The Company I Keep

A while ago I decided it would be a good idea to let Google sell ads on my website. Actually, it originally started as an experiment – I just wanted to see how it worked.

I don’t get a fortune from these ads. It pays for my web hosting – not much more. We’re not taking any vacations on this money… even a vacation to Cheshire.

Here’s the funny part – I don’t see the ads!

There are two reasons I don’t see them. First, I use Firefox (instead of Internet Explorer), with an ad blocking extension. It’s sort of scary. I see very few ads on any site… even the most populated.

The second reason is more important. I don’t want my page views to count. On this little website, if I correct an entry or move something around, my ‘hits’ become a substantial fraction of the total traffic.

Saturday, while looking at Helaine’s computer, I caught an ad that upset me. I sent the following to Google.

There was an ad listed on my site for Their ad’s bold type offers advice on how to cheat at hold’em poker. There might be controversy about online poker in general, but I don’t think anyone condones organized cheating. I certainly don’t and find it morally and legally wrong.

I will block this advertiser, but I think you should consider whether this text, or their product, is appropriate for AdSense.


Geoff Fox

A quick clarification. Though I don’t choose the ads that appear, I can remove or block advertisers I feel aren’t appropriate. I block my TV station’s competitors. I block some national weather providers. I now block this poker site.

Here’s Google’s response.

Hello Geoff,

Thank you for your email regarding a Google AdWords ad.

I’ve forwarded this information to our AdWords team, who will remove the ad in question if it is in violation of any AdWords policies. We appreciate you taking the time to let us know about your concerns.

For additional questions, we suggest you visit our AdSense Support site at . If you’re unable to find an answer to your question on our site, please feel free to reply to this email.



The Google AdSense Team

They probably won’t tell me how this is resolved, though I’m hoping this kind of ad is now out.

Customer Service Redux

Just before we left for vacation, I wrote about the helpful customer service people at Southwest&#185. Friends of mine, frequent fliers, were surprised by this proper treatment.

I’ve got another story to tell. Last night after work, as usual, I sat in front of the TV (Boston Legal, Daily Show, Colbert Report) and played poker online. I’m a crazy multitasking fool.

I did well in my first little $5 tournament, so decided to step up to the $10 version. I played a few minutes and then… nothing.

The software attempted to contact the mothership, but to no avail. The rest of the Internet was fine. I just couldn’t get to the poker site, where my tournament chips were being blinded off.

There is a diagnostic tool within the Pokerstars directory and I ran it, keeping the log.

When I was, once again, able to hit the site, my tournament was over. My money was gone. I was out $11.

I wrote to Pokerstars, telling them what happened. When I woke this morning, there was an email reply (he used the word “whilst”). No one else was affected, just me. It probably wasn’t their fault. But, because I’m a good customer, they refunded my $11.

After I received the email, I revisited my diagnostic files and found the problem was in a router owned by Comcast. It had put my Pokerstars packets into a loop, going back and forth between two routers, never letting them out!

I re-wrote Pokerstars saying I had found the problem, it wasn’t them, and if they wanted their $11 back – please take it.

Another email reply (and another use of whilst) came quickly to say, it was nice of me to be so forthcoming, but as a good customer, they wanted me happy. The money was mine.

I am.

So, is there something to be learned here? I think there is. Both Southwest and Pokerstars treated me nicely. Neither really spent a lot of money to make me happy. For Southwest there was no incremental cost to move me to an earlier flight. For Pokerstars it was a drop in the bucket compared to what they make from my play (paid out of the losings of my opponents).

In both cases their employees had the ability to bend the rules. I sense that’s not often the case.

My opinion is, allowing your employees to bend the rules to help a customer is good for business. Customers appreciate it and are loyal because of it. Yet most companies seem to avoid anything that lets their employees divert from the ‘script.’

Do they need trust their own employees to do the right thing? How sad is that?

Are they that interested in each short term penny that they totally miss the long term? That would be sad too.

I was once a manager – not a very good one. I’m probably not the right person to question management style and policy. Yet as a consumer, the businesses that please me the most and have me as a loyal customer, are those where I feel my patronage trumps hard and fast policy.

When I look at the legacy airlines, cellphone companies, or other hard pressed businesses pinching every penny to stay alive, I seriously wonder they’re on the right track or just saving themselves right into bankruptcy?

Maybe I’m too innocent to understand big business?

&#185 – I don’t know if they’re all helpful – but these folks were.

Sometimes Spammers Lose

Everyone gets spam email – certainly I get more than my fair share. Because my email address appears in so many places on the web (this site for instance has thousands of instances of my email address ready for the plucking), I’m easily added to spammers’ lists.

Since January 1, 2004, I have received 22,347 spam emails. That’s over 63% of the total that have made it to my inbox. There are countless thousands more that never even get that far. They are screened by a few dozen brute force filters which discard obvious spam at my server.

There’s another spam I get – comment spam. That’s when people (actually machines) send comments to my blog so their website addresses will be posted. Their hope (sneaky but clever) is Google will see them on lots of websites and mistakenly believe they’re important.

Today, I’ve gotten dozens of these comment spams from a poker site. Filters I have installed for that purpose (and which don’t work anywhere near as well as the email spam filters) stopped them dead in their tracks.

Out of curiosity, I went to the site to see who was doing this. The site’s name was very close to a legitimate poker site and I wanted to know if they were responsible.

Here’s what I saw:


I’ll bet the spam was still being spit out after their site had been closed down! Hopefully, they were paying someone for this exercise in futility.

The bottom line is, no matter what small security hole exists, there will always be someone willing to exploit it. All you need is a lack of scruples and moral fiber…and someone who knows how to program.

My Internet Connection S-L-O-W-S to a Crawl

Sunday evening, playing poker on the laptop, I first noticed the problem. My Internet connection would stop for a few seconds – sometimes 10s of seconds – before resuming. The poker site I play at allows you to check the connection of the others at your table. They were fine, I was not.

Comcast has been very dependable. So, I did nothing, figuring all would be well on Monday morning. Guess again.

Helaine asked me what was going on. Her connection was slow. Steffie later chimed in with the same complaint. “The Internet is sketchy,” she said.

Between the three of us we spend an awful lot of time online and we’re spoiled with reasonably fast connections. This was totally unacceptable.

I decided to call Comcast when I came home from dinner. I worked my way through the phone tree (press 1, press 2, press 1 again). My hold time was somewhere around 10 wasted minutes.

On hold systems have two options:

1) Incessant announcements (which drive you nuts when you start hearing them the fifth, sixth, twentieth time).

2) No announcements, just a little light elevator music. That was Comcast’s choice and it’s really not much better.

While on hold I wondered if I was really in the queue? Maybe I’d be listening to these European studio musicians for the rest of my natural life!

A pleasant sounding woman, from Central Ontario it turned out, answered the call. She made me jump all the usual hoops – reboot, unplug, replug, etc. She could see there was a problem with packet loss and offered to send a service tech, but the system wouldn’t let her schedule one. Could I call back later?

After work, and on whisper mode with Helaine asleep in the next room, I dialed Comcast again. As I was waiting for a live person, I scooted over to to see if anyone else had reported this trouble. The Comcast Connecticut thread was four pages long! I had plenty of company.

This time a Canadian guy (I didn’t ask if he was Canadian – but I worked in Buffalo, just across the Niagara River from Canada and know their regionalisms, eh) picked up. He started to do his dance and talk about sending a technician to the house, but I stopped him.

The problem isn’t here, in my house. It’s far away at some router. I even know the router’s address: It’s owned by AT&T and probably serves as Comcast’s connection from Connecticut to the Internet in general.

If I know this, why doesn’t Comcast’s tech support guy? Why spend money and send technicians when there’s no problem they’ll fix? Why not tell me loads of others have reported problems, we’re working on it?

If I asked someone high up at Comcast whether they wanted this fixed right away and wanted their customers informed, I’m sure the answer would be yes. They want the best possible result spending the least amount of money. Yet their actions show there’s a disconnect between what would benefit them and their customers and what they’re delivering. And, they might not know this customer service problem even exists.

There is no one served by what went on tonight. Not me. Not Comcast. Their phone people were polite and pleasant but never even brought me one step closer to satisfaction.

I really don’t want to have to call back on this tomorrow.