Interruptions on hold

Quickly rising on my A-list of pet peeves: “advertising” interruptions and intrusive music on telephone hold systems.

Sometimes it’s necessary to wait on hold. I can live with that. I would, tho’, like to work while waiting. Recorded messages frequently repeated are irritating. As is any music that doesn’t disappear into white noise. I can be a real bitch when it comes to bad customer service: don’t give me a head start on a head of steam.


Microsoft chooses Word 2007 HTML Rendering Engine for Outlook 2007

As Gary Larsen’s classic cartoon illustrated, it’s another case of “too many scientists and not enough hunchbacks” at Microsoft. I admit I’m late to the bitch fest regarding HTML rendering in Outlook ‘2007, but it was only recently that I got my first complaint about munged HTML email after a user upgraded to Office 2007. That I’ve had only one is no comfort since that person sign my checks.

The problem for those of you who have been living under a grindstone, as have I, is that Microsoft changed Outlook 2007 to use Word’s HTML rendering engine instead of IE. If you support software that creates and emails HTML content, then you’ve either hit this problem, or will do so.

I’ve found some web posts from marketeers proclaiming the second coming with the change. By far, the majority of hits are blog posts (developers!) complaining bitterly about this change. I guess Mr. Ballmer no longer loves us. *sniff* But I digress.

The saddest part of searching is that the posts are almost all more than a year old, including one that states the usual Microsoft deflection “we want to hear about your issues and will listen.”

The only result I can see is a Microsoft CSS/HTML validation tool. I’ve installed it (in Visual Studio 2005) so I can validate my HTML against Word’s HTML engine. Yikes. It tells me “media”, “form”, “input”, “onload”, and so on aren’t supported commands. Oh, joy.

I’m not posting just to vent, but because I’m finding there are few practical suggestions for how to redevelop HTML so it doesn’t look putrid in OL’07 at the very least. Ideally, it will look identical between browser and email client preview.

By the way, the Outlook ’07 ribbon* apparently has a button “Other actions,” from which users can chose to view the email in the browser. (Um, doesn’t this seem, oh, I dunno, sorta ironic?)

In this case, I have a Visual Studio 1.1 Aspx application that collects some info on an HTML form, lets users select who to email copies to, and then emails the page (without some of the controls like buttons) as an HTML attachment. I remove some elements now. I will have to do more to transform unsupported elements like TextBoxes (which aspx renders as input elements, and seem to be the biggest problem) into supported elements.

As I redevelop the page, I’ll post with suggests of what works and what doesn’t. And if any of you know an Office ‘Softie, thump ’em upside the head for me, would you?

Relevant links:

The Party Line

Campaign Monitor’s Guide to CSS Support in Email Clients

Samples of HTML Rendering in Outlook 2007

Some Dolt Who Thinks Only Spammers Are Affected

* Ribbon? Give me a break. Since when does “ribbon” mean “menu that takes up a lot more screen real estate, thus hiding more of what you actually care about?”

And while we’re on the subject…

Another (minor) annoyance with Microsoft’s Open and Save dialogs…they don’t respect my File Explorer setting for how I want to see files listed. List view is useless as far as I’m concerned, but that’s what I get every time.

I can’t find any registry hacks for this, either. Rats.

Not-So-Minor Annoyances: Slow Open (and Save) File Dialogs in Microsoft Products

I spent some time today hunting down why using the Look in: field in the open and save file dialogs in Microsoft products murders flow. The “fix” is even more annoying than the problem.

First, the problem is caused by disconnected network mappings. Second, the “fix” is to remove the disconnected mappings. Brilliant.

For the love of petunias, people. We’ve been a mobile society since even before the PC.

I’m posting because it was somewhat difficult to find the actual cause. There was a wealth of aren’t-I-smart replies that were totally useless. “Press Ctr-Alt-Del and see what’s using all your processor time.”

If anyone knows of any tweaks, please, please, please, let me know. Otherwise, would someone slap an MS developer upside the head and suggest they fix it? Pretty please?

When a vender spends a lot of time envisioning the house of the future but can’t seem to imagine that I will use my notebook on different networks and will not want to have to recreate my mappings every time I move around just baffles me.

Or maybe this will be in Web 3.0?

On being treated like a criminal

One of the things that really gets my shorts in a knot is being treated like a Bad Guy without any cause. Case in point: automatic rejection of emails.

More and more legitimate emails are being either rejected out-of-hand or returned with a message that the sender (me) has to double my work because the recipient isn’t willing to deal with their own spam problem.

Spam is a problem, and I sympathize, really I do. But to treat everyone by default as a spammer is insulting, not to mention short-sighted. (I am being polite in my choice of adjectives starting with the letter “s”.) Why short-sighted? People aren’t getting emails they’ve actually requested or that are in response to a process they started.

For example, one of my fall back error handling routines on a web customer’s site allows a user to email me an error report. Sunday afternoon I got just such an email, found and fixed a bug, and emailed a reply to the user telling them they should try again. The reply bounced with the message that the mailbox doesn’t accept any email from unexpected addresses.

Even if I squelch my human reaction of feeling slapped after responding quickly to a bug report, and on a Sunday, it’s irritating, and has caused me unnecessary work. And, the user, who had waited until the deadline to do this task, doesn’t know that the problem is fixed; was fixed, actually, within an hour of getting the report. That will cause him extra work. His very human, very likely reaction will be frustration with the system. And round and round we go, because a small number of people feel righteous in perpetrating nearly all the spam we’re forced to deal with.

This same website has the ability to email account holders password reminders. I’m frequently getting automated responses from accounts that say the following:

I apologize for this automatic reply to your email.

To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand.

If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox. You do not need to resend your message. I apologize for this one-time inconvenience.

Click the link below to fill out the request:

Now, allow me another gripe: this is supposed to be an automated system, and the user has asked for this email. It’s automated, sent via the SMTP server on the website and the user will have no way to know beforehand what email address it will come from, even if they remember to add the address to their “approved” list.

Frankly I don’t have the time or the inclination to beg permission to send email to someone who as already asked for it. Is that snarky? I admit it. (I did say my shorts are in a knot, right?)

This sort of bounce seems to come exclusively from Earthlink. They used to be my ISP years ago until I became disenchanted with their service. This sort of thing doesn’t do anything to improve my opinion of them.

What in the world are they thinking? Some people are trying to intelligently build rules for filtering the majority of spam using Bayesian filters. Others are building tools tools that at least helps up cope with it. Earthlink’s option is the equivelent of razing the village to save the village.

Honestly, I wish people would consider how much they might be compounding a problem, or causing new problems before implementing a solution.

Is Earthlink the only ISP/Mail host using this technique? What do you think about it? Perhaps there is some positive aspect of it that I’m not seeing. I’ll be hard to convince, but I would be interested in hearing the other side.

Mailwasher Kaput?

Bummer. I’ve used Mailwasher for years to preview my email. It’s been a great little utility that did what it advertised, well, at an affordable price. But it’s been crashing like crazy of late. I can’t pin it down to the service that seems to always hang it up (my MSN account) or the OS (it’s been running XP for ages) or the application itself.

Of course I suspect the service. I’ve been logging the errors (I hope) the past week so  that I can send the log to the folks at Mailwasher in hopes that they can clue me in. I don’t want to change utilities. If I’m anything I’m fiercely loyal to companies (and friends) who do well by me. (I won’t consider a tire related job by anyone but Discount Tire.)

Rats. I so do NOT want to have to use Outlook as my first line of *defense*. For example, who in god’s name thought it was a good idea to force you to select and mark individual emails as junk? Any idea why they thought it would be dangerous to mark several at one time but that it was okey-dokey to allow a permanent delete (Shift-Del) on multiple emails with a prompt with “Yes” as the default? Give me an effin’ break.

Oh, woe is me.

Women in Technology

No, this post won’t bash men. Instead, I’d like to chat with the women out there, tho’ I hope the men out there read it, too.

Specifically, I want to speak to women in geek communities but who aren’t geeks themselves.

Most male geeks already respect smart geek women (and people of color, and paraplegics, and ugly people), and have done so since probably forever, certainly since I’ve been a geek. It’s non-geek women who don’t respect us as geeks. Oh, you notice us if we’re attractive, or if we can at least pass for normal, but you don’t really respect our intelligence like you respect male geeks.

Got your attention? Whew. Stick with me, please ;-)

Dear Female Reader,

I am a colleague, friend, or acquaintance of your husband, boyfriend, brother, son, and I’m a geek. You know this because we are members of the same geek communities. You’ve told me about your frustrations trying to get the attention of your male geek for help with some tech problem. If you do get their attention, you tell me they’re impatient or otherwise not helpful (not mean, just not very helpful). Most of you say you are supportive of geek women, which is great. If you’re sincere then I have a challenge for you. For one month go to one of your female geek pals for help instead of a guy. I bet you know someone in your circle who can help. If not, then by all means get the info anywhere you can. But give the women a try first. You might be surprised.


A Female Geek

Where does this come from? Well, I’ve had the subject of women in professions on my mind for a while now, but two recent events prompted me to get off my butt and write: a conversation with Ponzi last weekend and a post by Maryam about Blogher. I dearly love these two women: my life is better for their friendship, so, don’t construe this as criticism. I’m not picking on you or your guys.

Ponzi and Maryam’s significant others (Chris and Robert, respectively) have excellent minds and fine characters. I understand the tendency to rely on them for tech help, if for no other reason than they’re loud!

Even tho’ Chris and Robert are a couple of smarty-pants, they have their weaknesses. One weakness is they are NOT user advocates. They’re early adopters and leaders for communities of Über users. They’re brilliant at digesting the implications of new technology. They are important resources for vendors who want to investigate market directions. But they don’t “do” just-regular-folk. Can you imagine Chris spending the time necessary to overcome the habit an office worker has of first printing, then deleting, every email she receives? I don’t want to think what Robert would say to a worker who expresses resentment for new software that will surely put him out of work.

If Ponzi and Maryam are sincere about recognizing women in technology, and I believe they are, then use me and my sisters as technologists. For example, Ponzi has relied on Chris for help with her unmanageable email inbox. It was a problem for her months ago when I first offered to show her some useful tricks. It was still a problem for her last weekend when we last chatted about it. Admittedly with a bit of a sniff, I reminded Ponzi that I’m a geek. Ponzi is so sweet! She said it’s hard for her to remember I’m a geek. (Guess that teaches me to bathe daily.)

Well, I AM a geek. And a damn good one. Not only am I geek but part of my job is to help non-geeks implement technology. I’m damned good at that, too. Better than Chris or Robert. (Again with the sniff.)
Maryam’s post about Blogher was another spur. I love what Maryam is doing—she’s a fine leader for the community of blogging in general and female bloggers in particular. But, the post made Blogher seem to be about fashion, gossip, and kids. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong in any of that, but that’s not what will get me to a conference.

I don’t mind the wetware stuff, but advertising women as mommies and hotties, well, seems so 70’s. Most women in technology I know just want to be people and talk about geek stuff. Men already notice tits and asses without any extra prompting.

I’m confident that male geeks will listen to a female speaker on technology issues if she’s got high quality geek content–I know they do. They won’t go because she’s hot. Sure, they’ll want to talk to her between sessions, but they go presentations because of content, not sex.

I tell young girls that computer technology is a great field for women because geeks care about knowledge, not appearance. Please, don’t make female computer scientists have to pass a wet t-shirt contest in addition to keeping up with the incredibly fast pace of the profession.

See us as geeks, it’s how we see ourselves, and we love a chance to show our passion off to you, our female friends.