British Airways ruined my Christmas

To be clear I don’t blame BA for having to cancel flights into Heathrow when the airport cannot run at full capacity. That is certainly not their fault, you can’t change the weather (though you could buy more snowploughs!). What annoys me is their incompetent response to the situation and then their attempts at being nice with fakey emails from the CEO.

I wanted to go and see my family for Christmas this year. We were booked on a direct flight from San Francisco to Heathrow that was due to leave about 4 hours from now but due to the snowstorms in the UK it has been cancelled. The first we heard about it was an email from my dad at 9:30am yesterday morning, he had been keeping track of the flight status better than us. I don’t understand this. They have my contact details so why wasn’t I the first to hear about the cancellation the moment it went up onto the website. In fact I finally got an email from BA about it at 3pm, at least five and a half hours after it went onto the website. The email contained this boldfaced lie:

We have sent you this information as quickly as possible by automated email and hope it reaches you in time to allow alternative arrangements to be made.

Who knows what our chances were of re-booking onto something sensible had we waited for that to arrive. Thankfully we had been working hard, talking to Egencia who we had booked through and looking up what options were open to us. The good news was that Heathrow wasn’t totally closed, just running slow so only a few flights were actually getting cancelled so there was still the possibility of getting home in time. Egencia were saying they couldn’t see any economy seats to book us onto before Christmas but there were some business class seats and maybe if we spoke to BA directly and made use of some of our miles for an upgrade we could get those. The problem is that we couldn’t get through to BA by phone. This afternoon I received a laughable email supposedly from BA’s CEO which had this to say:

Throughout this period of disruption we have extended our call centre opening times and added extra phone lines to deal with the 150,000 calls we’ve received

There is even a nice video of him saying how they have kept their call centres open 24 hours a day. That would be nice if true except every time we rang them yesterday we received a recorded message saying they were too busy and to try again later and then hanging up on us. Yes, they cancelled a bunch of people’s flights, told them they’d need to rebook, then shut down their phone lines and then released statements proudly announcing how they’d managed to keep their call centres open.

So we were running out of options but then we spotted that BA’s main site was still showing availability on a number of alternate flights albeit indirect ones. In particular a flight via LA was available and didn’t make much change to our flight times. We spoke to Egencia and they said they would try to get us on it (why they hadn’t seen it before I don’t know) but because it included one leg that wasn’t BA (SFO to LAX was run by one of their partners, American Airlines) they had to speak to BA to get approval to change our booking. BA being the kind-hearted souls eager to embody the true meaning of Christmas and help out their disrupted passengers denied the request. We couldn’t even just swap the SFO-LHR flight to the LAX-LHR flight. Apparently when Willie Walsh says “we have not been able to help all of our customers in the way that they, or we, would have liked” he means “we couldn’t be bothered to help customers take alternate routes home for Christmas because we were all outside having snowball fights”.

Eventually we got a new flight booked. We get to spend our Christmas evening in the air. We’ll finally get to my family on Boxing day evening, jetlagged and probably not feeling fantastically Christmassy. I guess it’s an exaggeration that Christmas is ruined, but this will be the first year that I haven’t been with my family on Christmas day, if it was just because of the snow then that’d be ok but BA had the opportunity to get us there with minimal disruption and they chose to refuse us that option.

Hey Dreamhost, we use tabs now

I’ll be honest, this post isn’t about Mozilla or even really anything Mozilla related (beyond the fact that it is about a poor web application). However I know that lots of people in the Mozilla community use Dreamhost as their webhost and I figure some of them might want to know to watch out for this and avoid getting into the same mess that I did so I’ll include it in planet feed anyway.

The problem is with Dreamhost’s Web Panel, the service that customers use to administer their web hosting packages. It turns out that certain parts of this panel can’t cope with the idea of you accessing it from multiple tabs or windows at the same time. If you try opening the web hosting settings for more than one domain in different tabs, only the last one you opened will actually work as you expect. Yep, they are remembering, server side, which domain you are editing the settings for.

This wouldn’t normally be the end of the world. I could accept it if there was some error message or it just failed to save the settings for one of the domains it wasn’t expecting. Sadly the panel is not that clever. Instead, no matter which domain’s settings you try to save it always overwrites the domain that was last opened. The panel does subsequently tell you the real domain that it saved the settings for (with a nice green tick to emphasise that everything is fine!) if you are careful enough to read the full message but of course by then the domain’s old settings are gone.

I discovered this when trying to make a change to one of my domains blew away the settings for my secure server, including the ssl keys. Thankfully they were recovered but this sort of thing really shouldn’t happen at all. It seems pretty absurd to me that a modern web application can exist that doesn’t seem to take tabs into account at all.

It’s a shame really because for the most part Dreamhost are the best webhosts I’ve ever used and their panel is very easy to use. Dreamhost’s support team have told me that this is a limitation of the web panel and it should only be used in one window, though there don’t seem to be any warnings about this anywhere. I hate to make sweeping statements like “Surely it would be easy to…” because it bugs me whenever anyone says the same about Firefox, but happily overwriting your settings (and calling it a success) seems like something that should be avoided at all costs.

Daylight robbery

It wasn’t long ago that I was responsible for developing and maintaining a large number of websites. Like everyone in this role I needed a domain registrar I could trust to be cheap, efficient and most of all keep me updated about upcoming renewals. At the time I had a lot of love for Freeparking. They didn’t (and still don’t) look like much, but at the time I started using them they were all these things. No surprise I carried on using them after I left my last job when registering some personal domains.

Imagine my horror today then when someone else emails me to notify my that the registration for had expired the day before. Freeparking hadn’t so much as whispered on the subject and would you look at that, I now have to pay a late registration fee.

To say I feel let down is an understatement. Not only have they over the years failed to even update their website beyond its only-just-working state but now they seem to be actively trying to rip people off. It’s a shame but I guess it is the push I need to move all my registrations to Dreamhost who have been nothing short of excellent when it comes to my hosting. Sadly of course I still have to renew the domain first, then wait 60 days before I can move it.

I particularly like how their support form has “I was not informed of an imminent renewal” as one of the options to choose from. Clearly this comes up quite a lot for them.

Stupid rules

So let’s pretend I am in a bad place and looking to kill myself through an overdose of pills. Is the fact that the supermarkets refuse to sell more than two packets going to be a hindrance to me? I don’t think so. I’ll just go through a few times, soon have enough for my stupid attempt.

Now let’s pretend I’m really sick. Getting out of bed is quite an effort let alone leaving the house. Unfortunately I’ve run out of drugs so I have to make a run to the store. Clearly I want to get a few packs, not only can I get through a pack a day but a few different types covers me as the illness changes over time. Now the store refusing to sell more than two packets is actually a pain in the ass.

Call centre fail

It’s always fun phoning my mobile phone company. Firstly there is the infuriating menu system where even the “to talk about anything else option” goes to another set of options, none of which are “to talk about anything else”. Then there are the broken systems that lead all the operators to just go to a default “please call us back later”:

Me: “Hi, I’d like to know what the costs are for using data on my current plan.”

Him: “I’m sorry sir, our accounts system is down now can you call back in a few hours time?”

Me: “Well I’d rather not, I’m not sure why you need to access my account to just tell me the plan costs though.”

Him: “Well as I say we cannot access your account so I cannot tell what plan you are on.”

Me: “Oh that’s easy I’m on plan XXX, it says so on my bill.”

Him: “Well I’m sorry I still can’t tell you what data costs you on your plan without the accounts system.”

Me: “Can you tell me what the data rates are on a standard XXX plan?”

Him: “That plan isn’t designed for data.”

Me: “So I can’t use data on it at all? I’m pretty sure I have once or twice.”

Him: “Well you can use data, it will just cost £Y per MB.”

Me: “There see, it wasn’t that hard to tell me what I wanted to know was it.” *click*

Spam: The Neverending Story

Spam is one of those evils of the modern age. It looks less and less likely that a real 100% effective solution will be found which is a little sad but not a major deal to my mind. I’ve managed to turn off my old junk email accounts and train my filter to clear out 90% of the junk I receive. Surprisingly I’ve had more problems with spam comments on this site than I have in my email lately. Even with comment moderation turned on the Tab Sidebar extension was receiving a silly amount of junk comments. It probably still is but I’m now using a simple blacklist to catch it all.

I tend to think of spam in two categories. You have your normal junk, you know offers to help someone transfer $1,000,000 (ONE MILLION US DOLLARS) out of Nigeria and to enlarge various of my body parts. Then you have the stuff which is from reputable companies which have generally got your email legitimately, maybe I filled in something to download some trial software or maybe I was even interested at one point. Perhaps surprisingly it’s the latter of these types that irritate me more . In particular when I attempt to unsubscribe and I still keep receiving mails.

Take this example. When I left my last job (about a month ago) I cancelled my small business mailings from Microsoft as they weren’t relevant to me anymore. What do I find in my inbox today:

Dear Mr Dave Townsend

As part of a routine data inspection we have noticed you have elected to stop receiving communications from Microsoft.

So umm let me get this straight, you recognise that I have asked to not receive any more mails from you and as such you have decided to email me?

As Microsoft launches exciting new solutions and initiatives, there’s no better time to register for information that will give your business a critical technological advantage. We invite you to consider receiving communications from us again.

Oh well if you are wanting me to start receiving mails again then of course it’s acceptable for you to mail to ask me.


if you still choose not to receive communications from Microsoft, simply do nothing and we will not contact you again

Oh well that’s ok. Of course I haven’t done anything since I opted out and you still mailed me.

Really large organisations should know better. If I tell you that I don’t want to hear from you again, what I mean is “I DON’T WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU AGAIN”.

Why would you want a decent password? It’s only money!

I guess it goes without saying that I’m fairly technically literate and as such I’m pretty well versed in both what makes a strong password and actually using them. I actually have a pair of passwords, one that I use for what I consider my more important logins (company accounts, servers and the like), and another that is for lesser services that if I lost or it got hacked then it wouldn’t be a major compromise of anything.

Given this it’s always particularly disappointing when I find something that I really want to use a strong password for but can’t, because the service in question can’t handle how strong my password is.

Take my new bank account with Lloyds TSB. The password for the internet banking is 6-15 characters, must contains letters and numbers, but cannot contain any spaces or anything non-alphanumeric. Bang goes about 4 characters from my strong password.

Lloyds aren’t alone either. I also have a savings account with Citibank. To log in to their online banking I am not allowed to type in my password by hand, instead I must use an onscreen keyboard with my mouse. Now I’m not quite sure what this is meant to serve, all it does is enter the characters into a regular html input box, you know, easily readable from an add-on or other form of spyware. And even worse the keyboard gives me just 51 possible characters to choose. At least Lloyds let me use both upper and lower case!

Maybe all these places having quite different restrictions on what characters I can use in my password is a cunning ploy to make me use a different password everywhere, but I find it a little disturbing that I’m able to use a stronger password with my online pizza delivery place than with my bank accounts holding thousands of pounds of savings.

Muppet Parade

Yes I am shamelessly adding new posts in an attempt to make the front page look something other than sparse, well sort of…

Anyone who read my homepage for about the past year will remember some idiot sending me a pointlessly rude email. Well coincidentally it happened again so I thought I’d share this one as well. Now remember that (due to my shameless neglect to do anything about it) when people fill in the contact form on my site, I have absolutely no clue where they are coming from or quite often what they are talking about:

From: beeotch

Comments: wtf is ur problem. put what the extension dus u sonofabitch

Oh I so enjoy some of the messages people send me.

No seriously most of the people that contact me are great, a couple though really need to remember that I write these things in my spare time and don’t charge a bean for them. As you should remember for the majority of extension authors.