Bing Fails Again

After weeks spent goading and cajoling the Bing search engine to see a web page that has been published for over two years, I thought I had finally achieved my goal.

Now, a month later, I see that Bing has once again become blind to that same page, even though Google can find it with ease, and anyone can link to it directly.

I’m not sure how a search site and it’s tech support minions can find and then lose a site after it has finally been indexed, but Bing has managed to perform that neat feat. Which means there’s really nothing left to hope for except that Microsoft will pull the plug on Bing and let it die because it’s utterly worthless for search.

– Mark Barrett


CreateSpace vs. Bing — Fail Update

My quest to get Bing to be able to see two e-store pages on CreateSpace.com remains at an impasse. (You can see the pages here and here, and you can see Bing fail to find them here and here.) The robotic email tech-support droids at CreateSpace insist that everything is fine on their end and that the problem is with Bing. The robotic cut-and-paste email tech-support droids at Bing insist that CreateSpace has never submitted a sitemap by which they can index that site, and have repeatedly given me instructions on how I can do so even though I have repeatedly explained to them that I am not the site owner.

Now, I know there’s no joy quite like the joy of being crushed between two monolithic and ruthless companies like Amazon and Microsoft, each of which is 100% committed to pretending that it is customer friendly as a means of owning all internet traffic and content throughout the known universe. So it’s not as if I don’t appreciate how fortunate I am to still be alive at this point.

Having said that, if you’re Microsoft, and you’ve launched a search engine to compete head-to-head with the best search engine in the business — which, oddly enough, seems to have no problem finding the two e-store pages that Bing is resolutely blind to — you would think you might have a better approach to maximizing the efficiency of your search engine than adamantly insisting that people register and log into your Bing Webmaster Tools site so you don’t end up looking like an idiot.

(Have I mentioned that I’m not actually the webmaster or owner of CreateSpace.com? I keep forgetting whether I’ve mentioned that or not.)

If you’re Amazon, and you’re interested in making your CreateSpace.com site available via the smaller of the two dominant search engines in the US, it seems to me that at some point you might actually go ahead and submit your sitemap to Microsoft’s Bing search engine, even though you hate Microsoft as much as you hate Google and Apple combined. And if one of your customers wrote you multiple times to say that they couldn’t find their e-store pages via Bing search, you might actually do a proactive check on your own to figure out what the problem was, and work with Bing to resolve it instead of dumping it back in your customer’s lap.

Having put in multiple hours trying to get this problem resolved over the past week I am now giving up. A week ago I would have given CreateSpace an unqualified recommendation to anyone looking for a print-on-demand publisher. Now I’m taking a second look at other options myself, and I would encourage you to do the same. Having not used Bing at all since it launched I haven’t really had an opinion about it until now. My opinion now is that Bing seems to be incapable of doing the one thing it was designed to do.

Update:

As of 2/24, searching for my grandmother’s title on Bing now returns the correct link. My short story collection is still MIA.

Later Update:

As of 3/12, after several more tech support emails to and from Bing, the Bing search engine can now also reliably find the page for my short story collection. I have no idea what the problem was or what I specifically did to solve the problem. My only advice to anyone having similar problems is to be both persistent and patient.

Headdesk Update:

Or not.

– Mark Barrett

Network Solutions Fails Again

Last year I wrote a couple of posts about the tech support hell I ended up in with my internet service provider (ISP), Network Solutions. I also wrote a post explaining the tech-support process and how to navigate some of the obstacles you’ll encounter. I stated at the time that I would look for a new ISP, but NetSol performed well until the renewal of my service contract seven months later, so I opted to go with the devil I knew.

That devil has now failed to get one of my sites up and running for an entire week. During that week I’ve been told the problem was related to a denial-of-service attack, and that it was related to an error in the configuration of my WordPress settings, but neither of those knee-jerk diagnoses were true. When tech support came to the same conclusion — after multiple calls from me — they escalated the issue to engineering. My site is still unavailable after seven days.

I understand that Network Solutions can’t provide free tech support to every site owner who uses WordPress. And I have no doubt that they are constantly badgered by users seeking exactly that: free service for problems those users created. So when the NetSol techs told me there was a configuration problem with my WordPress settings I took ownership of the problem. (They stressed that they weren’t even supposed to do that much, and I’m grateful they tried to help within the confines of their internal directives.) In looking into the issue, however, I realized not only that I didn’t cause that problem, but there was clear evidence to suggest the configuration issue was not the cause of the problem I was having.  Read more ]

Interactive Intransigence

We are now well past two solid decades of creating interactive entertainment for commercial markets. If some hurdles have yet to be surmounted there’s still a great deal we do know about the design and execution of various genre types, and this knowledge should — at least in theory — help us hold down costs and avoid making the same stupid mistakes again and again.

If you don’t know about id Software they’re one of the storied companies in interactive gaming. Led by tech wiz John Carmack, id defined and dominated the first-person shooter genre with games like Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake and others. If there’s anything to be known about how these games work and don’t work — and how the technology behind these games can most effectively be mated to design — that knowledge should have so permeated the culture at id as to be part of its DNA.

In keeping with its fetish for cuddly titles, id’s latest first-person shooter is called Rage. GameRankings.com pegs the aggregate review score at about 80%, and most review sites are giving it 7 of 10. Not bad as these things go. But what, specifically, are the complaints?

Here’s Jim Rossignol from RPS, prefacing his final take:

What this is really about is how I feel after playing Rage, which is a feeling not uncommon to gaming throughout the ages: the feeling that the options a game presents are actually an illusion.

Now, what you need to know here is that this is A) a problem in all mediums and B) the single biggest problem in interactive entertainment. Every storytelling and entertainment medium must protect itself from outside intrusions, internal inconsistencies, and technical failings. If you’ve ever been engrossed in a movie when the projector fails you know what I mean. If you’ve ever read a novel where the author leaves a critical logical thread unresolved you know what I mean. If you’ve ever had a moron behind you at a concert sing along, off-key, with the performer you paid to hear you know what I mean. In entertainment there is nothing more important than maintaining the illusion of whatever experience you’ve created.

In interactive entertainment this obligation is magnified by the fact that the audience has expectations that literally cannot be fulfilled. What every interactive user wants is full-blown, AI-driven language, plot and character interaction. This is the famous promise of the holodeck, and its academic spawn. Unfortunately, that’s never, ever going to happen. So everything that logically spills from that incapacity — including audience expectation — has to be anticipated and managed from the get-go. And everybody knows this.  Read more ]


Site Notice: Server Issues

It’s almost beyond belief to me that I’m continuing to have trouble with my site host, Network Solutions. I apologize to anyone who’s tried to visit this site or the small site I put up at the beginning of the week. The amount of data I’m trying to move is trivial, but for some reason the addition of one site to NetSol’s server capacity seems to have crippled its ability to send pages to your screen — if it allows those pages to be served at all.

I am once again in tech support hell, and have once again managed to escalate the issue to NetSol’s tech support by demonstrating that the problem is not on my end. I have tried several of the fixes they asked me to try, and if they didn’t make things worse they did nothing to resolve the problems at hand. My hope is that the issue will be resolved shortly.

– Mark Barrett

WordPress as a “Known Issue”

I put up a small WordPress site over the weekend. It’s on my shared-hosting package, meaning the new site resides on the same sever share that this site sits on.

After pointing people to the new site today I received a message that it couldn’t be accessed. I checked and it worked for me, but when I checked again a few minutes later I got a ‘permission denied’ page, as if the site was unavailable or under construction. Over the next ten minutes or so I was able to replicate the problem on the other site, and even on this site.

My first tech support call to Network Solutions — my site host — went well enough. They showed me how to reset the permissions on my site, and things seemed better after that. Until a couple of hours later, when the same thing happened again.

My second tech support call was less reassuring. Not only was I told that the intermittent errors were a result of total server load, but WordPress was specifically described as a ‘known issue’ in taxing server bandwidth.

Uh…no. If you’re one of the largest hosting providers in the world, and you’re having trouble feeding my WordPress pages to a small handful of visitors, that’s not a WordPress problem, that’s a YouSuck problem.

I’m now being pointed to some helpful tips on speeding up WordPress installs, and have been advised to try using WPSuperCache (a plugin I have considered before), but having one of the most widely-used blogging apps described as a known issue by my site host is a fail.

After allowing malicious code injections into my site, failing to notify me of such in a timely manner, degrading the response time of this site to +30 seconds, and now this, I can’t recommend Network Solutions to anyone else. I’ll probably play out the end of my contract, but between now and then I’ll be looking for reliable hosting without excuses.

The good news is that while I was on hold a robo-message informed me that J.D. Powers might call to ask about my tech-support experience. Please do.

– Mark Barrett

Randy Cohen: Ethical Fail

When the New York Times says it’s okay to steal content, you know it’s not going to be a good day. Before this afternoon I’d never heard of Randy Cohen, who apparently writes a column called The Ethicist for the NYT Magazine section. After today I have to question his qualifications for passing judgment on ethical behavior.

Here are the first three graphs of today’s column, in which he responds to a reader’s question. (Am I copying and pasting too much of the NYT’s content? Or am I allowed to do so because I already paid for that ethical right when the NYT subjected my eyeballs to their online ads?)

I bought an e-reader for travel and was eager to begin “Under the Dome,” the new Stephen King novel. Unfortunately, the electronic version was not yet available. The publisher apparently withheld it to encourage people to buy the more expensive hardcover. So I did, all 1,074 pages, more than three and a half pounds. Then I found a pirated version online, downloaded it to my e-reader and took it on my trip. I generally disapprove of illegal downloads, but wasn’t this O.K.? C.D., BRIGHTWATERS, N.Y.

An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod.

Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform. Sadly, the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology. Thus you’ve violated the publishing company’s legal right to control the distribution of its intellectual property, but you’ve done no harm or so little as to meet my threshold of acceptability.

What Mr. Cohen is arguing is not simply that you have a right to make a back-up copy of content already purchased, you also have the right to port purchased content to any other medium you choose — and to have others aid you in doing so, even if by doing so you or they also profit, and even if by doing so you or they profit at the expense of the legal copyright holders of that content.  Read more ]

Professionalism and Quality

After my weekend ride I spent most of Sunday catching up on non-writing news. Try as I might, however, I couldn’t stopping thinking about professionalism and amateurism, and whether there was any useful distinction between the two. As noted in previous posts, the corporate book business insists that amateurs cannot produce works of commercial quality or literary merit because amateurs are inherently unqualified to do so. But is that right? Is professionalism — whatever that word means — an inherent arbiter of quality?

I found myself thinking about that question while I read a New York Times piece on Toyota’s implosion as a brand synonymous with quality. While I already knew about the problems with the Pruis and runaway acceleration, I wasn’t surprised to run across this as well:

It also said it had avoided an investigation into the Tacoma, a pickup whose undercarriage could be affected by rust. Toyota offered to repair or, in some cases, replace damaged Tacomas built from 1995 to 2004. Toyota also said it had saved millions of dollars by delaying federal safety rules affecting other models.

Years ago I made enough money on a screenplay gig to buy myself the first new vehicle I’d ever owned. I took a long time picking it out, paying particular attention to ratings for quality as well as my all-season needs in the (then) upper-Midwest. The vehicle I settled on was a Nissan Pathfinder, which served me faithfully for close to a decade.

At which point the frame disintegrated:

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