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21 February 2011

JavaScript, Google Spreadsheets, and Ultimate Victory

I like a project now and then. So the other day, I decided I was going to try to save myself some time on this new blog I've been working on. Three days of Googling, reverse-engineering code, and muttering cusswords in my sleep later, I will now be able to save a few seconds every time I make a post there.

The problem:
I wanted certain words to link directly to a dictionary every time they appear with a special link color, and I didn't want to take the time to go to the dictionary myself every time, copy a link, paste it into Blogger, and set the special link class myself.

The solution:
This is so stupid, but since it's a Blogger-hosted blog with no hosting of its own, I couldn't do any backend work. So I decided instead that I wanted to make a list of the target words in Google Spreadsheets (easy to access, easy to maintain), and create a JavaScript that would access that list every time the page loads, find the target words, and replace them with links to searches for those words in Google's own dictionary. That is to say, I wanted the script to change "pusillanimous" to "pusillanimous" when it found it on the page.

08 February 2011


In college, my friend Joe and I had a pretty good way of coping with annoying classmates (the ones who would waste the time of everyone else in class by talking out of turn and trying to get into pissing matches with the professor). We'd draw them (or, stick figure versions of them), and then draw wavy lines emanating from all the places stink could possibly come from on a person. Armpits, feet, butt, mouth, etc. It was good fun, and we still occasionally reference Stinklines #2 or Stinklines #4 when we get together.

I've just started doing some post-bacc work at City College of New York to ease myself back into academia and to shore up some holes in my undergrad work as I'm applying to grad schools, and while I've only had three days of classes so far, I'm really enjoying it. Really and truly. I had no idea how much I've missed learning. It's funny because I've spent so much of the last few years teaching kids SAT strategies, so I'm in classrooms a lot, but I totally forgot how great it is to be in the seats, instead of at the front. I have not missed, however, being in a lecture of 300 people and discovering that 2 rows behind me, there is a Stinklines.

My microeconomics professor tried to illustrate a point today about impure public goods by asking us to imagine a system by which, instead of countless umbrella vendors taking to the streets when it rains in NYC and countless hapless New Yorkers buying cheap umbrellas with a 10 minute lifespan, there were simply buckets of umbrellas at the door of every building in New York. Umbrellas would become essentially valueless. Nice job professor, point made.

No. Wait. Someone behind me wants to argue that such a system wouldn't work! She says, in increasingly exasperated tones, as though she's impatiently explaining something to a child, that people are lazy, and would just keep the umbrellas instead of dropping them in the buckets. Duh! No amount of explaining from the professor that it's a simplified example to illustrate a point will do. She is steadfast; she will accept no further explanation. Such a system is deeply flawed. It's ridiculous. She knows. She is a Stinklines.

A Stinklines will not back down once she's begun. She operates as if the only way she'll be satisfied is if she's able to extract an apology from the professor for ever saying something so silly in the first place. She knows only her own concrete reality, and will not suffer others who might see the world differently. She is smarter than the professor, and in reality should be teaching the class herself.

Lest you think I'm intolerant, I feel I should clarify what a Stinklines is not. He is not just someone who speaks up a lot in class. Questions are wonderful and encouraged, and often I was wondering about the same thing myself. He's not even someone who argues with the professor occasionally.

A Stinklines is a person who argues without thinking critically, so convinced is he of his righteousness, about minutae usually only tangentially related to the topic at hand. He sits in wait for the entire class period for the professor to say something he finds suspect, and pounces. He is almost always wrong. He is never convinced of this.

We speak in simplified terms because that's how we massage ideas in our minds. That's how we learn. High school physics students learn the principles of Newtonian physics and how to apply them in frictionless vacuums, even though real life scenarios are anything but. Students of philosophy perform thought experiments in theoretical constructs that could never in a million years exist. In the same economics class, we operate under the fictional universe in which all economic actors make fully-informed decisions motivated by self-interest 100% of the time. But a Stinklines thinks it's really necessary to argue about the viability of a free umbrella exchange system in New York City.

07 February 2011

What a pain it is to cancel an eFax subcription.

I know I kinda ask for this kind of treatment by seeking out a free trial of a service that I plan to use once and then cancel, but I just tried to cancel my membership to eFax and I'm wishing I never got involved with them in the first place.

You know you're into something shitty when there's no "Cancel My Account" option in the "My Account" section of the site:
You know you're into something even shittier than you thought when you go to the FAQ section of the site, find that one of the most frequently asked questions is about how to cancel your account, and find that the answer is to chat live online with a customer service representative. And when you click the link to do so, you find this:
Not only is the image broken there, the link is too. Click it all damn day. It won't work.

I suppose I could get on the phone (and I still might have to), but since I hate talking to people I decided to look around for a back door to the chat.  I found one on the "Contact and Customer Service" page:
And then I had the following conversation (Note: I did not actually buy a fax machine as I indicated in my reason for leaving; I just thought that would be the option least likely to prompt a save response offering me a discount -- I was wrong).
Chat InformationPlease wait for a site operator to respond. You are currently number 1 of 1 in the queue. Thank you for your patience.
Chat InformationYou are now chatting with 'Matthew'
Matthew: Welcome to our sales chat. How may I help you?
Mike: Hello, I'm trying to cancel my eFax membership
Matthew: You have clicked on “Live Sales Chat” and have reached the sales department. We are only able to setup new accounts and have very limited access to existing accounts. If you need to cancel, we have a special support team to take care of that. 
Mike: The link to access that chat is broken
Chat InformationPlease wait while I transfer the chat to 'Beth C.'.
Chat InformationYou are now chatting with 'Beth C.'
Beth C.: Hello, Mike. Welcome to eFax online support. I am Beth, your online Live Support Representative. How are you doing today?  
Mike: I'm trying to cancel my eFax account, and the link to do so directly is broken
Beth C.: I will be glad to assist you with the cancellation request via this chat session. Would you like to proceed?
Mike: Yes, thank you.
Beth C.: Could you please provide me your fax number, registered email address and billing zip code for verification?
Mike: 1718*******, ************, *****
Beth C.: Thank you for providing your information. Please give me a moment while I pull up your account. 
Beth C.: In the meantime, please type the number corresponding to your reason for cancellation:
Beth C.: 1) Moving to another provider
Beth C.: 2) Bought a fax machine
Beth C.: 3) Business or role changed
Beth C.: 4) Short term project completed
Beth C.: 5) Financial reasons
Beth C.: 6) Problems with faxing or billing
Beth C.: 7) Dissatisfied with quality of service
Beth C.: 8) Too costly
Mike: 2
Beth C.: Mike, as we'd like to keep your business, I can offer you a plan that will let you keep your eFax service for just 14 cents a day. 
Beth C.: You make one annual payment of just $50 and pay nothing more unless you exceed 30 pages per month. Extra pages are just 15 cents. This deal won't be available once your account is closed. Can I switch you to this savings plan which lets you keep your fax number for just 14 cents a day?
Mike: no thank you, I just want to close the account.
Beth C.: OK, I will go ahead and cancel your account.
Beth C.: Is there anything else, I may assist you with?
Mike: no, that's all, thank you
Mike: is there a confirmation number?
Beth C.: Sure. An email confirmation will be sent at your registered email address.
Beth C.: Thank you for contacting eFax online support. I hope you found our session helpful. Goodbye and take care. 
Mike: thank you.
Chat InformationChat session has been terminated by the site operator.
Of course, I still haven't received my confirmation about an hour later, and I have been back to the site to make these screenshots (including accessing the "My Account" page) since that conversation. At this point I'm doubtful that eFax has any intention of allowing me to cancel my account without actually getting on the phone and talking to someone.

It's not a really big deal, obviously. I've got the time to do it. But I can imagine there are plenty of people who don't, and who therefore let a few $16.95 monthly bills pile up for a service they don't use before they finally get around to navigating this system.

Really makes me think I should have just found a local place and spent the $0.30 it probably would have cost me to send the one fax I've needed to send in years.

I've done a little Googling since I wrote this all down, because I was feeling guilty about posting this only an hour after the fact, and thinking that maybe I should give the poor folks at eFax a break. Turns out, of course, I'm not the only one who's had a problem. Conclusion: F these guys. Don't get involved with them.

In the end, I did get a confirmation email about 3.5 hours after I posted this. So, in fairness to Beth C., she was good for her word. The whole process still left me feeling resentful, though.