April 14th, 2009


Worlds of Fun

Thanks to all for the moral support - it turned out to be not as horrible as before, due to the absence of several contributing factors from last time, though tense and overfull of (among other things) right-wing noise-machine chamber echoes from the usual quarters (I think, though I don't have enough data points yet, that "zombies" may be becoming a euphemism/dog whistle among the black helicopter/militia crowd) but hey, family togetherness, that's what matters? [cue schmalzy 1950s movie music]

As far as the months-long-but-recently-discovered-due-to-expansion Amazon policy of hiding the "controversial" books that just happen to be subversive of the heteronormative patriarchal standards no matter how non-racy they happen to be, while het/gen fic and fact that's bawdy as all get out and worse than bawdy) I have at the moment just two things to say:

1) anyone who really thinks that "accidental stupidity is a more likely explanation of anything gone wrong in the world anywhere than willful malice" is a sound general principle has just shown themselves to be a Cylon. --Not that there's anything wrong with that, necessarily; sentient robots are people too, and discrimination against droids would be bad enough without the added irony that plenty of born, voting, gainfully-employed humans couldn't pass the Turing Test if their lives depended on it. But clearly such speakers have never been - nor grown up surrounded by a playground full of - human children.

2) Anyone who trusts a business's ass-covering PR responses is even more naive about human nature than our newly-awakened android, and thus a likely target for spammers and scammers of all kinds, and advertising it in public no less. --Even before I was instructed explicitly to "learn to lie [to customers] with a smile" by a boss, I had unavoidable evidence of this.

About ten years ago, I was the in-house tech support person for a small quick print shop that had an FTP site for customers to upload large files rather than bringing down the email system with them (hopefully) and said FTP site was hosted by a small local ISP rather than any large company, with the theory being that small & local would mean better service and more personalized customer care than some large faceless out-of-state supplier.

This is a nice abstract theory, like "landowners will make better voters because they have a greater vested interest in society" or "someone who has been raised to rule will be better at it than someone who wants to do it but has no training" but like these statements it is no more predictive of reality. In this case, the FTP site went down a lot. Back in those days, FTP was a lot more complicated, the software wasn't as good at detecting protocols and just working with them and so it was a lot easier to have one of the switches wrong and like someone rewiring a machine without a diagram, have to go through a lot of trial and error flipping settings to get a transfer to go through. Part of my regular job involved trying to help customers figure out what switches needed to be changed on their software to get into our FTP site, and since a lot of these folks were technophobic and had minimal training or experience it often was a customer error when they couldn't upload, so I was always a little leery and stressed out when I had to call our ISP and tell them that someone was getting error messages or time-outs.

Because their answer was always the same - it must be something wrong on the end-user end. Even when it wasn't just one, but TEN customers who couldn't upload all the sudden. Even when it was customers who were themselves web engineers and didn't need to be asked about passive transfers or if they'd switched the login passwords. Even when it was us, too, who couldn't get in, and no, we hadn't changed anything on our FTP software since yesterday, honest!

It was always incredibly stressful, since they were soooo patronizing, it happened so often, and I always felt extra stupid after dealing with them since I never understood the answers and explanations and they never seemed to match up from the last time - and since we were a quick-print shop and relied on said connectivity to keep customers happy this was not just a source of emotional stress and frustration, but a money-loser for us beyond the fact that we weren't getting the service we were paying for, even if they would never admit to any downtime.

Then the day happened when the FTP site was inaccessible for over a day. I was getting yelled at for it by my boss - as if I had any control over [REDACTED] ISP, and as if I hadn't told him over and over again in the past year that we should switch to a bigger, more solid hosting company - and by the customers who were getting desperate, and so I just kept calling back and calling back and eventually I got someone on the phone that I'd never spoken with before. Apparently with the Situation they had on hand, they were understaffed enough that people who weren't usually on the phones were having to answer them.

"Oh, it'll be a few more hours," she said blithely, "Our server got infected by a worm and we're having to move everything over to a new system, it should be back up by two o'clock," and for a second I didn't say anything because I couldn't, and then I said, "Oh really? Isn't that interesting? Thank you for letting us know!" which was a bit sarcastic because gee, how hard would it have been to let their paying customers know that there was a downtime problem and what the ETA was? And I told my boss, who got angry and took it out on me as usual (because somehow it was STILL my fault that he'd been wrong to trust [REDACTED] ISP all this time that I was the screwup, instead of listening to me that there must be something wrong on their end again) and told me to tell our waiting customers that they would be able to upload their files at two.

Only, you know, they weren't, because it still wasn't up at that point.

So I called again and got one of the usual suspects who admitted that they had indeed been down "because we were upgrading to give you better speed and service" and I said "Oh reeeely? because the last time I called someone told me it was because you got hit with a virus and were doing damage control," and there was this silence, and I went on, "So is it fixed yet and when ARE we going to be up, and I don't want to hear any nonsense any more about it being our fault we can't get in," and got another ETA though no apology.

And at that point it STILL didn't work, and when I contacted them again it turned out - after a lot of armtwisting - that they had changed our bloody login password and not told us, which they said was an accident - well fine I'm sure it was, given their prior sloppiness - but how did they think that was good customer service? - and then refused to change it BACK without a drastic threat to move to a different host from my boss...because they insisted that it was too much work, and we didn't NEED it done at all - we could just track down and inform all the hundreds of customers in our database to change their FTP program settings, instead. Even though it was their repeated carelessness that had caused the problem.

So no, there wasn't "malice aforethought" in that they didn't deliberately break their own servers with inadequate hardware and, eventually, bad security procedures - but the chronic, systemic, routine and unrepentant lying to customers over the course of a year about what was going on? Nothing but. Unless you think that smug, chronic dishonesty is a benevolent societal interaction...

To say that Ockham's Razor demands that we assume only good will on the part of our fellow bipeds is to ignore our own human nature (I know I'm not always benevolent, no matter how much I struggle to keep my aggression tempered by justice, and I know I'm not a monster - a unique anomaly - among the species in that regard) and the manifest evidence of experience otherwise. "Incompetence" and "malice" are not mutually exclusive sets - dealing with the privileged on a daily basis as a low-status flunky for years will provide enough evidence for that to write a dissertation. (They do, however, have a feedback effect, similar to the one observed by Messrs. Dunning and Kruger wrt arrogance and incompetence...) It's even more naive to assume that a deliberate choice - which may or may not have been seen as malicious by the makers - is always precluded by incompetence, but that gets into a whole morass of Intentionalism that I don't have time to hash out before work.

That ISP no longer exists, btw. The company I was with was too indolent to move, though I was willing to research a better FTP host, but I made sure that I told everyone I knew at the time to avoid them: the combination of arrogance and incompetence on their part unsurprisingly doomed them, tho' I'm sure - like every business I've ever worked for which failed or struggled - that they blamed it entirely on the existence of competition.

Plus ca change...