Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

ATT Run-Around Follow-Up, Part 1

This morning, I was contacted by Hernando on ATT’s Social Media team @ATThelp. He said he wanted to help with the issues I experienced yesterday, so I connected to chat with him (it took a couple of tries before I got to the right person). I had already been looking into whether I could change our upgrade to one that didn’t involve a new installation, but ATT wasn’t showing me any options for service anymore.

Hernando did apologize for my experience yesterday, blaming it on the worldwide crisis. Though I agree, I also know that ATT can be hard enough to deal with in normal times, and I’ve had this kind of service before. He couldn’t change my install date, though he did say he would watch and let me know if an earlier date became available. And he made me a vague offer of a deal and perks, once the installation was complete. He gave no specifics of what those would be, though. Here’s a little bit from our transcript.

Hernando : I can confirm they are set for April 2nd if you agree I can hold the case so we can ensure the install
Hernando : and after thats completed we can check further options to compensate you due the long wait

I also asked him to check on whether we could get an upgrade to a higher speed without an equipment upgrade. I know those options were available to me when I initially ordered this upgrade over a week ago. According to the ATT website, I should be able to double, triple, or even quadruple my speed for the same price. Of course, that’s not better than about 80x our current speed that I’d get with fiber, which is also the same price for new customers as the lower speeds (though fiber isn’t available everywhere). I could live with a higher speed, even if it’s not fiber, if that meant they didn’t have to send someone to my house, my cost wouldn’t go up, and they could switch us over right away. But Hernando said I didn’t have those options anymore. Their website won’t show me what’s available in my area online. It tells me I have to call to place an order.

So we’re stuck in limbo, hoping that Hernando really will come through with promised deals, but mostly hoping he or someone will actually flag our installation order so that it actually happens instead of getting delayed again. That will probably depend on what the situation in our state looks like in another two weeks. Our only other options are to cancel the upgrade and live with the speeds we have (and the dropped service, which we’ve been experiencing periodically and which is usually fixable by rebooting our modem). Or we can explore switching to the cable company for internet. They could get us about 10x our current internet speed for a little less. We’d just have to port our phone and change some old Bellsouth email addresses that we don’t use much.

ATT Support Run-Around Yet Again

There’s nothing like a little ATT tech support to get your heart rate and your blood pressure up. Not the most enjoyable form of ‘exercise,’ but it still feels like a workout. Anyone who’s read this blog very long knows that this isn’t my first run-in with ATT, but it may be the worst customer service day I ever had, so it may be my last.

Everything started fairly normal. We had put in a request for an upgrade that we’d wanted to do for some time, and the tech guy was supposed to come install between 9 and 11 in the morning. Their tracking website kept pushing the time back from 10 to 10:15, then 10:30, then it went past 11 and the site said the installer would be here by 1pm. None of this was that unexpected, though by the time 1pm rolled around with no call and no indication of when they would arrive, I was concerned.

So I got on chat and tried to find out more, since the website had stopped displaying any information other than a notice that they had missed the appointment. Like I hadn’t figured that out. I was given the option to keep the appointment and wait or to change it.

ATT support chat sometimes has been pretty good, but this time it turned utterly surreal. The support person I got seemed helpful. She said she had contacted the installer and he would be to my house within the hour. I asked if she could guarantee it, since I’d been given several times already and none of them had been true. She said he was guaranteed to arrive within the hour, and she gave me a phone number I could use to contact him.

When the hour had nearly passed with no word from the installer, I called the number 866-341-2662 (don’t call this unless you enjoy being tortured). I was asked for my ATT Phone User ID. Now, I had no idea what that was, so I tried a couple of numbers that I thought it might be, then hung up and tried to reach support on Twitter @ATThelp (no they don’t help, at least not today). Three or four people claimed to want to help me, but when I sent them my account number, they claimed they couldn’t find it. When I sent a screen shot to prove it was my account, they said they would check on it and then disappeared and didn’t reply, even after an hour.

No, I didnt wait that long. I tried chat again and was told I needed to call that dispatcher number again. We had reset my PIN (that I also didn’t know), and the chat agent thought that was probably the Phone User ID that number asked for. Nope. That didn’t work, so I pressed ‘star’ to get help with the ATT Phone User ID. All they told me was that it was the same as my Global User ID (what the F?) but it was all numbers. I should take my Global ID and translate it by giving each letter a number, where A = 01, B=02, etc. I did that with our account username, but that didn’t work either. So I gave up and tried chat again.

About this time, five hours after the installer was supposed to arrive at 11, I finally got a text that the installer was on his way. It showed his name, picture, and the supposed location of his truck. He would be here in half an hour. I still wanted to know what the mysterious ATT Phone User ID was, so I stayed on chat. The chat agent confirmed that my installer was on the way and eventually revealed that the ATT Phone User ID was a code that traditional phone customers might have (though I don’t know that they know it). We haven’t had traditional phone service in a number of years, since we switched to Uverse, so I couldn’t have provided this number, but I needed to have it to talk to the dispatcher. The chat agent apologized and said she would make sure it didn’t happen again (how exactly?). I left the chat hopeful that the installer would arrive, even though it was now after 5pm.

Then I got a text that the service call was cancelled and I would have to reschedule. I tried to find out why, but got nowhere, so I eventually texted Change to set up a new appointment, only to find out that the next available one was in thirteen days! Unsatisfied, I tried chatting to see if I could get something sooner by explaining that I had waited all day for the installer who cancelled when he was on his way. After much waiting and being passed between two chat agents, I was finally told that the installer claimed I hadn’t answered his call, so he had cancelled the appointment, and that is why I would have to wait.

Now, I had been by the phone all day. In fact, I had been by my cell phone and my land line, and he had never called either. The only calls from ATT that I had receied were from the customer service agent who helped me reset my pin hours before the installer said he called me. But at that point the chat agent stopped responding to my questions.

Now, I get it that everyone is overwhelmed, understaffed, and overworked since everything has either shut down or gone crazy due to COVID-19. If I had been told that they were sorry that my appointment would have to be delayed, and if that meant gettting my installation tomorrow or as soon as they could get to me, that would be a completely different story.

But I was lied to several times by ATT. By agents on the phone who gave me a bogus number to call, by chat agents who ‘guaranteed’ service within the hour, by the website that kept telling me the installer would come soon even when he didn’t come all day, and finally by the installer who claimed he’d called me when I know he didn’t. I wouldn’t mind if he said he couldn’t come after 5pm, even though I’d waited all day for someone to arrive. But to be told a lie as a reason to bump my appointment to the back of the line instead of keeping my place in line and getting my installation done the next day or soon, that is the worst customer service imaginable. Okay, things are bad right now everywhere, but at least tell the truth. Is that too much to ask? ATT, you might even gain some sympathy and keep customer loyalty.

Dealing with Spam on WordPress

For a while now, I’ve been using the WordPress desktop app instead of the web interface. Mostly that’s gone well, but one serious flaw is in handling spam comments. I still get many spam comments filtered out (thank you Akismet), but it’s easy to forget about them. This morning, I happened to check, and found there were over 1,600 spam comments.

Using the app’s interface to deal with this many comments was simply impossible. You can only review 20 comments at a time using the “Bulk Edit” feature. I’m sorry, 20 isn’t bulk when facing 1,600! I could select 20 at a time, review, and then delete. But then I had to go to a new page, click on Bulk Edit again, review, delete, repeat. I tried changing my settings for how many comments to view (as suggested in Help), but that didn’t change the number displayed in “Bulk Edit.” I also tried selecting multiple pages of comments, but only the last page was deleted.

So finally, I went to WP Admin on the left-hand menu. This took me to the old web interface (which fortunately is working again in Safari, so maybe I can just return to it), where I was able to view Spam comments the old fashioned way. I could have reviewed every one and at least not had to choose “Bulk Edit” so many times to do it (since that’s the default view). But facing about 1500 messages to scroll through, most of which would be long and full of gibberish and links, I opted for the “Empty Spam” command at the bottom of the screen. Poof, they all disappeared.

My apologies to anyone whose actual comment might have been caught in this spam purge. In my experience, that’s very, very rare, so I doubt it happened. WordPress is usually very good about alerting me when there’s a real comment (or one that’s potentially real) and allowing me to decide wither to accept, reject, or mark as spam. And it’s very good at filtering out spam and leaving the real messages for me to approve. As long as I remember to go to WP Admin, spam will be much easier to deal with in the future, and I hope I don’t let it build up quite that much!

Solving Uverse Gateway Issues

One of my most popular technology posts has consistently been one I wrote about our ATT DSL modem back in the day before Uverse. We’ve been on that for a few years now, and I suspect many people have switched over, too, because traffic to that post has gone way down. It had a good life.

Fortunately, I haven’t had as many problems with Uverse as we had with the old modem yet. But lately we have had a few times where it dropped our connection suddenly. The fix has been to restart the gateway.

Usually when this happens, all my lights are green, though sometimes one might be flashing. I may have to record which one if it happens again. I begin getting errors on all my services that the certificate has expired (but what it means, I suspect, is that it can’t connect to email, etc.).

I have bookmarked the Uverse gateway’s status page in my browser, and since wifi is still operational, I can go there. That should be http://192.168.1.254, but check your gateway documentation if that doesn’t work for you. It may have a different default address. From here, I can confirm that the connection is down, and I can restart my services (Connection to ATT, WiFi, Phone). You can try restarting individual services, though that hasn’t worked well for me. What has worked to restore service is to click on “Restart Your System” and reboot the whole gateway.

This has happened to us twice in a week, so I hope it doesn’t mean the Gateway is going out. When we first switched over, ATT came out a couple of times and replaced our gateway. The service tech said they weren’t very good and they had a lot of problems, but once we got a decent one, it’s lasted a couple of years. Maybe it will be time for us to upgrade our service to fiber and maybe get a new gateway.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that, or at least that I don’t have more hassles to vent about. But if I do, I’ll be sure to write about them here!

Writing Digital Literature

untitled20design202My article “Crossing Genres in Digital Writing” is available at the Macmillan International Higher Ed blog. They are my publisher for A Writer’s Craft. I decided to write on digital writing because it’s an area I’ve been exploring recently.

One of the most fun classes I get to teach in The W’s low-residency MFA program in creative writing is a course we call Writing for New Media. We chose that name because we didn’t want to limit ourselves in scope for the future, but the reality is right now most of what we cover is digital literature. This class take students (and me) into the worlds of kinetic poetry, twaiku or twit lit (and other uses of social media for literature), hypertext fiction, mapped stories and poems, and even gaming as a means of storytelling. Our goal is to see what happens when we leave the confines of the page, how forms blend and narrative or lyric structures transform in new media.

ehpiugcxkaap8fbThis fall, after writing this post, I was invited to speak at the Middle Tennessee State Writers’ Conference, and I decided it would make sense to adapt some of what I talk about in the article and teach in the class to a workshop setting. Obviously, everything had to be very compressed for an hour and fifteen minutes, so I decided it would be best to do a little digital writing of my own to demonstrate. Since the conference was right before Halloween, I decided to write “River Hill: A Ghost Story” on Twitter, Google Maps, and Google Sites, which is what I decided to use for the hypertext component of the story.

Follow any of the links above to the story. Start with Twitter, if you want to read it in order, but in true hypertext fiction style, it’s meant to be started anywhere, and there are multiple links back to the other parts of the story to follwo whenever you want. I even left the story unfinished for now, hoping my workshop or other readers might write or suggest their own endings. That hasn’t happened yet, but you’re welcome to try!

Writing literature on Twitter is easy enough, either attempting to write a complete story in 140 (or 280) characters or by linking tweets using hashtags or by replying to successive tweets to create a tweetstorm story. Images or even video can be included with the tweet for a more multimedia effect. Some of my students have experimented with using Instagram instead of Twitter. You can do many of the same things, though it’s a little harder to link posts on Instagram compared to Twitter, though you can use hashtags. Facebook or Tumblr could also be used, I suppose, though each platform has its own culture and its own quirks about how posts are displayed. It might even be fun to aggregate posts across different platforms using Pinterest, for instance, by pinning images from each part of the story to a board.

Google Maps is a little more complicated to set up, but doesn’t take a ton of technical know-how, once you figure out how to get to your My Maps. The most straightforward way I know to do it is to open Google Maps, use the menu to go to Your Places, then click on the Maps tab, then Create A Map. Or you can try going to https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/home, which might take you directly to your maps or you may need to login with Google before you do that.

Using Google Sites for a hypertext story worked well, and any web hosting platform ought to work to build a simple linked story. However, in my class, we get a little more complicated, so working with Twine has been better. Twine allows you to map out your links using in graphical user interface, which can be helpful when links multiply exponentially. It also allows you to do more with the code and even create some fairly sophisticated games. There are lots of examples on the Twinery, and there’s an active user support group that can be searched to learn tricks and techniques. You can download the Twine app or write your story online using either Twine 1 or Twine 2, which each have different features and templates.

Word Processors for Poets

Today’s my birthday, so my gift to you is a recommendation of free software.

Poets get a bum rap for never having money (it’s true!), but that’s not why I’m recommending two free word processors today. And it’s not because poets are so anti-establishment we have to fight against Microsoft’s domination with alternatives to MS Word, though that may be a noble cause.

Even Apple with Pages (free with your Mac, so not exactly free) might be worth fighting against on those terms, but I don’t mind it as much as Word. Pages doesn’t do the things that bother me most about MS Word, so it might be a good alternative if you already own a Mac, but for the rest of the world (PC or even Linux users), there are a couple of great free options to Word. (Sorry Google, I’m not thinking about Docs!)

First, what’s so annoying about Word, especially for poets? I’ve always struggled with its default settings, which are geared to an office environment. For one, I always have to instruct my poetry students how to force Word to single-space their poems. They set it to single space, but Word thinks every new line is a new paragraph and every new paragraph needs to have extra space between it and the previous one. Can we spell business letter, anyone?

(There’s an easy trick to fix that, actually: edit your default document template to set your default font and paragraph spacing options. It will affect every new file, but most of us don’t mind. Or create a poem template that has your settings for poetry, so you can keep your business letter template as default, if you must.)

The other annoying habit of Word isn’t quite so easy to fix. Word likes to have a capital letter at the beginning of every new line. It apparently thinks it’s a new sentence as well as a new paragraph, so in order to turn this feature off, you have to turn off capitalization at the beginning of a sentence. But then all sentences are affected, not just the ones at the beginnings of lines that aren’t really the beginning of sentences.

So the quicker, easier, and perhaps more gratifying solution is to switch to OpenOffice or LibreOffice. Both are free, open source office suites that are perfectly stable and secure. They do everything Word does, but the don’t treat poets like business execs (or their assistants). You don’t have to do anything to get them to work the way you want. They work well for poets right out of the box!

Both also include a database program, which might be more useful for keeping track of submissions than Excel. I’m currently working on that, and if I get it to work, I’ll post about it later. They both also have spreadsheet applications and other common office suite apps.

From what I’ve read, OpenOffice and LibreOffice are virtually identical, though if you want to save your files in Word format, then LibreOffice is the way to go. Both will open files in and save to a number of different formats that Word can see, and OpenOffice can save to a .doc file, just not .docx (which many people hate), so if you want to look like you’re using the latest Word when you exchange files, then LibreOffice is probably the way to go. Otherwise, choose the one whose icon or interface you like best or flip a coin. You can’t go wrong with either word processor, and you will be thankful for the reduced number of headaches they cause you, esp. if you write poetry!

Or you can do like a lot of Instagram poets I’ve seen recently: buy an old typewriter, type your poems, take a picture (typos and all), and post it online!

My First Decade as Occasional Blogger

Screen Shot 2019-07-23 at 10.01.10 AMRecently, WordPress was kind enough to inform me that this month is my 10th aniversary of writing this blog. As I looked back, I noticed the very first first post was July 24, 2009. What a long, fun, and a little crazy trip it’s been.

I started blogging mostly as a dare to myself. I’m a poet, and writing a blog seemed like a good way to give myself some writing goals that didn’t have to be poems. I didn’t expect to write daily or even weekly, as most blogging advice tells you to do. I also decided that I wouldn’t stick to just one subject, though that is also good advice.

What I wanted was an author’s website and blog, and I wanted to write about all aspects of my life, including poetry and teaching. Writers are people, too, and I wanted my blog to reflect that. So I went along for quite awhile, quietly blogging about poetry, teaching, food, etc., and I was getting a few people viewing and even following the blog now and then. My stats were modest, and I was fine with that. It was a good outlet for my thoughts, and that was enough.

1946motorette-croppedOne of the first posts that took off unexpectedly was one I wrote about my father’s 1946 Motorette motor scooter. I wrote it mostly as memoir and to chronicle something from my childhood that my mother was thinking of getting rid of. I didn’t really expect to sell it, but someone contacted me, one thing led to another, and we sold it — not for a lot of money, but to a new home where it would actually run again (and my brother even got to ride in it once, since he lived not too far away). That’s a post (along with its follow-up about the sale) that still gets a hit now and then, and it may be the post that has gotten the most comments over the years. People want to know where to buy one or where they can sell one. When I can, I try to point them in the direction of a group who may know.

But the biggest surprise post I ever wrote was the rant about my DSL modem from ATT. This is a post I wrote in May of 2013. It got a few hits at the time, but eventually started picking up steam, probably because someone linked to it. For awhile, it, along with a series of follow-up posts, was driving over a hundred visitors to my blog every day. Following on this popularity, I wrote more about technology for awhile, including some posts about my trackpad and our smart TV that still get the occasional hit.

Barrier Island Suite front cover imageBut after awhile, I wanted to bring the blog back closer to its original focus and began posting more about poetry again, especially with the launch of my third collection, Barrier Island Suite. The publication of my textbook, A Writer’s Craft, and the beginning of The W’s MFA in Creative Writing led me to post more about creative writing pedagogy. And yet, some of my other most popular posts are on cooking or buying and selling a car. Sometimes it’s hard to predict what will resonnate.

Over the years, I’ve had periods when I didn’t have time to blog much and times when I posted fairly regularly. I’ve written a lot about food, and have always been suprised at the popularity of buttermilk, which I first wrote about feeding to our dog when she was very sick, but later included in many of the recipes I’ve shared. It’s one of my standard ingredients for which I’ve found a lot of uses. As a cook, I’m as eclectic as I am as a blogger. I rarely follow recipes and use the blog write down what I did for myself as much as for anyone else, but the recipes I post tend to get a fair number of hits every now and then.

I’ve also used the blog to memorialize some of the teachers and friends who have passed away over the years. As long as I have a public forum, it seems right to use it to pay tribute to those who have contributed to who I am, both as a writer and as a person.

Book reviews are another category I’ve tried to come back to fairly regularly. I read a lot for class, and usually don’t review those books, but I try to write at least a few reviews of the best books I read for the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium: expect a few more of those in the coming weeks as I’m very excited about the current slate of writers. Still, I probably won’t find time to review them all because there’s lots of planning to do just to pull off the event!

I’m glad to see that writing is still the category I’m most prolific in, even though technology has certainly brought more people to my blog, and MFA advice is another category that is taking off, thanks to some outside links to my posts. Recently one reader commented that she first came to get help with her modem, but has kept coming back for the writing. I hope that’s true for some of you, but whatever brings you here, if you find something that’s useful or just entertaining, then I’m happy. I plan to keep writing, keep cooking, and occasionally keep ranting about technology or posting about a fix I’ve uncovered for a problem that I’m having. I’d like the blog to be moslty about poetry and creative writing pedagogy, but as an occasional blogger, I know I’ll probably write about whatever’s on my mind when the mood strikes me and I can carve out a few minutes from my day to write it down.

Thanks for reading this, and for following my blog if you do. It’s been a great ten years; here’s to the next decade!