News & Editorial Archives, 2007-2006


When Technical No-Support Goes Too Far
July 19, 2007

I'm sure you're all familiar with these scenarios: You call a company for technical support, and you end up going through a maze of touch-tone phone menus that leads you around in circles. Or, you find a technical support page on a company's website, but when you submit a description of the problem, the web page freezes or sends you around in circles. I believe that some companies purposely avoid helping customers by making technical support so frustrating, many people just give up. The other day, I discovered one company's unique, surefire technique for doing just that.

A friend of mine who uses Hotmail sddenly stopped receiving email from me. After a little investigating, I found out that every email I was sending to her was getting blocked by Hotmail. The email did not get rerouted to a spam folder -- Hotmail literally intercepted and deleted it without my friend's knowledge or consent. Apparently, Hotmail was using some kind of a content filter which was being falsely triggered by my emails. I went to Hotmail's website and found the technical support page for people who are having trouble sending email to Hotmail users. Below are roughly half of the questions they asked. I am not making any of these up -- these are the actual questions they asked me:
  • What domain are you sending from?
  • What are the IP addresses of your outbound mail server (as seen by the receiving mail server)?
  • Is your server dedicated or shared?
  • What mail transport software are you using?
  • How are bounce messages (non-delivery reports) handled by your system?
  • What are the volume of your mailings?
  • What are some of the accounts on Microsoft's systems that you are attempting to send mail to?
  • Do your SMTP logs show any failed transactions when attempting to send to addresses at MSN, MSN Hotmail or other MSN Services? If so, include those entries here.
  • Can you telnet to port25 of mx1.hotmail.com from your mail server(s)?
  • Can you traceroute to 216.32.183.201 from your mail server(s)?
  • Are you currently a Return Path client?
  • Do you publish Sender Policy Framework (SPF)/Sender ID records for your IP?
  • Do you use separate IPs for your transactional vs. promotional/subscription marketing communications?
  • Do you use Smart Network Data Services?
Hotmail required that all of these questions be answered. Most of my answers were, "How on Earth should I know?"  Hotmail did email me back, but required me to answer more technical mumbo-jumbo. I explained to them that I was not a computer geek, but just a regular guy simply trying to figure out why they were blocking my emails. I asked if there was someone there who could speak normal, everyday language to me.

Hotmail never replied.



Award-Winning Attitude
July 18, 2006

Every year when I receive my nomination form Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame,  I put thought into who I choose to nominate. It's very easy to name the musicians who possess the most musical talent, play the most jobs, or already hold the most awards, but those qualities are only a part of what makes a musician a winner. I looked well beyond notoriety and talent, and based my decisions primarily on musicians' attitudes about performing, promoting, and persevering in polka music. I did this by posing twelve questions regarding bandleaders and sidemen:

1. Does the sideman truly enjoy performing, or does he bring a lackluster, "I don't want to be here" attitude to the stage?

2. Does the bandleader/sideman show up in a timely fashion, or does he often cause the band to start late?

3. Does the sideman possess any sense of obligation to his bandleader, or does he often back out of committments?

4. Does the sideman accept the full gamut of jobs a bandleader offers to him, or does he try to pick and choose only the highest-paying ones?

5. Does the sideman help his bandleader pack up the PA system, or does he disappear as soon as he gets paid?

6. Does the bandleader promote his music by printing schedules, distributing flyers, recording CDs, publishing web pages, submitting dance dates, etc. or does he passively lett the polka music scene dwindle by not exerting any promotional effort?

7. Does the bandleader strive to broaden his band's repertoire by learning new songs -- especially popular requests from patrons -- or does he resist change?

8. Does the bandleader/sideman broaden his skills by listening to the styles and techniques of other professional musicians, or does he make no attempt to diversify?

9. Does the bandleader/sideman challenge himself musically, or does he confine himself to a comfort zone of oversimplification and repetition?

10. Does the bandleader/sideman willingly donate any of his time for fundraisers or benefits, or does he continually turn them down regardless of the worthiness of their cause?

11. Does the bandleader/sideman support any polka organizations, or does he see no reason to join any of them, subscribe to any polka periodicals, or cast his votes in any polka awards programs?

12. Does the bandleader/sideman take care of and upgrade his musical equipment, or does he constantly struggle with the same blown tubes, broken cords, sticky reeds, etc.?

When voting in any national or state polka awards program, consider attitude as being just as important as raw talent, because only musicians with the right attitude will appreciate the honor of receiving their awards. Asking yourself these twelve questions may help you identify those musicians whose attitudes are the kind that will keep polka music going through the next decade.



Stage Lighting For Twenty Dollars
February 2, 2006

Are you tired of playing in the dark, but don't want to invest hundreds of dollars in stage lighting? Don't worry. There's a way to effectively light up your band for around twenty bucks.

At most any hardware store you'll find 100-watt colored floodlight bulbs. Buy a red and a blue bulb. Now look in the store's lighting department for utility/shop light fixtures. The particular fixture you want comes with a clamp and a round metal reflector. (Reflectors might be sold separately.) Buy two fixtures and reflectors.

The fixtures probably come with 6' power cords, so you'll want to purchase two 15' extension cords.

Screw the reflectors onto the fixtures, screw the bulbs into the fixtures, and attach the extension cords. Guess what? You have stage lighting. Simply clamp the lamps somewhere onto your speakers or speaker stands, and your band will take on a more professional appearance. At the most, you may want to attach something on top of your speakers for the lights to clamp onto, but it doesn't have to be anything fancy.

There you have it. Stage lighting for twenty bucks!

The hardware store will also have green bulbs. Red and green lights are perfect for the Christmas season, and when mixed, their combined colors produce amber.

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