Poster in the previous thread

    If you have the NVIDIA nforce networking controller with onboard LAN, you may have a “hidden firewall” interfering with your network connection. I’ll describe my own situation and how I resolved the problem. I owe great gratitude to Chuck, frequent poster in this group, who worked with me for about a week, and had suggested the possibility of the NVIDIA “hidden firewall”, but I was reluctant to accept that because, well, it really was hidden and I couldn’t find it (and still can’t). But it was there. (For those who want to review the original thread, it was posted in this group under the title “networking only works one way” on 08/04/06.)

  • Networking only works “one way”, with only my part of the thread provided, because the Other Poster’s content was not archived.

Newer Spammer Tricks

August 25, 2006

As the public becomes aware of spam, and more resistant to it, the spammers have to be creative. It may take 10,000 pieces of spam to get one hit (an actual inquiry from a possible victim), rather than 1,000 (as it might have, a year ago). Spammers started out sending email, but now they have adapted to changing times.

Some people have given up on email, for commication with anybody that they really care about. They will use an Instant Messenger for direct, real time communication with individual friends, and broadcast information of general interest by blogs or other websites. With Instant Messaging, you can choose, at any time, who is allowed to send you messages. With blogs or websites, you can selectively browse those belonging to people that you know. If you have a lot of friends, you can automate checking your friends websites using a syndication feed newsreader.

So rather than just sending out email, spammers, too, are using Instant Messaging, and blogs.

Now, the email system is rather old, and was originally designed with very little restrictions in the network. Every server that transports email will accept email from any server sending, and send to any server receiving. The reality of spam has necessitated changes in that philosophy, but basically, any restrictions are patches on top of a pretty spam friendly infrastructure. And email travels at a level not seen by most users of the email.

But with email spam being less productive for the spammers, they’ve had to send more spam to get the same amount of money. This is not a problem – spammers don’t send email directly from their computer, they use botnets as email relays.

Blogs and Instant Messaging and websites, on the other hand, are much more obvious to the users. It’s harder to get any volume of spam through either of those, so the spammers have to be creative.

One of the ways the spammers are being creative is handling Captchas. Now, even if you don’t know what a Captcha is, I’m sure you’ve used one. If you’ve setup an email account, or a website, or posted a comment in a guestbook anywhere, you’ve had to deal with one.

A Captcha, or “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”, is a word puzzle. Generally you’ll see a set of 6 to 8 alphanumeric characters, jumbled and mangled, in a box, and you’ll be asked to type those characters into another box. If you type the correct sequence of characters, you’ll be allowed to do what you want to do, open an email account. The idea here is that a spammers automated computer program won’t be able to read the Captcha content, even though we humans can.

So the spammers are using people to read the Captchas, and type the answers. And there’s no shortage of people to do this, even as they don’t realising what they’re doing. Captchas are so common these days that any time we see one, and we’re doing something intentionally, such looking at pictures of dancing pigs, we solve it.

The spammers program, while setting up another email account, takes a copy of a Captcha, which has been presented to it for solving, and presents that same captcha on its website. We, the website surfer, see the Captcha, and being eager to see the dancing pigs, obediently type the answer. The spammers website routes the answer back to the email setup program, and on to the email setup server as if a person just intentionally typed the answer. The spammer gets another email account, and we get to see the dancing pigs.

Think this is fiction? See the Google video by Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon Institute: Human Computation.

Login Problems Related To Blogger Beta

August 24, 2006

One big problem with Blogger, right now, is the confusion over authentication. Under classic Blogger, you could have a Blogger account, with an account name. That account could be tied to any email account, with any email service. Blogger Beta ties your Blogger access to a Google email address.

Unfortunately, even though you’re not using Blogger Beta, you may be affected by changes to Classical Blogger, which support the Beta.

Blogger Employee
seems to consider this possibility. And Blogger Buzz: Beta Update! describes issues that are relevant here too.

One reader writes of using the same account and password, in both Blogger and Google, and experiencing this problem. He reports a successful workaround, achieved by changing the password on one account.

Changing Your Blog URL? Plan the Change!

August 24, 2006

Occasionally, after you have your blog for a while, you tire of the URL. Maybe the blog content changed in focus, or maybe you discovered that the current URL is too similar to another better known one. So you decided to pick a different BlogSpot address. Whatever.

So you selected an available URL, went into Settings – Publishing, changed the address, and republished to the new address. Fine.

Then you discovered that you can still see the old URL. Not so fine.

What you did was similar in effect to someone switching to external publishing. Like someone who switched to external publishing, you can still see the old blog. Hopefully, it still has your contents there.

At one time, if you switched your blog address, or changed to external publishing, and looked back later, you’d likely find a splog sitting at your old URL. When you gave up the URL, a spammer found out about it, and started publishing there. Splogs are designed to exploit that mistake.

But Blogger Support got tired of folks complaining about the splogs, so they fixed it so URLs that were abandoned, either from deletion or from publishing to a different address, wouldn’t be available.

So now it looks like you have to contact Blogger Support, and explain the problem. And don’t forget to reply to the botmail.

And in the future, if you change or delete your blog, plan the change properly. Put a stub blog in its place. But do this carefully.

Follow this procedure for migrating your blog to a new URL. Think about each step first, and do them in sequence.

  1. Backup your current blog, as it is now in Blogspot.com.
  2. Backup the template, into a text file. Save the backup file in several places.
  3. Change the Blogger settings, on your current blog, to publish to the new URL.
  4. Change the Blogger settings, on your stub blog, to publish to your current URL.
  5. Republish the main blog, to the new URL.
  6. Republish the stub blog, to the just vacated URL.

If I was doing this, I would do all steps at the same time, one after the other. I would probably not take a rest break, and I certainly wouldn’t let the sun go down, before completing the last step. Seriously. Read Spam Blogs #3, if you don’t understand how frustrating it will be for you to have to have your vacated blogspot address used for a splog.

BlogSpot Network Problems?

August 23, 2006

I’m a network troubleshooter, and got into Blogging only recently, when I needed to setup a website quickly. So when I hear Bloggers describe problems that may well be network related, not related to the silence at Blogger, my ears perk up.

So today I see mention of possible DNS or MTU problems accessing blogspot.com.

And here’s an ongoing problem. When you’re in Post Edit, you see (on and off, constantly)

Could not connect to Blogger.com. Saving and publishing may fail.

DNS / MTU problems can have varied symptoms.
You try to browse to http://www.example.gov, and you get a cryptic

  • Firefox can’t find the server at http://www.example.gov.
  • We can’t find “www.example.gov”.
  • The classical

    404 Not Found

Now the above 3 examples could have been caused by any of several scenarios.

I’ll generally refer you to any of 3 articles of mine.

Given the possibility that the problem might be with Blogspot, maybe WordPress is a good alternative here.