Okay, AT&T, You’re On Notice

Clicking through my Google Reader a few minutes ago, I read a TechCrunch article that Meg had shared, which details the increasingly egregious service failures of AT&T with respect to the iPhone. Some of them you probably already know about: their incomprehensible inability to get MMS and tethering up and running in a reasonable time frame, for instance.

But others you may not. For instance: have you checked your voicemail lately? I don’t mean the little badge that the iPhone uses to tell you there’s a message via its visual voicemail system. I mean actually calling your own mobile number and going through the menu, old-skool. I just did, and discovered that I had EIGHT voicemail messages dating as far back as three weeks ago that AT&T had never bothered to inform me of. Two of which were from my mother, who was quite perturbed two weeks ago when I didn’t call her back — but I’d had no indication, no missed call badge, no voicemail badge, to let me know she’d called at all.

iPhone owners, it’s time to collectively raise your blood pressure: call and see if you have voicemail waiting. And then send a note to Apple about it. AT&T not providing new services is bad enough, but failing to provide the services for which we’re already paying, and then not even bothering to let us know there’s a problem, is unacceptable.

And Then This Week

Well, I suppose that three out of six isn’t half bad:

  • Finish book manuscript review for press.
  • Do reading & write letter for tenure review.
  • Prepare two conference presentations for next week.
  • Outline fall courses and order books.
  • Move office.
  • Refrain from freaking out over the fact that by the time I get back from next week’s conference trip, it’s pretty much going to be July, leaving only six weeks between me and my Big Looming Deadline.

The office move was overcome by events, or rather by the failure of events to actually eventuate, to wit: the furniture for the new office, scheduled to arrive Monday, where “Monday” apparently = “sometime between Monday and Friday,” actually showed up Friday morning. Or part of it did. The rest will come in next week, while I’m gone. As will the movers themselves, as they were booked up on Friday. Which means that the move will now not be completed until after I return from next week’s conference trip, which is not doing wonders for that last bullet point, I’ll tell ya.

I’m working on the conference presentations today, however, and will continue that work on the plane. I’m pretty sure I ought to be more nervous than I am at my wild overconfidence on that front, but I can only manage so much stress at this point, and the last week just took it out of me.

The coming week of course promises to be a flurry of activity in its own right; I’m heading east early tomorrow morning to begin a week of conferencing in the DC area. The week begins with Digital Humanities 2009, hosted by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities at the University of Maryland, College Park, followed by THATcamp 09, hosted by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. I’ll hope to post from those venues, where I’ll be talking about MediaCommons and issues related to digital scholarly publishing; if you’re there, be sure to say hello.

Grrrr

If you’ve bothered coming round these parts lately, you’ll have noticed that things were loading excruciatingly slowly, a problem for which I was starting to blame my hosting provider. But this morning, for whatever reason, I decided to take a look at my code and see whether one of the scripts I’m running in the background here might be responsible.

And lo but the source code for my index page had a buttload of spam links embedded in it. And so I set about searching through my php, trying to figure out which file was generating these links.

Both index.php and wp-content/themes/MY THEME/header.php appear to have been hacked, and a very long bit of base64 code embedded in them, which was apparently what (a) was generating the links, and (b) was causing the page to load so slowly.

But there are also a few mystery files that have popped up in my directories, about which I can find no information online. I’m waiting on a response from my hosting provider’s support folk, to see if one of these files belongs to their one-click install process. If not, I may have to do a fresh WP installation, just to be sure that nothing else has been compromised.

And of course, the ritual changing of passwords.

So, word to the wise: if you’re running WP, and things seem to have gotten oddly slow, it might be worth a sec to check your source code.

More Complaints

Remember this kid? She, or someone like her, is at it again. Twice in the last two weeks I’ve had my Apple ID “disabled for security reasons,” which happens when someone tries to log into your account with the wrong password three times in a row. Each time, I’ve discovered what’s happened because I’ve suddenly gotten an email message from iForgot with a link enabling me to reset my password. And each time, I’ve reset it. So no real security breach has taken place, but each time I’ve had to propagate my new password through all the bits and pieces on my system that need it, which is enough of a pain that I’m now complaining about it.

Whoever you are: kfitzpatrick at mac dot com belongs to me (as does its relative, kfitzpatrick at me dot com). That’s not going to change. Please stop.

Adventures in Wi-Fi

The bad news is that our internet connection in the flat crapped out last night.

The good news is that I didn’t break it.

The bad news is that I thought I had, and then couldn’t get it to restart. For anything. All last night, and all morning.

The good news is that I was able to call the woman who owns our flat for help.

The bad news is that she had no help to provide.

The good news is that I was able to call France Telecom’s 24h/24, 7j/7 technical assistance line.

The bad news is that it was a telephone call, and I had to manage it entirely in French.

The good news is that I did! (I was all kinds of impressed with myself, needless to say.) The other good news is that the charming young man with whom I spoke was able to help me get the connection restarted.

The bad news is that it crapped out again about two minutes later.

The good news is that I’ve since been able to restart the connection several times.

The bad news is that I’m currently sitting in a Starbucks, something that would have appalled me as recently as yesterday, because it’s not only Sunday, wherein everyone local is closed, but it’s also freaking August, wherein many of the closed places won’t reopen until long after we’re back in California.

I may spending less time online for a while, it appears.

Mr. Jobs, Tear Down this Wall

The title of this post may be a trifle overstated,* but I’m nonetheless seething over this. So, yes, I just got my regular old EDGE iPhone in December, and yes, I totally love it. But yes, I saw the announcement of all the groovy new features and super-zippiness of the shiny new 3G version and drooled a little.

And then there was the part of the show when Steve told us all about the bajillion countries that the new iPhone will soon be available and usable in. And that’s the part where I blew my stack.

Because, seriously: no matter how much I dislike it, I understand AT&T having a monopoly on iPhone sales and usage within the US, and O2/Orange/whomever having those same monopolies in their countries. But if I’m spending three months a year in, say, France, and I’m paying for a full year’s contract with AT&T — i.e., paying my monthly US cell phone bill even during those times when I’m not in the US, and therefore not really using it — why on earth shouldn’t I be able to get a pay-as-you-go iPhone SIM card from Orange and use it in my very own iPhone during those three months? I’m not trying to get out of my AT&T contract for those three months, not trying to pull a fast one and use another US carrier, or a French carrier that hasn’t contracted to provide service for the iPhone. All I want is to pay a reasonable rate for the full suite of services available to the piece of technology I have paid for.

This I’ll tell you, though: what the people can’t get legally, they’ll get on the black market. Not that I would know anything about that. I’m just saying.

—–

* Not to mention how appalled I am that I’m quoting Ronald Reagan. But honestly, whatever ’80s style US foreign policy may or may not have brought to the Eastern bloc, libertarian hackers are damn well going to bring to those trapped behind the wall of AT&T. Information wants to be free, man.

Pre-Semester Anxiety

Which is less anxiety about the semester, per se, than anxiety about the fact that the break between semesters is all but over, and that I’ve still got an enormous pile of stuff that really needs to be done before the spring gets fully underway. And this spring — yeesh — promises to be nuts: between, say, February 28 and April 5, I have four speaking gigs plus a conference I’m organizing here in Claremont. And that’s just five weeks out of the fifteen ahead of me, which will otherwise be filled with teaching an overload, advising senior theses, and the usual spring administrative insanity.

So the countdown has begun: a precious few days remain in which I can hope to get anything done. If you don’t hear from me, you know where I am.

Un Post sur La Poste

I have to admit, I’ve gotten a bit complacent these days. Since moving to an address that the postal system and the various private shipping companies actually believe exists — a place where my packages actually arrive, taking a reasonably direct route from the shipper to my very own front door — I’ve come to assume that as a standard of service: put the correct address on a piece of appropriately mailable or shippable material, pay the correct amount, and the item will appear where you intend. Call me na?Øve, but I thought my days of mail snafus were over.

As R. and I were packing for Paris, we had the great book debate, which went something like this: I really need a fair pile of books for the work that I’m doing this summer. I could attempt to put them in a suitcase, thus adding another twelve pounds to our already overloaded baggage — baggage that we knew would not only have to survive the various handlers on the way to CDG, but would also have to be picked up and gotten in a taxi, and then, most significantly, would have to be lugged up three flights of a fairly tight, creaky, slightly uneven spiral staircase to the flat we’re staying in — but would ensure their immediate availability upon our arrival. Or I could ship them to us, relieving us of the physical burden, though adding, I now realize, one a bit more metaphysical.

It appeared at first that we were going to go the baggage route, as FedEx wanted something like $150 to get the books to Paris. But then, alas, we discovered that the USPS now has flat-rate international shipping boxes: for $37, we could ship as much as we could stuff into the box they provided, and it would arrive — so they said — in six to ten days. That seemed the obvious choice: less heavy lifting, a not-ridiculous fee, and just as my head would start to clear from the jet lag, I’d be able to get down to real work. So on the 11th, the day before we left, we sent off the box.

When the books hadn’t arrived after eight days, I didn’t worry terribly much; after all, six days seemed pretty optimistic, and they may well have meant six-to-ten *business* days, which would dramatically change the ETA. At the ten day mark, though, I thought I’d start trying to figure out what was going on. On June 21, I started searching around the USPS website and decided, on something of a lark, to attempt to track the box using the only number that I had, which was a US Customs number. And lo but the tracking worked: except that what it said was that delivery of the package had been attempted on June 18 and 19. And there was no further information. This was when I realized that, armed only with a US Customs form and my crap French, I was going to have to brave La Poste.

One hears horror stories about French bureaucracy, though I’m not convinced that their systems or personalities are any worse than those in the US. My fear mostly came from the thought of having to negotiate such a bureaucracy in a language that I speak at the level of a five-year-old. I got R. to come with me, though, both for moral support and because people working behind desks just seem to like him, regardless of language barriers, and are often willing to help him out in ways that I’m not sure they’re willing to help me. So we went over to the neighborhood post office and waited in line.

The young woman who wound up helping us was utterly charming — a little perplexed at first, but very sweet. I haltingly explained the situation (j’ai m’envoy?© un colis des ?âtats-Unis à Paris, mais il n’arrive pas; ce matin, j’ai suivi le colis sur le site de USPS, et il m’a dit qu’on a essay?© de le distribuer le 18 et 19 juin, mais…) and asked whether the package might be there. She looked at the form and told me that the package number was an American number, and that when the package arrived in France, it would have been assigned a French number, and that she needed the French number in order to do anything. I asked her how to get that French number, and she said that perhaps I could call the United States, and someone there could inquire of the post office for me? After that, she did go look in the back to see if there might be a particularly American-looking package lying around, but, for obvious reasons, to no avail.

That afternoon, once they were open for business, I did call the United States (which suggestion, not incidentally, provoked an ongoing “allo, ?âtats-Unis?” joke in the flat), where I was most helpfully told that if the French had assigned the package a number, then only the French would know that number, and that there was nothing else to be done. So that evening, I asked one of our French flatmates, S., what to do next, and he volunteered to take things on from here.

And thank god. The next day (the 22nd, if you’re keeping track), S. and I headed back to La Poste, where he talked to a different woman from the one I’d spoken with before. This woman not only looked in the back for a package, but also looked through a notebook in which I assume were written the various bits of info about packages whose delivery had failed, but came up with nothing. She suggested that we go to the next Poste up the sorting and delivering chain, which was about seven or eight blocks away, so S. and I headed that way, joking to ourselves that I might get a proper tour of Paris this way, being directed from Poste to Poste.

At the second Poste, things were a bit more technologically sophisticated. The guy behind the counter took my Customs form and scanned the barcode, the first time that had happened, but of course came up with nothing, as it was an American barcode. He then flipped through that Poste’s notebook, which also provided nothing in the way of results. He took, however, a photocopy of my Customs form, saying that he was going to fax it somewhere, where they might have more info, and that he would phone S. if he found anything out.

Apparently he did phone S. very quickly, because within half an hour of returning to the flat, I realized that the conversation S. had been having on the phone was about my package. I sat and listened, attempting to be helpful however I could, but only comprehending about a quarter of what was being said. S. was able to come up with the French number (and not only that, but for future reference, a phone number at La Poste that one could call in order to get the French number in the future), and the information that the delivery had failed because the person to whom the package was addressed didn’t actually live at that address. (I’d of course been careful, however, to address the package to me *chez* the woman who actually lives here, and all parties to whom S. spoke agreed that that should have been sufficient, and the package should have been delivered.) The package had been sent back to the United States on the 21st — the day before. From there, S. was directed to French Customs, where we might be able to intercept the package on its return journey aux ?âtats-Unis — but to no avail. The package was already on a plane, headed home. Rather radical efficiency, I’d say, though unfortunately not in the direction I’d like.

Somewhere along the way, someone warned S. that we would need to talk with the United States again (“allo, ?âtats-Unis?”), because a package that gets returned like that is often deemed suspicious by US Customs, and could be held up there for weeks before making it all the way back to southern California.

So here I am, rather seriously underbooked, really ready to get down to work, and not quite able to do so. A Canadian flatmate who’s currently working at the Bibliothèque Nationale is checking today to see if a book or two that I need might be available in the open part of the library, which might tide me over a little longer. In the meantime, though, I do feel I’ve learned a couple of things: first, that I can make myself understood in French if I really need to, but, as I already imagined, it takes fluency to really navigate a bureaucracy; second, that French bureaucracy may be a bit harder to penetrate but is no more stupid than is that in the US; and third, that the most important sentence in the French language may well be “on va voir,” said with the tiniest of shrugs.

What will happen? On va voir.

Trackbacks, R.I.P.

Today, somebody figured out how to overcome my trackback URL randomization and leave me 20-plus spam trackbacks. All from different IP addresses.

Here marks the (hopefully temporary) end of trackbacks on Planned Obsolescence.

A big fat reward, however, of a type to be negotiated later, to whomever can devise a properly secure trackback technology.