Monday, August 29, 2005

End user's lament

Here I sit, vacillating between seething frustration and groveling gratitude. For 36 hours, my email has been down. My email is ordinarily directed to a hosting ISP, then is forwarded to a big national internet ISP and finally comes down the pipe to my computer, whether I'm on my home office DSL connection, working off a client's Ethernet network, sitting a WiFi equipped café, or even dialing up from the boonies. I get my 100s of emails a day (about one third spam funneled rapidly to "Junk") and cope and grouse a little about the volume.

Suddenly, only yesterday but it seems like ages ago, the plopping sound the Mac laptop makes when email arrives stopped. STOPPED! I had noticed my morning digest of the New York Times was missing, but didn't have time to read it anyway. It took me a while, maybe a couple of hours, to be sure that the mail really wasn't coming.

Then of course I panicked! I was going to have to deal with Tech Support. Like most end users, this is my idea of hell. They want to know things like "your name" -- only sometimes that means your actual name, sometimes it means the handle you use with that service, and sometimes it means your email address -- or even more mysteriously, it means "admin." Huh?

But I got on the web, found an obscure phone number on the hosting ISP's website and called in. It didn't go too badly. This outfit didn't want my name; they wanted me to punch in my "client ID number." Fortunately I was able to find it. I described my problem -- no mail because for some reason that was THEIR PROBLEM their server wasn't forwarding. I knew it was their problem because test emails sent directly to the big national ISP came right through as expected. They tried saying my mailbox (storage on their server) was full, but since I have set their controls to erase email when it is forwarded, there was nothing in my storage space. The nice man said he would kick it upstairs and it would be fixed in 20 minutes.

Life went on, six hours later I came back to the computer and still no email. But by now it was Sunday night and the obscure phone number led only to a message telling me to leave a message. Hmmm -- I thought they had Tech Support 24/7.

I entertained a small hope that somehow the problem would go away over night -- but in the morning, still no New York Times. So at 6:00 am I'm on the line to Tech Support again: "It is not fixed." After several rounds, Tech Support (a nice woman this time) wrote me to my other email address: "We have escalated your issue to the next tier of support. We will work to resolve your issue as quickly as possible." Off I went to my work.

Until noon, I concentrated on my client's problems, but since there was no melodic plop in the background, I knew that no miracles had occurred. By now Tech Support (a nice man again) was getting frustrated; he insisted that his company was forwarding my email -- the big national ISP must be blocking it. So, just to rule this out, off I went to their Tech Support, this time in the form of online chat (remember I'm at work and can't very well be spending all my client's time trying to get my personal email working.) Couple of rounds of this -- no, it must be the hosting service because big national ISP is not blocking my domain; no, it must be the big ISP because little hosting service is forwarding. Blah, blah, blah -- they can't both be right and they are each perfectly certain the problem is with the other party.

Me, I'm neutral. I don't care which of these outfits is falling down on the job, but I still don't have my email. Just fix it guys!

Finally it is after hours again and I am back on the phone with the hosting service's Tech Support -- another nice guy. We start over. He wants to know how long this has been going on. Days I say; that is what it feels like. Oh yes, he says, we've been having some trouble with the server your mail goes through. Maybe we can put your mail through another server. I don't scream -- hasn't the fact that this was what was needed been obvious for 24 hours? He does things in the ether; I'm not exactly feeling trusting.

Well what do you know? Early this evening, plop, plop, plop again. Maybe I'll keep getting email; maybe I won't.

Most all of us go through this sort of thing trying to keep our computers working for us. Do we need them? Apparently. Will they someday work more smoothly? Who knows. Plop.

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