United Airlines breaks guitars

In addition to stranding people in foreign cities, lying to them, and making them pay for their own stay, thereby breaking the rules of the Star Alliance, United Airlines now also breaks guitars.

In March 2008, musician Dave Carroll flew with United Airlines through Chicago, where a fellow passenger witnessed his $3,500 Taylor guitar being thrown into the hold of the aircraft by one of the UA employees. Upon arrival, Dave filed a complain with UA, asking them to reimburse him for the repair to his guitar, which came to the hefty sum of $1,500. For over a year, letters and emails and phone calls went back and forth, until UA, true to their lying form, denied responsibility for the damage and refused to pay for the repair. In return, Dave promised to release three music videos, to shame them publicly. The first, entitled “United Breaks Guitars“, is already out.

Kudos to Dave Carroll! I hope tons of people see this video and decide to do their flying with other, more customer-friendly airlines. UA deserves all that’s coming to it for the way it treats people.

[via Gulliver]

Using the economy as an excuse to shortchange employees

I’ve seen companies do some pretty disgusting things in my time, and the move some of them are pulling lately definitely ranks right up there with some of the biggest stinkers.

In effect, they’re using the current weak economy/recession as an excuse to lay off employees and burden the existing ones with the extra work, while keeping them mum under the fear of losing their jobs. If this isn’t corporate exploitation of its workforce, I don’t know what is.

I’m going to give you three examples, each juicier than the other, but I’m sure you can come up with more if you’re in the US and you’re employed in a full time job.

The niche business with an owner

I talked with an employee from a certain company lately, one which specializes in a niche market that has not been affected by the economic slowdown, nor does it look like it will be affected any time soon. I can’t disclose any identifying details, because the employee confided in me. What he told me was this: the president (and owner) of the company fired some employees while cutting year-end bonuses for the rest of the employees, using the recession as an excuse. The employees, the ones doing the hard work, have been handling a record amount of business for the past year, but the president cited a slump in incoming business. I was told the same president has been spending lavishly to expand his own mansion and buy extra cars and toys, during the same year when the supposed slump in business took place.

Adobe’s record profits

This example is more concrete than the previous one. In December, Adobe reported record revenues for the 4th quarter of 2008, and the sixth consecutive year of double-digit growth, yet they still laid off employees in November just the same. I’m not surprised though. I talked with a friend who is a long-time software developer, and he told me Adobe has another ugly habit: historically speaking, they have relied mostly on contractors, because it’s cheaper, and they’re easier to shed without bad press.

JPG Mag starts a bidding frenzy

Let’s look at JPG Mag. It’s the darling of many amateur photographers, because it gave them the chance to publish their work when other magazines might turn them down. I never really liked it, and I’ll tell you why: I thought they were cheap.

Here was an easy way to get print-worthy photographs without paying a dime. Turns out you could get amateur shutterbugs happy and willing to give away their work simply by dangling the illusory promise of publishing their pics in your magazine. The incentive was fame, which is as fleeting as a fart and just as troublesome, if you’ll excuse my expression. Where’s the moolah? Last I checked, bills were still payable in money, not fame.

When they announced they were going under, I thought it fitting. Good riddance to bad rubbish. First they don’t pay the photographers, then they fire the founders, now they’re going under — okay by me. Unfortunately, the buzz generated by their announcement stirred the vanities of those with bigger wallets, and a bidding war began.

But wait, there’s a nugget of bitter truth to be found among all this fake glimmer and shine. Turns out they fired all their employees, and now the CEO trumpets the company’s earning potential in messages to the bidders. PDN Pulse called them out on this, and rightfully so. Sure, now the company has earning potential since everyone’s gone. Hire a skeleton staff, make them do double or triple the work, pay no money to the photographers, and you’ve got a hand-dandy business model fit for the 21st century.

To sum things up

So you see, it’s okay to use the economy as an excuse when it befits your bottom line. Apparently, it’s okay to lay off people, it doesn’t matter that they’ve got bills to pay, that they’ve put a lot of hard work and time into your company. You shouldn’t do what you can to protect them in a weak economy when it’s harder to get jobs.

None of that matters, right? Ethics are so passé. You just use whatever excuse you can to make sure your precious bottom line gets bigger and bigger. It’s all about GREED. You can never have enough money, and people are only a means to it, right?

Well, I think that’s wrong. I don’t care if you’re afraid that the recession will affect your company. I don’t care if you really want that shiny new toy and a couple of employees and their mortgages stand in your way of getting it. I don’t care if your stockholders will bitch. If greed and money are your only motivators when you run a business, and you’d gladly step over people to balance the spreadsheets — don’t give me any of that I’m so sorry and I feel your pain crap — then you’re a spineless, slimy, pus-covered slug, and you deserve to be squashed under a steel-toe boot.

Pepco fails to fix store's electrical panel after 6 months

Updated 5/27/2008: It has now been a month since I wrote this post, and Pepco still HAS NOT fixed the electrical panel. This makes it 7 months, which is simply unacceptable. I am going to write to Chris Van Hollen, our Congressman, to see if he’d like to get involved in the matter.

Updated 6/09/2008: We received a reply from Congressman Van Hollen on 5/28/2008, just a day after I wrote to him via email, assuring us that he would look into the matter, and putting us in touch with one of his staffers, Miti Figueredo. Today, on 6/09/2008, Pepco showed up with a team of about seven people and got the electricity working again in a matter of hours. I know this wouldn’t have happened without Congressman Van Hollen’s intervention. Congressman, we are deeply grateful and thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Piano Place, the store where Ligia has her studio, experienced a power outage on November 2, 2007 (over 6 months ago). It was caused by a badly wired electrical panel outside the store, which caught on fire. Pepco, the local (and only) electrical company, has failed to fix that panel ever since, in spite of having the luxury of over 6 months to do it.

When the panel caught fire, the fire department and the police evacuated all of the stores for a day out of bureaucratic zeal, even though the fire didn’t spread inside the building. Then the store was without power for a few days until a generator was installed outside and connected to the electrical panels.

That same generator has sat outside the building since it was installed in November of last year (for over 6 months), waiting for Pepco to get off their lazy bums and fix the electrical panel. You’d think a job like this is of epic proportions, and that’s why it’s taking so long, but as you’ll be able to see from the photos, it’s something that could be done in a day or less with the proper crew.

The smoke on the wall mark the extent of the fire caused by the faulty panels. The wires that carry electricity inside the buildings weren’t damaged, because the generator is connected to them, and the store is able to feed off the generator to get part of its power. Pepco would simply need to fix the panels themselves, but they have offered up excuse after excuse during each of these six months. Appeals to their executives have not helped. The Washington Post has refused to get involved by publishing news of this complete failure in customer service.

Meanwhile, the store is paying $15,000 each month to rent the generator (with fuel charges extra), and still is not up to full power. It has had no air conditioning (only lights) all winter. That means they’ve had to do with space heaters here and there, and Ligia has frozen on many an occasion inside the studio because of Pepco’s utter laziness and unresponsiveness.

Now that summer is approaching and temperatures are climbing into the 80s, the store gets stiflingly hot (understandably so) on those days, because it has no air conditioning. Who’s to blame? Pepco, that’s who!

As if all this is not enough, the store has had the generator stolen once (the entire thing!), and on a separate occasion, it has even had the fuel siphoned off from the generator.

I have to wonder when Pepco will get their act together and fix the damned electrical panel. What will it take to get them to move on this?!

I see this as the strongest possible argument for competition in the marketplace. Pepco has a monopoly on the local power market. There is no other electrical company here, so Pepco can do whatever it pleases and get away with it. There is no one to hold them responsible. The lazy hacks can get away with treating customers like this for months and months, and no one from the local governments seems to care.

I find this outrageous, and I’m fed up with it. So the next time I hear one of Pepco’s hypocritical ads that say “We’re connected to you by more than power lines”, I’ll have to ask what they’re connected with: laziness, lies, inefficiency, procrastination, lack of customer service, monopoly, irresponsibility?

And when I see one of their trucks, I’ll know what sort of people drive them: the sort that would have people freeze in the middle of winter and bake in the summer heat rather than do their jobs.

Caveat Emptor: Global Internet Solutions (GISol)

Updated 11/4/2008: See FOX News expose GISOL for the crooks they really are, and watch the two people behind the scam literally run from the camera. Watch the video on YouTube or below, and read the post, as well as the numerous comments here or on this post (over 300 comments in total). My thanks go to Mike of Report-Gisol.com for doing the legwork to get these criminals on TV.

These same crooks have been calling me from private phone numbers, harassing me, and trying to intimidate me into letting them post responses on my website. They’ve tried repeatedly to post comments on this post and on my other post about them, and I refuse to let their lies go through to the live site. They need to be in jail.

This is one web hosting company you should not touch, not even with a 10-foot pole!

I signed up with them back in January of 2006, because I was attracted by their many features and low price. They were offering over 35GB of space, and unlimited bandwidth. While that last hook should have had me turning away, I fell for it. I anticipated increasing traffic to my sites, and was worried about bandwidth fees. Their many features blinded me. See the attached PDFs for the details of the hosting packages (Gisol Windows Hosting, Gisol Linux Hosting). GISol AdSure, there were signs this was a shady operation right from the start, but I ignored them. The cheesy site design should have clued me in, as well as the script, which is still running, and says there are so many more hours left until the “blowout sale” expires… As of the date of this post, that script’s been running for at least 6 months (January to June 2006).

I took the bait, and signed up. That’s when my problems started. I knew I should leave right away, but I was hooked on their Control Panel, which let me do everything easily. They were, and they still might be using the H-Sphere Control Panel, which lets one do just about everything (add/manage domains, sub-domains, DSNs, MIME types, databases, etc.) You name it, the control panel can do it. Unfortunately, that’s the ONLY thing that Gisol has which works well. Everything else is broken in one way or another.

Let me give you a few examples:

Their web servers always go down! By always, I mean always. It could be daily, it could be a few times a day. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your sites will stay up for a few days, which is nothing short of a miracle when it comes to GISol. The funny thing is, they advertise 99.999% uptime on their site – look at the plan specs, linked above, or this beauty: Gisol Uptime Guarantee. I’m still not sure how they compute the percentage they list in the plan specs, but I think their formula automatically eliminates the downtime to the third decimal point…

Their web servers don’t store session variables. Yes, you heard me correctly! I used session variables for logins on one of my clients’ sites, including a couple of my own. I’d log in, and the site would kick me out, because I had the web pages look for the variables, and they couldn’t be found anywhere. I had to argue with their tech support for days, and finally appealed to management. They kept accusing me of being at fault, when their pathetic servers wouldn’t work right. Finally, they switched me to another one, and wonder of wonders, no more session variable problems… but of course, other problems awaited.

Their tech support is outsourced to India. Normally, I don’t really care where the tech support is located, as long as they can do their job, but when they can’t speak English, are obviously reading packaged phrases off some sheet, are rude to me, don’t solve my problems, and lay the blame on me when they’re at fault, I tend to get a little upset, and I think you would, too.

False advertising: they say they have millions of customers on their site. I doubt it. I think their real number of customers is somewhere between a few hundred and a few thousand. Why do I say that? Because:

  • They only had 1 mySQL server. Seriously. I’m not kidding. The name of that server was was mysql1, and they couldn’t move me to a new one when I asked.
  • I signed up for a Windows Hosting account, and my server’s name was win2k8. When I had problems with that, they moved me to win2k9, then win2k10.
  • I also signed up for a Linux Hosting account, and my server’s name was web16.
  • When I called Tech Support, I kept speaking to the same 3-4 technicians all the time.

I had numerous – and when I say numerous, I mean plentiful, as in plethora – database connection problems. Just about every time I tried writing to one of the mySQL databases, I’d get timeouts or connection problems, and they simply couldn’t solve them.

The user testimonials on their site are false. They have to be. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who’s had problems with them. Besides, the problems are so blatant that anyone but a blithely unaware novice would know they’ve got serious problems.

I made the mistake of buying a domain through them. When I wanted to switch to another web hosting provider, they held the domain hostage. It took several emails and phone calls to get them to release it. I kept getting bounced from one “department” to another. Welcome to Indian-style bureaucracy, right here in the States!

I cancelled my web hosting plans. On their site, they say they offer refunds any time, for any reason. That’s the biggest crock of crap I’ve ever seen. It’s now three weeks since I requested a refund, and I’ve still to get it. I spoke with their Billing “department” – and I use the term loosely. They passed me off to the Refund “department”, and told me I could call them at certain phone numbers – one was a toll-free number, and the other was a long-distance number. I called the first number, only to be disconnected right away. Then I called the second number, only to have it ring endlessly, then get disconnected. No, not even an answering machine. Finally, I wrote to their email address (refund@gisol.com). I’m still waiting for an answer. I’ve already started fraud proceedings with my credit card company.

All in all, I think I don’t exaggerate when I say you should beware of Global Internet Solutions (aka GISol). If you value your sanity and your wallet, stay far away from them!

Caveat emptor: Davison Inventegration will just take your money

I’d forgotten about my bad experience with these people until they sent me some spam a couple of weeks ago. To return the favor, I’m going to tell you what I know of them, and believe me, it’s not pretty…

These days, they’ve got a new domain (davisongetresults.com) which acts as a forward to their old domain (davison54.com). They’re billing themselves as the inventor’s helper, and say they can “get your idea to market”. They’re still brandishing their “Inventegration” process, and they’re still puffing up their feathers about their proven experience of getting products to market. Check out the products they have gotten to market, and you be the judge of whether you’d call that experience. I have to chuckle at their marketing language: “Davison is fast becoming the industry leader when it comes to preparing and presenting new product ideas to corporations for possible licensing.” Compared to whom? By the way, surf the site to find out more about this Davison fellow, but you won’t find his full name or photograph anywhere. Does that begin to tell you something?

I’ll let you discover their website and judge it by yourselves. Let me not waste time and tell you about my experience. In ’03, I had an idea for a new faucet and fell for one of their spam emails. I contacted them, got their information package, and, not knowing any better, decided to go ahead and try to use them. The first step was their “confidential and professional” evaluation of my idea’s marketability – in other words, they would let me know whether my idea was worth pursuing. Hey, sounds good, right? I decided to go forward. In a couple of days, they contacted me and told me in no uncertain terms that they thought my idea was wonderful, and that they’d love to help me sell it to companies. I notice now they’ve gotten away from that nowadays. On their site, they say: “Davison does not perform analysis of the potential feasibility, marketability, patentability or profitability of ideas submitted to it.” But they WERE doing this when I dealt with them. So I guess they discovered it got them into too much hot water and decided it wasn’t worth it…

After telling me how good my idea was, the fellow with whom I dealt, possibly Davison himself, proceeded to give me the hard sell. They wouldn’t go ahead without a professional market study. After all, how could they gauge my idea’s marketability without one? No matter that they had just performed a professional analysis of my idea, a market study was still needed before we got to the good part, where they prepared my idea and marketed it to companies through their “exclusive contacts”. The cost, you ask? Oh, a mere $800, or a little less than that. For me, since I was cash strapped at the time, Davison would be able to take $100 off. What a nice guy, right? So I waited, and waited, and waited, after putting the bill on my credit card, and finally got my “professional market study”. I still have it, as a memento of my foolishness. It’s a bunch of web pages, printed out and stuck in a cheap binder, some from retail websites, and some from the US Patent Office database, where did a simple query on faucets. Basically, it’s all stuff marginally related to my idea, that they searched hastily and printed out. I could have done this myself in about 1-2 hours, but I ended up paying about $700 for it instead, because my powers of judgment must have been sleeping then.

So I figured okay, this sucks, but let me see what the next step is. I called them – they didn’t call me anymore this time. Davison probably figured that if I’m moronic enough to want to go forward after that botched up job they called a market study, then I deserve to lose my money… So I called him, and asked him how we’d proceed. I expressed my disappointment with the “market study”, and he said, nonchalantly, that that’s how they’re done… Ahem… Then he said all the preliminary steps were done, and and all we’d need to go forward with right now was the preparation of my product, and that he had the facilities to help me with that. I asked, what about presenting my idea to companies? No such thing yet, he said. We don’t want to risk rejection of your idea. First we need to prepare a model of your idea, so they have something in front of them. I knew I shouldn’t ask, but I did anyway… How much would it cost? Only $10,000-12,000, he said. (!)

It was then I realized I’d been strung along and pumped for cash, because I’d been a fool. But I figured, hey, let me do my homework, right? So I told him I needed to think about it, and I hung up the phone. Then I did my homework, which I should have done months before, and learned my lesson the hard way. Davison is part of a group of many inventor helper companies that have sprung up recently, that will pump naive inventors like me for money. The fools that we are, we believe they’re really interested in helping us, when all they care about is getting our money to supposedly “package our product for the market”. Their fees are ridiculous, and they don’t care if our ideas are good or not, but we fall for it, because we don’t know any better. If you don’t believe, do a search on the internet for “davison inventegration” or “davison idea” and see what you’ll find. Here is a sample of what’s there. Even the FTC has a published brief that was filed against these crooks, for “deceptive practices”.

I was a gentleman with him back then. I called him a couple of days later, and told him I was disappointed with the so called market study, and that I wouldn’t go forward with their “inventegration” process. This whole dirty matter would have stayed safely in my past if they hadn’t spammed me. Well, if they’re so thoughtless that they won’t let sleeping dogs lie, I hope this teaches them a lesson, and it teaches you, the reader with an idea, NOT to use them.

Updated 5/26/10: The FTC has gotten involved with Davison, due to all the claims people have filed against them, and Davison has settled and mailed checks to the people whose money they took under false pretenses. I received two letters (with checks enclosed), one in 2009, and one in 2010, mentioning the FTC lawsuit settlements. I’m posting them below for you. If you didn’t receive a settlement check and you’ve lost a lot of money with Davison, my advice to you is that you look into your legal options — talk with a trustworthy, knowledgeable lawyer and see what’s to be done.

Designed by Braggadocio

I do web design and development consulting in my free time. I always strive for quality and originality in my designs. It never fails to amaze me how people always fall for cheap, imitative designs, simply because they’re flashier.

These “web designers” promise more traffic, more exposure, better looks, more and better everything, and of course they don’t deliver on any of those things, except on the surface. Yes, the designs may be flashier, and buttons might move, or the top banner might be in Flash, and it might do something that’ll make the site owner go “Wow”, but that’s all empty. It doesn’t do anything for the site’s substance, nor does it do anything for the search engines, because the site hasn’t been properly coded for them. Or, they’ll design the site in Frontpage… The telltale signs are easy to spot: _vti files are everywhere, the page weight is large, and the graphics just aren’t that good. But people fall for this stuff!

It never fails to amaze me… It leaves me speechless, really. I compare the bragging with the product delivered, and I can see the wide gap between what’s been promised and actually created. Yet the site owners don’t see it. How can I make them see where the real value lies?