NOTES FROM THE FIELD: Complaints all round

NOTES FROM THE FIELD: Complaints all round

Like many folks, Randi and I stayed up late on Election Day to watch the returns come in. Waving an accusatory finger at the television, Randi asked me, "What's the matter with you journalists, Bobby? Why do you always jump the gun to be the first to say what happens before you find out whether it's true?"

But what it confirmed is that the Internet is a great conduit of humour. Lots of election jokes have been circulating. Today I got a picture of a new book: Voting for Dummies. "Humour is a healthy reaction to a frustrating experience, Bobby," Randi said.

It's not just the election process and the state of Florida that have many people frustrated. I've heard more than the usual number of complaints in the past week about pathetic customer service.

One reader wrote to tell me about the horror of booking a flight with United via its e-commerce site. Apparently, different areas of the site yield different results for pricing, availability, and flights.

This frustrated reader eventually picked up the phone and called United, but he couldn't get the online price, even though he was still logged on and could see that the flight was available at that price.

Another reader, looking for tech support for his new scanner, ran into brick walls. The phone tech told him to go to the company's Web site, but the site was down. The next phone tech told him to send an e-mail, but it bounced back.

Finally, another reader writes that he ordered 50 sheets of sandpaper from 3M at 65 cents a sheet, for a total of $US32.50, not including tax and shipping. A few days later five cartons, weighing a total of 80 pounds, arrived at his doorstep. Later he learned the charge was $1725.75. After complaining, he got a credit to his charge card.

Many fellow victims also wrote in about their particular spam experiences. About six months ago, Mindspring started using a favourite ISP technique: blocking incoming "port 25" requests from dial-ups aimed at servers other than their mail hosts.

Mindspring didn't provide any notice that it was doing this. One telecommuter and her IT department, whose company switched mail servers the same week, spent days diagnosing the problem. Once they figured it out, the telecommuter's company had to change its own systems to get around Mindspring's spam-blocking system.

Others report that Earthlink started doing this too. But Earthlink's measures aren't enough for one poor soul. Apparently a spammer has been using his address for months to send spam. His e-mail cries for help to ISPs have gone unanswered. Yet he keeps getting e-mail from people demanding that he stop sending them spam.

Maybe they're right when they say the truth is stranger than fiction.

Robert X. Cringely is a regular contributor to ARN's sister publication Infoworld

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