The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Electronic Arts' offshore tech support wins this round

When a software company engages with an offshore technical support team, they signal to the world that they have little interest in supporting their users. Offshore teams have no incentive to actually solve problems. In fact, individual tech support reps get punished for independent thought in some organizations. So if you have a support issue that they can't find in the support manual (even if you send them a link to the exact community page that explains the issue and solution), they won't help.

Electronic Arts, the legal successor to Maxis for all things SimCity, has an offshore tech support team that has, I believe, completely given up on solving my problem. That it took as many emails as it did before they finally asked me to do something impossible only adds to the farce.

I got this message this morning:

Thank you for contacting EA Help. My name is Krishna and I would assist you with your Origin issue today.

I would suggest please contact your retailer they will help out this issue.

Krishna, the most likely case is that I am contacting the retailer. My reply:

I actually don’t remember where I bought the software, because I bought it 18 years ago. I thought it was Egghead, but they went bankrupt in 2001. So I probably bought it directly from Maxis. EA bought Maxis in 2015. So, really, I bought it directly from the company you represent.

Once more, with feeling: I have a license for SimCity 4 that I obtained in 2003. The software does not work on any Windows platform after Vista because Maxis made an engineering choice that turned out to be wrong. Flash forward to 2021, and the only way I can use the software today is through Origin. I therefore need to download the software using Origin, and then activate it, which requires a code.

Is it possible to escalate this to someone with the authority to solve this very simple problem?

I believe EA has now burned about 4-5x the value of the activation code avoiding giving me the activation code. As a 25-year veteran of software development, I can say this exactly the outcome I would predict from an offshore tech support operation.

So, I'll probably just give EA $20 for a new license, while continuing to ridicule them on social media.

End of the week or beginning of the weekend?

Today's end-of-workweek stories:

Finally, today is the 157th anniversary of the surrender of the traitors and the end of the white rebellion in America. (Sounds different these days, doesn't it?)

Still stuck, with no laxative in sight

The Ever Given continues to plug up the Suez Canal, halting some $10 billion a day in global trade:

Canal authorities said on Saturday that dredgers had managed to dig out the rear of the ship on Friday night, freeing its rudder, and that by Saturday afternoon they had dredged 18 meters down into the canal’s eastern bank, where the ship’s bow was stuck solid. But after a salvage team failed once more to dislodge the four-football-field-long leviathan from the sand bank where it ran aground on Tuesday, blocking all shipping traffic through the canal, global supply chains churned closer to a full-blown crisis.

Easing the bottleneck depends on the salvagers’ ability to clear away the sand, mud and rock where the Ever Given is stuck and to lighten the ship’s load enough to help it float again, all while tugboats try to push and pull it free. Their best chance may arrive on Monday, when a spring tide will raise the canal’s water level by up to about 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.

All the while, they must hope the Ever Given remains intact. With the ship sagging in the middle, its bow and stern both caught in positions for which it was not designed, the hull is vulnerable to stress and cracks...experts said.

I found this sentence particularly amusing: "[T]he Ever Given had succumbed to Murphy’s Law: Everything that could go wrong did, starting with the ship’s size, among the world’s largest."

The ship's size had nothing to do with Murphy's Law. Evergreen made a business decision to float a 400-meter container ship and send it down Suez. And the Suez authorities let it through. Maybe it's not so much Murphy's Law as the Omnibus Explanation: "When you cannot explain a human decision through logic, the actual reason for the decision is stupidity."

Lunchtime headaches

I'm shaking my head at email service provider Postmark, who four weeks ago announced they would be phasing out support for TLS 1.0 (a network security protocol). I understood this when they announced it in February, 60 days ahead of their cutover to TLS 1.2, but didn't think it applied to anything of mine. This morning they sent a more focused email saying, "you're getting this email because we can see that this applies to you." Panic ensues.

Why panic? Because almost everything I've developed in the last 12 years depends on Postmark for email messaging, and the way they worded their notice, it seemed like all of those apps will fail on April 20th. And the only documentation they supplied relevant to me (and anyone else in the Microsoft universe) was a set of instructions on how to test TLS 1.2 support, not whether this would be a breaking change.

I immediately contacted their support group and said, as nicely as I can, "WTF dudes?" To which they replied, "oh yeah, bummer, dude." So I sent a lengthier reply just now and started digging into their source code. It turns out they're using an out-of-the-box Microsoft component that should transparently switch from TLS 1.0 to TLS 1.2 if asked to do so. I believe, therefore, the affected applications will be fine. In fact, fixing the problem may only require a simple, non-invasive change to Microsoft Azure settings for the affected applications. But I don't know that for sure. And I'm hoping their actual development team will respond with "yeah, no probs, dude, you're cool."

My other headache is literal, from staring at too many screens. So I'll do something else in a moment.

Not a surprising coincidence

A local Vietnamese restaurant—only a few blocks from me, in fact—had to pay $700,000 in back wages to its workers after a Department of Labor investigation that ended in October:

Tank Noodle has been forced to pay nearly $700,000 in back wages after making some of its employees work only for tips, according to the U.S. Deptartment of Labor.

The popular Vietnamese restaurant at 4953 N. Broadway withheld wages and used illegal employment practices for 60 of its employees, a labor department investigation found. Some employees were owed more than $10,000 by the restaurant.

The investigation found some servers at the restaurant worked only for tips, a violation of federal work laws. Tank Noddle also shorted servers when the business pooled tips and divided the money among all staff, including management, another federal work violation.

Tank Noodle violated overtime laws and sometimes paid staff flat fees for a day’s work regardless of the number of hours worked, according to the labor department.

There's the setup. Now the punchline:

[Tank Noodle's] owners attended a Jan. 6 rally in support of former President Donald Trump that ended in the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

The Ly family, which owns Tank Noodle, posted photos from the rally, which were widely circulated on social media.

Too bad for the Ly family that the neighborhood has about two dozen other places with better phở.

Odds and ends

Just a couple passing stories this afternoon:

Finally, Merck and Johnson & Johnson announced a plan to combine production of Covid-19 vaccines, an "unprecedented" collaboration between competitors.

Last weekday of the winter

I get to turn off and put away my work laptop in a little bit in preparation for heading back to the office on Monday morning. I can scarcely wait. 

Meanwhile, I've got a few things to read:

OK, one more work task this month, then...I've got some other stuff to do.

Wishful thinking from New Republic

I mean, more than usual. In our delusional fading days of empire, Kyle Edward Williams states the obvious:

[I]t’s worth pondering just how close we came to a hostile private sector takeover of the American political tradition. Modern America has long been infatuated with the transcendental wisdom ascribed to business sense, so it’s something of an oddity that the U.S. has not elected more businesspeople to the high office, even if many have tried. Indeed, it’s never really been the case that America has exhibited total deference to business leadership.

In recent years, presidential candidates have made their business experience an important part of their pitch to the American voter. George W. Bush had a less-than-stellar career as an oil and gas executive, and his first major business success came from a lucrative deal with a group of wealthy family friends that made him managing general partner of the Texas Rangers, but he was still the first president to have an MBA—and his came from Harvard Business School. Time called Bush the “CEO president,” though one suspects that he might have been happier (and almost certainly more effective) as the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

[T]his election may prove to be a turning point in our political discourse. Not just because of Biden’s victory but also because of Trump’s unrelenting attacks on scientific experts, civil servants, and public institutions of almost all kinds, Americans have rallied around the ideal of public service. In the days after November 3, postal workers received standing ovations in the streets of America’s major cities. People wear Anthony Fauci T-shirts. Such displays may strike us as cringeworthy in certain ways—it’s not the point of public service to court mass adulation, after all. But at another level, they’re also a healthy and long-overdue celebration of the real good that democratic institutions can do. A Biden presidency stands poised to rehabilitate the public servant and to put to rest, at least for a time, the myth of the omnicompetent business reformer.

Well, sure. Except the exact people who supported the STBXPOTUS also think he knew how to run a business.

Grabbing the loot with both hands

Perhaps knowing that they only have a few more months to steal billions from American taxpayers, the president and his allies have used the pandemic to award huge no-bid contracts to their friends:

Several weeks ago, President Donald Trump forced the Food and Drug Administration to reverse a safety ruling and clear the way for one of the nation's premier defense contractors to sell, service and operate new machines that reprocess N95 face masks for health care workers.

Within two weeks, Battelle, the company that makes the machines, had a contract from the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency to recycle masks for up to 20 uses each at locations across the country. The no-bid deal, ordered up by the White House coronavirus task force, is worth up to $600 million.

But nurses, doctors and scientists who have spoken to NBC News about Battelle's hydrogen peroxide vapor chambers said the process it uses remains unproven over long-term use and using masks cleaned by it more than a couple of times could leave front-line health care workers vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus.

There is effectively no independent oversight of the Battelle deal or others like it.

The lack of oversight means voters will have less information by which to judge the president when they go to the polls. Trump surely understands that.

But because Trump has effectively gutted oversight of his administration, only voters can hold him accountable if his decisions were bad — or made for the wrong reasons.

And the money came rolling in from every side. Reminder: populists are corporatists first. It's about the money, not the politics.

Saturday morning news clearance

I rode the El yesterday for the first time since March 15th, because I had to take my car in for service. (It's 100% fine.) This divided up my day so I had to scramble in the afternoon to finish a work task, while all these news stories piled up:

Finally, author and Ohio resident John Scalzi sums up why he won't rush back to restaurants when they reopen in his state next week:

My plan is to stay home for most of June and let other people run around and see how that works out for them. The best-case scenario is that I’m being overly paranoid for an extra month, in which case we can all laugh about it afterward. The worst case scenario, of course, is death and pain and a lot of people with confused about why ventilator tubes are stuck down their throats, or the throats of their loved ones, when they were assured this was all a liberal hoax, and then all of us back in our houses until September. Once again, I would be delighted to be proved overly paranoid.

I have sympathy for the people who are all, the hell with this, I’ll risk getting sick, just let me out of my fucking apartment. I get where you’re coming from. You probably don’t actually know what you’re asking for. I hope that you never have to learn.

Note to Mr Scalzi: I hope to start The Last Emperox this week. I really do.