Category Archives: Rants

picture of racks web servers

Finding a New Hosting Provider

This is part two of finding a new hosting provider. If you haven’t read part one you should start there.

TLDR: I left Site5 as they were purchased by EIG. I went looking for hosting elsewhere.

Hosted WordPress Solutions?

Hosted WordPress solutions like WP Engine are great at what they do I suggest them when ever possible. But a hosted WordPress solution doesn’t have all the bits and pieces I needed.  I need something more I needed a managed hosting linux box with a control panel style interface.

Dreamhost

I’ve had a couple of clients on Dreamhost in the past and know both Mike Schroder and Mika Epstein (Ipstenu) through the WordPress community. Both are amazing people who I have learnt a lot from.  I knew it was a good company and still think it’s a good company. Sadly Dreamhost didn’t work for me and here is why:

Their managed hosting doesn’t use cPanel, so everything had to be migrated manually. Their free migration department would only include a single WordPress install. The MySQL setup was problematic, and the documentation was different the actual process when I did it myself.

A email error that couldn't get into the system.
A email error that didn’t allow me to get my email into their system.

I host my email, and It’s something I have always done and continue to do. I like the fact I Google / Microsoft / Yahoo isn’t reading my email even though I have email accounts with all three, but most of my correspondence is via my personal email address. I also had to manually migrate each email address via pop3 to Dreamhost, which became problematic when it wouldn’t accept some sent emails. Also, their unlimited email inbox wasn’t, all email would be transferred to a folder called archive after once a 600 limit had been reached.

I spent the most of a Saturday afternoon and evening moving three subsites and email single domain to Dreamhost and five more domains to go. Nothing was easy about the migration. I should have done more research before trying.

If I was a completely new customer and didn’t have all of this “digital” baggage I think I would have fit into Dreamhost’s set up better. It was just everything didn’t flow smoothly and after a very frustrating day fighting with their control panel and MYSQL setup I decided to leave. I don’t really hold anything against Dreamhost, I just felt I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole the entire time.

You have to find the hosting that is right for you and your needs…

SiteGround

I next tried SiteGround again it came highly recommended by a number of people in the WordPress community. I didn’t like their sales and marketing tactics and a conversation I had with sales were somewhat different than their marketing materials. The IMAP hosting page is somewhat misleading because they suggest that 30GB Web Space and unlimited email addresses but fail to mention that each email account is only 2GB in size.

Also, everything is always on sale which I feel is kinda odd (much like a local furniture dealer The Brick). The promo price applicable for the first invoice. Once your initial term is

Screenshot of SiteGround IMAP page
IMAP landing page, that wasn’t exactly telling the entire truth IMHO. Screenshot November 25, 2016

over, regular renewal prices apply, Which is only half the regular price. Confusing yet? You’ll never actually pay the regular price.  So the promo price is in my opinion the regular price.

If everything is always on sale then maybe you should call that the actual retail price?

I decided that even with my marketing reservations I would try out Siteground. The proof will be in the pudding so to speak.

Migration of the site seemed to go well. But emails kept going into the spam folder. Siteground uses both Spam Experts & Spam Assasin. One tech said they worked together another said they worked independently. No one or documentation seemed to be able to tell me why both were actually installed and how they worked together. The question of why was never answered, it was more just trust us you need both of them.

Turns out Spam Experts is an external spam detection and filtering service, but Siteground changed my MX Records to use Spam Experts which caused a lot of pain when left Siteground a week later. I don’t believe I was informed about these mx changes or why they were needed at that time.

But emails continued to go into the spam folder.  5 – 10 emails out of 20 were seen as spam. But with the duplicated services also meant I had to whitelist the address in both services, and the whitelisting still didn’t seem to help.

I’d call into support spell my last name Dall, Yet their always have trouble finding my account, Dawl, Doll, Dahl. Nope, can’t find my account even though I spelt my last name for them. This happened almost every time I called in. Maybe they weren’t really listening?

Then I asked for a second website migration to find out that they only moved the small website and not the email addresses or redirects or anything. Not what I had paid $40 US for. I would have done it myself but the clients work always come first.

Then when I tried to login into my cPanel and my home IP Address was randomly blocked.

We got that fixed, and then I submitted a request for a proper migration. Then a support tech asked which email account. There was only email address and he could have checked that, but wouldn’t a site migration mean all of them? Then they requested the password they already had in previous message in the ticket, then they needed permission to do something I already gave them permission to do.

I jumped on live chat and didn’t know what they were asking for permission for. They had everything they needed. The chat support said she couldn’t help she didn’t know. So there is a big button that said “chat with manager” I pressed it. Then I was connected with an another support tech she said, “I am not a manager there aren’t any managers on the right now” my reply why is there a button to contact a manager when there isn’t one available? She replied by just cancelling the chat. Great customer service Siteground.

I phoned support and said I am not hanging up till I get to the bottom of this. We found a resolution but it was now passed midnight. Seven interactions with support for something I had paid them to handle? ( When I left Siteground I got my money back for the botched migration)

I felt a complete lack a trust with Siteground. I didn’t know if I was overly cautious or accusatory, change is hard, but it was a rough start to say the least. After talking through these problems with my friend Rebecca Coleman, I knew I wasn’t happy and didn’t know if I could trust SiteGround. Providing uptime isn’t the only important thing to a customer.

Then I couldn’t access a folder on my account, checked the error logs, nothing, got onto the support and they couldn’t find the resolution, I had the exact path in the server. I had two FTP clients. Nope, Nothing.

It was the last straw, I couldn’t continue like this. It was one error after another.

Where to go next? A number of hosting providers who I have never heard of were contacting me on twitter trying to get my business after I mentioned site5. There are so many hosting companies that look great on the outside and mediocre on the inside, I look at the little things, the attention to detail even in the web design of the companies own web design.

Also, the large majority of hosting review websites are based on referrals. When you see a list of hosting reviews three out of the five providers are EIG owned and all hosts have 4 star review how accurate are these reviews? What is behind their endorsement? A referral pay cheque. This is nothing new. It’s been happening for years. (Except for Kevin Ohashi’s Review Signal which is very transparent in how he reviews.)

While half my sites were on site5 I had two on siteground and yet I was going try a third host to find something better then what I had.

InMotion Hosting

Logo InMotion HostingLike the previous two InMotion was recommended, but they were quite foreign to me. I had a long live chat with sales agent named Patrick at InMotion Hosting. We talked about:

• Where their data center was located?  Los Angeles & DC.
• Who owned the company? Employee Owned
Where is support located? Virginia Beach, USA
Secure SSL IMAP Email? Yes, truly unlimited email and SSL
Security Certificates? Let Encrypt is not support on shared hosting, but is on VPS and dedicated plans, You can get you own and you’ll but you’ll need a Dedicated IP.

I also asked some pretty basic questions just to see if there any I was missing and nope nothing.

At the end of the chat the Patrick gave me he direct contact information if I had anymore questions. That was pretty legit of him. It’s really all the little things that go into making a really great hosting relationship.

I moved the two sites that were at siteground to InMotion via a Tarball and was very happy with my migration it was pretty painless. Except for:

Apple Mail strikes again…

InMotion uses a self signed security certificates for their shared ssl and while it didn’t matter to me that they did this. Apple Mail both on the laptop and iPhone have a huge problem with self signing security certificates. It thinks your doing something wrong. You have to over ride on the laptop. But  as of November 28th, 2016 I still don’t have email on my phone as I can’t find the override. I have yet to figure out this problem. But it’s not the fault of InMotion. I should be able to tell Apple, Yes I understand the risk, yes I know who the host is, Yes the certificate is valid, I an the owner of this computer you know. But I digress…

I had to manually migrate three email addresses to merge them into one c-panel InMotion hosting suggested I use Thunderbird for the migration. I didn’t have any problems. Actually Thunderbird doesn’t have an issue with self signing security certificates.

What really sealed the deal was just this weekend when I contact Benjamin a support rep while I’ve had good support with everyone I have contacted at InMotion he really took my level of knowledge and provided just enough info not to overwhelm but still educated as to why and not that “It’s just done that” Now I know more about how my needs fit with InMotions server set up.

I did purchase my own SSL for Robertdall.com and I had to purchase a Dedicated IP address for that. I hope that InMotion decided to get on board with Let’s Encrypt. But for now that is my only suggestion.

Conclusion

In the end you need to find your own hosting company that works for you that you’re comfortable with. Dreamhost is a great company and a good provider yet, not for me. Siteground came highly recommend yet I wasn’t comfortable with them.  I wasn’t looking the lowest price and I wasn’t looking for 100% uptime without great customer service. Hopefully I will have a long successful hosting relationship with InMotion and I won’t have to moving hosting again for a long long time.

(Disclaimer: I have referrals to InMotion and WP Engine on this web page but I only recommend what I use myself.)

I can no longer endorse site5 as a hosting provider.

Part one of two of why I left my long time hosting provider site5.

In Part Two I will give you a review of who I tried and why I left and who I found.

Spoiler Alert: it’s InMotion Hosting.

A hosting company should be a like a good auto mechanic. You only need to chat with them when something is going wrong. Or you need to add another service.

I’ve switched hosting companies a total of two times. I have lived in more places than my websites have actually. I think your hosting provider is probably one of the most critical business partnerships you have on the web because they are what keep you online. They are what keep you in business, so buying hosting was like finding a great auto mechanic. The less you contact them, the better, but when you need them, they are there and understand what you need. So having unmanaged hosting wasn’t something I wanted. Which is why I liked site5 so much, they managed the in’s and out’s of managing my server and had guarantees of uptime and transparency of reporting on server uptime. Yes, there was some bumps in the road. But all in all, they were a great match for what I needed and the reason I stayed with them for eight years and moved dozens of clients to their services.

So when I heard that site5 had sold to Endurance International Group, I was in disbelief. But after contacting Ben Welch-Bolen the then owner of Site5 and yes the sale had been made, and the handing over of customer assets would be done on August 26th, 2016. I am not knocking whatever business decision the previous owners of site5 made in the sale that’s not for me to judge.

But when EIG did take the reigns it was immediately noticeable:

• You had to accept terms of service every time you logged in.
• All of site5 previously great support staff were laid off. Support response time went from seconds to a half hour if they were even answered.

No more transparency on uptime reporting from site5
No more transparency on uptime reporting from site5 (click for full size)

• All Nagios server status reports were gone, no more transparency of server uptime.
• All money back guarantees of server uptime disappeared.
• Downtime of my server went from minutes a week to hours.
• Support tickets took weeks to respond too.
• Emails about server maintenance ceased, and five clients were migrated to a new server without notice or time to change the A-name take their site down for days. Support knew nothing.
• I had a multi-admin account that allowed me to switch between clients. That just disappeared. I had no access to any other hosting account I previously was a registered user on.
• Friends charged were services they didn’t have not did they want.
• Emails were randomly blocked coming in and or not delivered when going out causing havoc in my communications.

These issues all started to happened the day EIG took over and continues to happen to either or other customers I personally know of and is common place when EIG takes over a hosting company.

There are only about five hosting providers I have blacklisted and bill hourly just to deal with their server turns out two of them are EIG properties.

• NetFirms – blacklisted 2010
• HostGator – blacklisted 2014

Both were persistent interoperability problems and no resolution from support regarding the issue. Support took over half an hour to contact and then were clueless to the problem, resolution or timeline to get it fixed. Sadly I am going to have to add site5 and pretty much every EIG owned property to that list. But it would seem that EIG really doesn’t care, it has in my interpretation purchased the competition to improve other brands in it’s holdings.

We believe this trend assists competitors who have focused more heavily than we have on building consumer awareness of their brand, and that it has made it more challenging and more expensive for us to attract new subscribers. In order to address this trend, during the third quarter of 2016, we began to allocate additional marketing investment to a subset of our hosting brands, including our largest brands, Bluehost.com, HostGator and iPage.
~ EIG 2016 THIRD QUARTER  REPORT

They purchase a hosting property, lay off support staff, uptime takes a dive bomb and lack of any accountability on their part. This collaborates what has reported by Kevin Ohashi of Review Signal.

Where to go next?

Well, that was a big question for me over the summer. I need something that could:
• Host email
• WordPress websites
• Subdomains ( to test plugins, mess with stuff )
• Static HTML
• Having a cPanel account wasn’t required as site5 had a very customised cPanel they called Backstage and Site admin. But I didn’t want to be writing shell commands.

Read my second blog post on finding a new hosting provider.  Spoiler alert it’s Inmotion Hosting.

iGoogle Sad

Google Reader… We should have seen this coming…

But let me be clear I never used google reader. But what I did use every hour of every working day was iGoogle and its rss feeds.

It did a lot for me and served as my home page for years, yes years…

I made good use of the services offered to me via iGoogle and will be sad to see them go. RSS feeds on the left, weather in the centre. Translators on the right.
I made good use of the services offered to me via iGoogle and will be sad to see them go. RSS feeds on the left, weather in the centre. Translators on the right.

I had a very minimal apps / widget usage that included RSS feeds (in blue) from the global and mail and CBC along with weather widgets for Both Sechelt and Vancouver (red) and google translator and metric conversation tools (purple).

It was all the home page I ever needed for years and has remain unchanged throughout the launch of twitter, google wave, google +, etc….

First to go was the google weather API in late august of 2012. It was open but was unpublished so developers who used it did do at their own peril. The weather widgets of iGoogle still work but the API associated with them was closed long ago. Then word of the iGoogle shutdown. Now granted they did give us more than a year of warning. But this was a clear departure from the customize your own google experience to you’ll get what we give you.

So when I heard that google was shutting down their reader I was momentarily surprised but then I though “We’ll that figures…”

Gone are the days of the developer focused company, where customization of an open standard was common. Where don’t be evil was the unofficially company slogan. I still don’t think Google is evil. But it is certainly doing it’s own thing. I am not sure if I will ever be able to find a replacement to iGoogle. But my web habits will certainly change after it’s closure.

Also allow me a moment of pure speculation…

What is next to shut down from Google?

Will Google say…  Were not going to support jQuery libraries anymore… Or were not going to support google fonts anymore…

I am not saying any of this will actually happen… But why put your website in that position?

Which is why whenever I am asked. Yes, I embed all my font directly on the server when ever possible… Yes I use the embedded jQuery that comes with a WordPress install and yes I use an RSS reader that is based on my computer. And yes I used my own server to host all of email…

Why? Because I control the switch, And no external company has control over it and as were seeing once again… That is a very good idea…

Now if only I could find a decent replacement to my iGoogle home page.

My problem with Google Places, Google Maps

I have always been a visual guy. If I can visualize, I can usually make sense of it.

Which is why I really really love Google Maps and use it every day. I was recently in Vegas and didn’t have data for my phone or the ability to find locations in Google Maps on my phone and I kinda felt lost without it.  That and Vegas is just damn confusing.

Google has really done an amazing of job of organizing the world’s content so people can find what they are looking for quickly and easily.

But herein lies my main issue with Google Maps: It is now relied on heavily by the general public and regarded as correct 99% of the time – any incorrect information is forwarded to the map subject as it’s seen as their fault.

BUT IT’S NOT THE FAULT OF THE BUSINESS 99% OF THE TIME!

If you’ve read my previous blog post about this you’d know about how Google Maps lost the Town of Sechelt. Without the help of Rebecca Bollwitt (Mrs. 604) we’d still be off the map.

And yes, they corrected the problem after it was blogged and tweeted about extensively. But before going public it was reported by hundreds of people on the Sunshine Coast via Google’s internal ‘report a problem’ mechanism and for years nothing was done.

Get your business listed

Proactive Google Maps Advertsing
Get your business listed!

Google is proactive about getting your business listed with their mapping service and extols the advantages in terms of search engine results and traffic to your website.

But my last three experiences with Google Places and their ‘report a problem’ mechanism have meant hours of work and painful communication and left me wanting to run for the hills. I am not a GIS professional, nor am I a Cartographer. To quote that Dyson guy…”I just think things should work properly.”

Why we can’t verify

Google Places wants you to list your business and it uses a number of helpers to find your location properly. But it restricts you to your postal code. This is a huge issue in rural, non-delivery areas where Canada Post assigns post office boxes.

This became a problem for many businesses located at a physical address completely different from the assigned postal code.

It looked like we had one massive organization – Google – not communicating well with another – Canada Post.

When I needed to get a Google Places listing for Ridge Meadows Recycling we couldn’t use the postal code as a business locator. So I had to report the problem and then explain how the post office works in rural Canada. All of this took two or three emails once they acknowledged the problem. And then we had to get an employee with a company email address to reply to Google saying that yes this was the actual business location, etc. etc. etc.

Once we did all of this the business was actually listed properly and users could find the correct location of the recycling depot.

But it took a month and 4 hours of emailing, forum posting, issue reporting and checking for accuracy.

While the client was happy and people were now able to type in Ridge Meadows Recycling and find the correct location of the depot, the entire process felt like I was trying to give birth to an elephant.

Our business listings have been merged

My web design business is still a small operation with myself as the only employee,  along with a couple of contractors. It is growing, but for the time being I use the offices of The Network Hub in downtown Vancouver, along with a number of other similar businesses located in the same building.

On a Sunday morning in March I got a call from Britta Curkovic at aromawebdesign.com who also uses the services and office space of The Network Hub. She said our business listings were merged. These are two independent businesses, with different phone numbers, website addresses, and services offered, yet for weeks our listings were merged. I had an owner-verified listing and I was told by Google that my listing was going to change and I should check this for errors. All of this while we were frantically emailing Google Help trying to get things back to normal. Eventually the listings were split again and we were finally able to be located as independent from one another.

The total time it took to undo the mess was 14 business days and 6 full hours of un-billable time, emailing back and forth with Google and the other business owner, posting to the Google Places forums, and checking for quality assurance.

The problem was corrected but it had to be explained carefully to Google and we had to exhaust all other options before they would even look at the problem.

You are already trying to verify your business

My third issue, and the one that is currently causing a client a lot of pain, is the business listing for Uprising Breads Bakery. After 30 years, Uprising decided to open a new location. To coincide with this they updated their website with a new look and listed the location of the new café. Back in October 2011 I had sent in for verification on the new location. As the weeks and then months went by I sent and resent requests to Google staff to keep a lookout for this.

Finally, after reading about a page Google had recently set up to report problems, I was told by a human at Google Places Help that since there was already one listing that wasn’t verified the new listing was seen as duplication.

The representative was kind enough to verify the listing on the spot and Uprising Breads was very happy to have their two listings.

From start to finish it took 3 months to get the listing verified and at least 10 hours of work from everyone involved.

But wait, there’s more!

Uprising Breads Location Merge Issues
Uprising Breads Location Merge Issues

Six months later Google saw that both listings had the same website address and the same phone number; they surmised that it must be the same listing and combined them. So now (as of May 10th, 2012) Uprising Breads Bakery has photos of one location and the address of the other.

Well, you say, you must be old hat at this by now and know how to fix it.

In the Google Places forums (logged into via Uprising Breads Account) I am told by a top contributor:

This may be due to sharing a common phone number and name.

Seriously? This is why?

What about McDonald’s? What about Domino’s Pizza? What about Starbucks? Places that have dozens of locations in a given city that all have the same name and the same website, similar phone numbers but many different locations.

My best advice remains to give each listing its own phone number, thus reducing the likelihood of future mergers.

His best suggestion is to get a new phone  number? Automated phone systems are commonplace…they save businesses thousands of dollars in employee time and cost. I know that this is the opinion of a top contributor and not an actual Google employee, but my God this is odd. To get a proper website listing you need a new phone number?

Google also doesn’t have a field in Google Places for phone extensions; if we tried to put the extension in the phone field this would error out making his best advice completely useless and actually doing more harm then good.

Sigh…

I could cite even more examples of how I reported a business that closed yet had its Google Places listing for years after, even when Google Street View had replaced its imagery of the location. But, because it was an owner-verified business, it stayed there for three years after the business closed down.

People over those three years came looking for the business that wasn’t there anymore…they trusted that Google was 99% right. Why is the business listing still available (even though it does mention it is closed) after it has been closed for so many years? What purpose does a three year old listing serve the user?

To Google’s credit

To their credit, Google has tried to improve this and made the user edit more viable through Google Map Maker tools. But, after making hundreds of edits to the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver, one day a number of them were deleted – not denied but completely vanished – and I felt all my time and effort volunteering to make Google Maps better in my neighborhood was lost – I haven’t returned since. Also, a lot of the edits that were made and approved by the community of editors were never made live on Google Maps, but  only showed up in the Google Map Maker ecosystem.

So, as an owner of a small business and as a contractor to dozens of medium businesses, most of my interactions with Google Maps / Places has been less than stellar.

Changes  I would make to Google Places if I could

Easier verification for rural Canada

Run a seasonal kayaking company and changed your location after 20 years? You should be able to easily verify your business listing so that doesn’t require it to be in the same postal code as your business address.

(I understand the restrictions put in place for verified business listings to be associated with a postal code, but as I explained earlier, areas of Canada that do not have street delivery service must use a post office box that might not be in the same postal code.)

Easier reporting of issues

With Uprising Breads there was no easy way to report the issue we were coming up against. Even the top contributor suggested that our issue was an odd one.

And if your problem is “odd” there isn’t a response sequence that describes it.  So long as you get to a form where you can fill in some blanks and hit a Submit button, you will hear back from Google.  It’ll be a week or a little longer, but you will get an email from a person on the Places team. If that person’s answer doesn’t seem to fit your problem, you can email back and further explain what is happening. They will eventually understand that you have two listings merging and start the process to un-merge them. Unfortunately, that process takes 4-6 weeks.

Paid support

As a designer running a web design firm I have encountered these problems numerous times and yet each time is as laborious as the first, even though I know exactly what the problem is and what needs to get done.

I would pay a yearly or monthly fee to have some dedicated support – somewhere or someone I could contact who would be able to help resolve problems for me and my clients quickly and efficiently.

Right now the current system in Google Places costs me time and money it completely confuses clients. The results can change at a moment’s notice, without warning about problems that might arise.

Final thoughts

I do know one thing…the problem isn’t going to go away. It will only get bigger and more complex as more businesses, rural and urban, want to be listed with Google Maps.  Users will notice errors and business owners are held hostage by whatever information Google decides to allow into its ecosystem.

Update early 2014: – I have for the most part given up on trying to correct the errors in Google Maps. So many arbitrary decision that didn’t make any sense, no appeals process and not the friendliest of communities. I just rather focus my efforts somewhere more productive. Good Luck trying to get your errors correct it could be as easy as a click or a bad as multi day multi hours with no resolution in site.

How not to do Marketing

We have verified you not worthy…
Thank you… We have verified your cold call hard sell tactics and will never be using your services… Have a nice day

On Sunday October 9th my service provider site5. (Update: I am no long with site5 read why here)  Was dealing with a Denial of service attack (DoS) attack on their Vancouver hosting location. As always they were on top of it.  So I tweeted that my website would be down and so would the website of the home based business I run 32spokes web design. Being that it was the Canadian Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend, it just gave me more of an excuse to watch the Winnipeg Jets in their first NHL game in 15 years. I wasn’t really doing any work, I was just fiddling around with something.

Once we were back up I tweeted that it was a DoS and we were back up and running. Hey great job site5!  (Update: I am now with InMotion Hosting)I like the hosting plan I have and it works for what I need at the moment. No more no less.

Monday rolled around and I got a phone call in the morning from California of which I didn’t answer (it is a holiday after all). In the afternoon they called again. The number was the same. I answered it just to keep the phone from ringing all bloody day.

Versign: Hi it’s Salesman from Verisign I see you had some problems with your website over the weekend can we talk about how we can help?

Me: Nope I am very happy with my hosting provider and don’t need any other services at the moment. You do know it is a holiday in Canada?

Versign: Oh I am sorry about that. Can I set up a call to talk later?

Me: Nope

Versign: Can I just give you my contact information.

Me: I know who you are your a big company, I’ll call you if I need anything. (patients wearing thin)

Versign: Just let me give you my contact information and maybe…

Me: Your really not getting this… No thank you good bye. Maybe you should check your calendar before cold calling next time.

Versign: No reason to get rude I am just asking…

An hour later…

Cell phone rings. I don’t answer I am doing the lunch dishes.

Answering machine message:

“Hi this is Salesman#2 from Verisign, I see you had a DoS attack on your website this weekend. Maybe we can set aside 10 minutes to talk about how we can provide a solution so your website is protected…”

Twenty minutes after the cell phone call:

Business line rings again: (now I am just pissed)

Versign: “Hi this is Salesman#2 from Verisign I see you had some issues with your website and I was wondering if we could set aside some time to talk about how…”

Me: Seriously? I am not interested stop calling me on a holiday weekend! Goodbye!

Versign: Oh umm…

Me: ‘click’

Seriously this is not how to do a effective marketing campaign. I understand that the hard sell works with some people. But I have never liked it and walk away from any company who employes it as fast as possible. I’d rather to figure whether I want to work with the other company  myself and it is usually comes down to excellent customer service and a good long track record. I had heard of VeriSign before they are a large SSL certificate company. But not taking no for an answer and calling multiple times a day makes me question your intention. They noticed my tweet, but didn’t reply to my tweet. They found my number on my website, but didn’t send a email. Both methods of contact would have got me just as quickly. But they wanted to do a cold call because it’s then harder to say no to.

The calling on the holiday monday was just more an annoyance then anything. But gave me in the impression that the company hadn’t done it’s homework before trying to sell me something…

The things I like about the companies I deal with is that they prove I should be their customer through the service they provide. Not because they told me they are great at what they do or I had to deal with them or I was going to be in trouble if I didn’t use them.

Did this interaction ruin my day? No, but this type of sell is happening far more often. This post is just to show what impression a company like verisign leaves me with after they try contact me. They did more pushing me away then attracting me any service they were offering.  When I switched hosting providers more then a year ago. I went looking for a company that had a good track record and didn’t try to sell me something I didn’t need or want. This is process of which I choose all the companies I choose to deal with.

Postscript >> All of this from one tweet on a sunday afternoon? Ya got me as to why I was targeted as a customer…

Putting Sechelt back where it belongs

Update! Google has fixed the location of Sechelt after Rebecca Bollwitt posted the problem and 40-ish retweeters! Thanks to all who helped out! It took Social Media one day to fix what a community has tried to do for over a year!

Thanks to Rebecca Mrs. 604 for writing this article on putting Sechelt back on the map.

I was first told about this Google Map mishap at WordCamp last week. Local web designer Robert Dall explained that over the last few years members of the community have tried pretty much everything to get their town listed. These efforts include hundreds of people reporting the issue to Google, tweeting about it @GoogleMaps on Twitter, and the Mayor of Sechelt, Darren Inkster, has even written an official letter to Google – all to no avail.

You can help out the cause by tweeting  @GoogleMaps with the tag #PutSecheltOnTheMap And hopefully we can get Sechelt, BC put back where it belongs.

Google Map Location of Sechelt BC
Sechelt is actually located where the black arrow is pointing.
The Queen of Surrey a vessel of BC Ferries

The Beauty and the Beast ~ The Coast and BC Ferries

UPDATE: Sadly six years after I wrote this nothing has changed. The route has exactly had the same problems. But for those commuters who are looking for an alternative. A commuter start-up called Pacific Ferries has started service between Downtown Vancouver / Horseshoe Bay and Gibsons landing. I’ve taken a number of trips with them and it was quite efficient and more importantly on time! Check them out.

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There is a beast on the coast, it haunts all residents, it is a necessary evil but yet to most it is our livelihood. It is big and white and travels Howe Sound and it doesn’t like to be messed with.

If you haven’t already guessed I am talking about the Queen of Surrey and our tragic relationship with BC Ferries.

First the Facts

Queen of Surrey using a C-Class ferry which can carry some 362 cars and over 1,500 passengers. The Surrey is Cowichan Class and was put into service in 1981 It and the Queen of Oak Bay were the last two of the C-Class build in North Vancouver. Other then some help over the summer from the Queen of Coquitlam it is the only boat the runs on route 3 which travels between Langdale and Horseshoe Bay. The ship provides bi-hourly service, with a route of 9.7 nautical miles taking approximately 40 minutes to making the crossing.

Some History

The Sunshine Coast has been serviced by ferries since it’s inception as a community. With a number of vessels making the route. One vessel of particular note was the Sunshine Coast Queen nicknamed Suzy Q. After the Suzy Q was retired in 1976 the coast was serviced by two double-ended Ferries that would travel back and fourth. A decision was made in the early 80’s to switch to one larger C-Class ferry that was larger faster and could handle all of the traffic. But the trade off was it would only run every two hours.

And from what I can recall (I was quite young at the time) Their was a lot of grumbling and discontent that the frequency of ferry service was decreasing. But BC Ferries vowed that this would be cheaper to operate with the same amount of traffic.

Langdale Ferry Terminal
Langdale Ferry Terminal

Other improvements were included a new ramp for loading the 3rd car deck at the Langdale terminal and a new gantry at Horseshoe Bay to allow walk-on passengers to board directly on to the passenger area of the vessel. Both of these decreased the loading time of the vessel.

The Langdale Terminal also got a new parking lot, drop off area, coffee shop and bus stop, along with a new layout at the Langdale Terminal to adjust for increasing capacity.

The Black sheep of the Mainland Routes

Their was always trade-offs in this smaller route. For example we don’t have traffic that the island routes do. But we also don’t have the weather storm delays or volume delays of the island routes either. The Howe Sound route is claimer then crossing the Strait of Georgia and when other sailings were canceled the langdale route was still running. So when I was a kid I would always see these huge line ups for the Nanaimo route and be glad it wasn’t our route.

But and it is a big but… like a little brother or sister we always got the discards from the larger route. When the ferry was refit we were the last to get it, They would take our boat give it a refit and then it would sail the Nanaimo route. We always grumbled about this but other then a nicer boat for better for worse it still relatively decent service.

Coast, not the secret it use to be

Queen of Surrey
Queen of Surrey

Once I was a teenager the coast had it’s own transit bus and their was something called the commuter who would work in Vancouver and travel by ferry to the Coast. A lot of people said it was more enjoyable then being stuck in a traffic jam. But with that came added traffic to the coast and the ferry. These commuters would leave for the 6:20am ferry arriving for work at 8:30am in Vancouver and then return on the 5:30pm ferry getting you back into Sechelt around 7:00pm. And a lot of people start to do this. Living in Gibsons was a lot easier then further up the coast. But I knew people in Halfmoon Bay who would do this 4 to 5 days a week. Again this only worked when the ferry ran on time and for a time it did. But commuting via ferry was never for me. I don’t think it ever will be.

The Summer hit the coast and all hands are on deck for the busy season, And much like the rest of the coast you can feel the increased traffic and give BC Ferries some credit service has certainly increased during the summer months adding another C-class vessel.

But it is here that lies the problem in my opinion

With every two hour service and a crossing time of forty minutes. You only have 10 minutes on either side to load/unload and leave for the other side. But this only works when the boat is 2/3rds full. The time it takes to stuff the boat will always leave the boat running late. (You can usually see this on the Saturday 8:20 ferry) But the boat can usually catch up on the next run. (As of 2016 if there is only one boat on the route it is usually running late.)

Problem number one: We have enough traffic to constantly make only one ferry late and but not enough to need a second ferry of duplicate size and capacity. (eg. Queen of Coquitlam or variation of that)

Problem number two: We only have one big boat, there is no robustness or scalability to any issue we might have. So, for example, a dock problem = delays, 50 extra cars? = delays, Anything out of the ordinary traffic = Delays.  And unlike years gone past it is getting increasing hard to keep this demanding schedule.

Problem number three: Regardless of the boat on the langdale route. If there is more then half the boat full it’s most likely running late.  When the Queen of Surrey was in dry dock for most of the summer as it had broken down a number of time in the early summer the Queen of Coquitlam took over and it couldn’t keep pace with the schedule and yet is the same class and size of boat with a slightly different layout and been put into service 5 years previous. The only thing I can see from this is that if the Queen of Surrey can barely keep up with the demanding schedule it is beyond the scope of a boat five years older.

Problem number four: Except for the MV Skeena Queen and MV Island Sky who have dedicated routes.  Every other mid-sized ferry was build before the 1980’s with high maintenance cost and antiquated technology on the boats.

I don’t doubt BC Ferries has known this for years and I don’t doubt the complexity of the problem with a route that has reached traffic capacity. But the current setup just isn’t working and it is troubling.

But that is the biggest concern I have, is that this little route isn’t little anymore and makes quite the profit for the ferries and yet I constantly feel like a second class citizen who’s opinions don’t matter in the eyes of the Ferry corp. I now try to avoid any conversation with BC Ferries employees as they aren’t in the customer service business.

UPDATE: Sadly six years after I wrote this nothing has changed. The route has exactly had the same problems. But for those commuters who are looking for an alternative. A commuter start-up called Pacific Ferries has started service between Downtown Vancouver / Horseshoe Bay and Gibsons landing. I’ve taken a number of trips with them and it was quite efficient and more importantly on time! Check them out.

Picture of West Coast Express Train

Mass Transit

Back in my newspaper journalism days all my transportation was done via car, even in Yellowknife where I lived without a personal vehicle for almost three years. If I wanted to get anywhere it was via car.

Since leaving the profession. Selling the car and purchasing the best commuting bike in the entire world. I have always tried to find different and alternative means of transportation that provide less stress and more enjoyment to my day.

This summer I took my nephew to Stanley Park and in the process we rode the SkyTrain, a trolley bus, a diesel bus and for the first time The West Coast Express (WCE).

Photo of the seats on the West Coast Express Train
Typical seats found on the West Coast Express

For my four year old nephew transit is more a special treat then anything else.  But for me it wasn’t anything more then the status quo of Vancouver living.

After a fun filled day we jumped on board the WCE. Experiencing every avenue of transit except the SeaBus that day. I can certainly say the WCE was by far the most civilized relaxing and enjoyable mode of transportation I have ridden. It was quiet comfortable and efficient.

Why aren’t we doing more of this?

I have taken the Greyhound to Chilliwack, BC on a number occasions and found, comparatively speaking, the Greyhound was about as enjoyable as fingernails on a chalkboard. It’s noisy, confined by traffic and the depots are off the beaten path of the highway.

I am sure the daily train travel would have it’s drawbacks, but with the wide seats, air conditioning, power plugs and tables for the laptop I have been left with one lasting feeling from the experience.

It just felt civilized.

Open letter to Facebook

Dear Facebook

Facebook
The Social Networking Site Facebook

I love you, ever since I joined your service a couple years ago. I have been able to reconnect with friends from Sydney, AZ to Yellowknife, NWT.

But Facebook we really need to talk… Your not Twitter, Nor do I want to be Twitter. See Facebook I joined your service to share my life with a close 200 friends, and I really try keeping up with all of them. Honestly, I have a personal twitter account, but I am not sure what to do with it because I already use this site, and that site, to voice my public views.

And, yes, before you privacy experts get your shirt in a knot. I know the privacy on Facebook is a basic one. And anyone with some savvy hacking skills could potentially see, copy, change any of my info on your site, and I am OK with that. I know the risk of what I post and have read more then one story about employees getting fired for posting stuff on Facebook. I also prefer to keep my business life and social life separate, so if I haven’t accepted your friend request. Isn’t not you it’s me. . .

Lets just call my Facebook friends an extended family for want of a better word. I’d be OK with telling them stuff I wouldn’t be comfortable tell a complete stranger, which quite frankly resembles the entire Internet.

If I did want to publicly rant and rave then I have half a dozen different services at my disposal, or I’d just make all of my post public. but I didn’t join Facebook to do that. Nor is Facebook something I want to use that for. I like Facebook for being Facebook it was the reason I joined and the reason I continue to log in each day.

Hope you had a great Christmas and I look forward to seeing you in the New Year.

regards

Robert