Friday, April 23, 2004

A Strike Against Taurlink  

As part of "renewing the Library", I'm digging up all the old "Articles" from the "classic" version of this site, which I maintained by hand before I trusted blogging software.

So now I bring you a blast from the past: "A Strike Against Taurlink", from April 23, 2004. Boy, this was a heck of a rant, at least by my "can't we be a little more diplomatic" standards:

Ah, the lovely state of tech support these days. Admittedly, I've had great experiences with tech support for *large* products produced by *small* companies --- toys sold to the tune of $100K a pop, feeding 100 or less mouths. But as soon as you get to products and services produced by 100K employees at a company charging less than 100 a pop ... welll... things can get difficult.

Here's an example, taken from a tech support chat session about a problem with a large Internet Service Provider we'll call ... "Taurlink". Since this is fairly recent, and I remember what I was more or less thinking while the conversation was ongoing, I've filled my thoughts in in italics.


Welcome to TaurLink TechChat!

Some guy from tech support will be with you shortly. Your chat session may be monitored out of habit, but don't be worried about your privacy: no-one ever reads logs anyway.

'HelpGuy' has joined the channel.
HelpGuy: Thank you for contacting TaurLink TechChat, how may I help you today?
TheCentaur: Hi, Guy. I have a problem with running CGI scripts on my web hosting account that I've been unable to debug. The short story is that I can run very, very simple scripts (hello world) but when I try to run TaurLink's provided code samples, they fail with a 500 error.
HelpGuy: Can I know which script you are unable to run?
TheCentaur: Ok ... one moment...
HelpGuy: Sure.
TheCentaur: Ok, here's an example.
HelpGuy: TaurLink does not support custom scripts.

WHAT did he just say?

HelpGuy: Please check if you can use the Mailto script or not.
TheCentaur: Go back to the previous note. "TaurLink does not support custom scripts."
TheCentaur: Is this correct?
HelpGuy: Yes, I am sorry it is correct.
HelpGuy : Please check with the script from the link:
HelpGuy: http://help.TaurLink.net/websupport/startersite/mailto.html
HelpGuy: Once it works all the scripts should work.

Ok, that's nice that they have a testing script. But right now I'm not trying to run "custom scripts" ... I'm running code examples THEY provided ME!

TheCentaur: Are you aware of the CGI hosting help at this URL: http://help.Brainboing.com/docs/002/mime-n-cgi/BEHHBCEF.php3

That's a code example they provide, that doesn't work, that this guy's telling me he won't help me debug? Get real!

TheCentaur: Is this still valid?
HelpGuy: Yes, you can use that.
HelpGuy: It has the information on the scripts.
TheCentaur: Let me be sure I understand you correctly: TaurLink permits, but does not support, custom scripts.... and mailto is a good example of a script that *should* work.
HelpGuy: Yes, TaurLink allows you to use custom scripts.
HelpGuy: However, it does not support it.
TheCentaur: Ok.
HelpGuy: I apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.

Do you? Do you have ANY IDEA how close I am to typing
[Ctrl-Alt-G(oogle)] "internet service provider perl cgi" [RETURN]?

TheCentaur: I will try out the mailto script ... just a moment...
HelpGuy: Sure.

Ok, Guy, you may not be aware that I've got the site open in my FTP window ... and there is no frigging mailto script, so unless I don't understand CGI, this ain't gonna work.

TheCentaur: The mailto script does not appear to be in the scripts provided in dresan.com... where is the source for that?
HelpGuy: You need to create the two html pages and include the code that is there in the link.
HelpGuy: I am sure it will work.

[Gritting teeth] OK-now-working-through-whole-example, step by step, just because you say so. Create a web page, containing a form, pointing to the mailto script, which doesn't exist, uploading, uploading, opening in window, trying ... ok failure, just as expected, because there is no frigging mailto script for the CGI server to run.

TheCentaur: I assume you mean the link <form method="post" action="<a" class="moz-txt-link-rfc2396E" href="http://www.domain.com/cgi-bin/mailto">"http://www.domain.com/cgi-bin/mailto"</a>
TheCentaur: where domain.com is my domain name?
HelpGuy: Yes, it is your domain name.
TheCentaur: Ok, just to confirm ... I have an FTP window open to the cgi-bin directory of dresan.com and there's no mailto script (and I get a 404 error when trying mailto in the URL of a browser). Should it be working anyway?
HelpGuy: Once you create the html pages it will work.
TheCentaur: One moment...
HelpGuy: Sure.
TheCentaur: Uploading now...
TheCentaur: ... uploaded.
HelpGuy: Okay.
TheCentaur: Testing...

And of course, it doesn't work, because there is no frigging mailto script for the CGI server to run, a fact which does not change just because I rewrote my script.

TheCentaur: Ok, when I ran it I get: http://www.dresan.com/cgi-bin/mailto
HelpGuy: Okay.
TheCentaur: HTTP 404 - File not found Internet Explorer

There's a long pause. Guy appears to be processing this.

Hm. I have an idea.

Perhaps my website, which is pre-TaurLink, is missing files he expects me to have! Perhaps that's the confusion. Maybe if I ask the nice web guy he'll recognize the problem and load my site up with the right stuff.

TheCentaur: Dresan.com is a fairly old web site ... I originally got it via Brainboing before you became Taurlink. Could it have an outdated collection of scripts?
HelpGuy: No, the address is not what you are entering.
HelpGuy: The html page should be one of the pages of the website.
TheCentaur: Ok.
HelpGuy: When the visitor submit the form then it will work.

[grit-grit-grit] Aaalright. Stay with me, Guy. Let's go through this step by step, just so you understand.

TheCentaur: Ok. Here is what I did:
TheCentaur: (1) I visited and read the URL: The page HTTP 404 - File not found Internet Explorer
TheCentaur: Shoot
TheCentaur: try again :-)

[laughs] Egg on face --- make sure the URL actually copies this time, centaur, or how can he follow you? Better start over, from step one.

TheCentaur: Here is what I did:
TheCentaur: (1) visited url: http://help.TaurLink.net/websupport/startersite/mailto.html
TheCentaur: (2) copied first code sample to test1.html
TheCentaur: (3) updated "domain.com" references in test1.html to point to "dresan.com"
TheCentaur: (4) copied second code sample to test2.html
HelpGuy: Okay.
TheCentaur: (5) uploaded to dresan.com via LeechFTP
TheCentaur: (6) visited http://www.dresan.com/test1.html
TheCentaur: (7) entered stuff into form and hit send
TheCentaur: (8) got a 404 error on http://www.dresan.com/cgi-bin/mailto
HelpGuy: One moment please while I check it.

Suuuuper long pause.

TheCentaur: Maybe I made a typo :-(
TheCentaur: Inspecting the source of test1.html, it seems like I've got the right URL. Did I read it wrong?

The long pause... continues.

TheCentaur: My hypothesis is that the mailto program is simply not present in the cgi-bin directory of dresan.com.
HelpGuy: Kindly hold on.
TheCentaur: Perhaps this is because dresan.com was created back in the days of Brainboing? I see a whole bunch of cgi* programs in that cgi-bin directory.
TheCentaur: Ok, sorry...
HelpGuy: One moment please.
TheCentaur: Ok.

Typing over each other here ... best wait for Guy to catch up. Is there something that I can debug here? What about these other old scripts. Ferret, ferret, ferret ... hm, there's at least one script that works, the site counter (which I don't use, but hey, it works).

Waiting... waiting... ok tired of waiting now..

TheCentaur: Note that the "counter" script seems to work.
HelpGuy: Yes, both the scripts should work.
HelpGuy: The mailto will also work.,

KA_GOTD_AMN_FUKKIN_BOLL_SHAT! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME? ARE YOU EVEN PAYING ATTENTION? NO, the mailto script will not MAGICALLY start working just because I found a DIFFERENT script that DOES work ... because the mailto script DOES NOT EXIST!

Whooo... deep breaths, deep breaths.
Let's explain this as to a novice.
TheCentaur: Guy, the contents of the cgi-bin directory are: cgicso, cgiecho, cgiemail, cgifile, counter, justcgi.pl, simple.pl, and test.pl
TheCentaur: There is no mailto script.
HelpGuy: It is not required there.
Alright, the novice doesn't want to even listen. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt. What if I'm wrong?
[Ctrl-Alt-G(oogle)] "cgi scripting standard" [RETURN]
Browsa... browsa... browsa... Google sez: no fuckin way.

HelpGuy: I suggest that you recreate the two html pages once again.

Smiles patronizingly. Ok. I can play this game. How would I do it? What can I check? What could I have done wrong? Perhaps Guy, uberwebguy who can make scripts that don't even exist run, can perhaps work this out for me? Here, Guy, check this out?

TheCentaur: Ok. Perhaps there is a typo in my form: "http://www.dresan.com/cgi-bin/mailto"
xenotaur@Brainboing.com: Can you see what's wrong with that?
HelpGuy: It appears to be correct.

Shocked, shocked am I that ten years of web experience could enable me to enter a form.

HelpGuy: Please recreate the 2 html pages once again.
TheCentaur Alright.
HelpGuy: Okay.

Suure. Why the fuck not? Hey, I've done this what, three or four times now? I've gotten good at it. It should only take ... timing...

TheCentaur: Created form.html.
TheCentaur: Edited to point to right domain.
TheCentaur: Created thankyou.html
HelpGuy: Okay.
TheCentaur: Uploading...
HelpGuy: Okay.
TheCentaur: ...done.

...aaabout a minute.

HelpGuy: Let me check it.

Oh, there's no need, Guy. I'd ALREADY checked it. And this is what I found:

TheCentaur: Verified form presence: http://www.dresan.com/form.html
TheCentaur: Entered values, hit send...
TheCentaur: And 404 error.

Again: shocked, shocked am I.

HelpGuy: Kindly hold on.

Suuuuper long pause.

HelpGuy: Thank You for waiting.
HelpGuy: I apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.
HelpGuy: I am escalating the issue and it will be resolved soon. Please allow 2-72 hours for the issue to be resolved.
HelpGuy: Please do not delete the two test1.html and test2.html files.
TheCentaur: Ok.

He finally gets it. THANK YOU.

TheCentaur: Before you go, I want to bounce an hypothesis off you.
HelpGuy: I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused to you in this regard.
TheCentaur: No problem.
TheCentaur: Thank you for helping.

At this point I start to type my hypothesis about the presence of the script files he was expecting. Halfway through that sentence... and I mean, just a few seconds....

HelpGuy: You're welcome and thank you for using TaurLink TechChat. Should you need further assistance, please feel free to contact us again.
HelpGuy: Thank You for your patience and understanding.
HelpGuy: Have a good night.

Uh, Guy? Didn't you just read me say "I want to bounce something off of you? Quick, type:
"Hey, wait!" [RETURN]

Chat session has been terminated by the site operator. When you close the chat window a survey window will open. Please take a minute to fill in the survey and let us know how your chat session was.


Thirty minutes later....
To the web hosting team,

I recently had a chance to chat online with one of your
technical support representatives. Upon the termination
of the call, your site attempted to pop up a chat survey
window but was blocked by a pop-up blocker.
However, I saved that chat session, appended below.
And I have the following comments:

1) Thank you for making technical chat sessions available.
Talking with TechGuy. helped me realize what was wrong
- namely, that I was trying to use code samples from


when I needed to look at the more modern help at


This dialogue enabled me to get more debugging
information about my problem, construct several
useful working hypotheses, and has given me new
potential actions to try to resolve the problem.

2) Update your web hosting help for former Brainboing customers.
This is the biggest thing that led me astray.
The code samples I found there


do not appear to work. At one point I carefully tested
this particular code sample and could never get it to run
in any permutation. After talking with Guy, however,
I was able to find some useful code to use as a starter.

3) Make sure that your technical support representatives listen carefully to their customers.
I understand that many users often make bad assumptions
which lead them to make mistakes which lead them to
assume that you guys have done something wrong
when you haven't. I know I fall in this category
from time to time.

However, with all due respect to Guy, I empathize with
techncial support representatives and myself have some
experience with server-side software, and so had carefully
read the available online documentation and attempted to
run code examples before I ever contacted you guys.

Now, that doesn'trule out a short between my screen and
my keyboard or some other id10t error on my part, but, I
must admit that it was somewhat trying for me to be asked
repeatedly to run the mailto script when I was looking at the
cgi-bin directory in my FTP client and could see that the mailto
script was not there. Now, Guy suggested that it didn't
need to be there, and perhaps I don't understand how
your common gateway interface is configured, and if so,
I apologize, BUT then you should reword the following

What standard CGI scripts are provided by TaurLink?

TaurLink provides the following ready to use scripts:

  • mailto
  • appendto
  • counter
so as to unambiguiously state that TaurLink is not actually
providing the scripts.

However, I think the simpler answer is that if the script
isn't in the cgi-bin directory, it won't run. And I think that
might be traceable back to the fact that this is an older account,
originally set up on Brainboing, that may not have had mailto
installed in it. Or maybe there's some other explanation.

4) Make sure that your technical support representatives listen carefully to their customers.
I quote the following section from the chatlog.
TheCentaur: Ok.
TheCentaur: Before you go, I want to bounce an hypothesis off you.
TechGuy: I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused to you in this regard.
TheCentaur: No problem.
TheCentaur: Thank you for helping.
TechGuy: You're welcome and thank you for using TaurLink TechChat. Should you need further assistance, please feel free to contact us again.
TechGuy: Thank You for your patience and understanding.
TechGuy: Have a good night.
Chat session has been terminated by the site operator. When you close the chat window a survey window will open. Please take a minute to fill in the survey and let us know how your chat session was.
Now, I'm sorry, but "Have a good night" is not an appropriate
response to "Before you go, I want to bounce an hypothesis off you."
In all fairness, I don't think Dan even saw that, as he responded quite
well to my "Thank you for helping." However, I must be honest and
say that it left me somewhat vexed.

5) My experience with the CGI features of Brainboing/TaurLink web hosting has been underwhelming
From limited documentation, non-working code samples, lack of
response to my earlier emails, and finally to the difficulties I had
in communicating the problems I was having with my scripts,
I am seriously questioning why I spend money on this service.

To be more blunt; when I heard:

TechGuy: TaurLink does not support custom scripts.

You came within thirty seconds of losing a customer. I feel
like shouting "But I was calling you with regards to YOUR
PROVIDED CODE SAMPLES!" followed by a long stream
of cusswords, but that's not fair to you or TechGuy.

Now, on one level I understand where you're
coming from; and this policy is not TechGuy's fault.

Nonetheless it is completely unacceptable.

I have a choice in selecting a web hosting provider, and
based on my previous good business relationships with
Brainboing I have chosen to stay with TaurLink. However,
what I am paying my web hosting for is to get scripting
access, and if you cannot provide it, there are other
choices available.

I look forward to your response.
Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr. ~ Software Engineer
xenotaur@Brainboing.com ~ http://www.dresan.com/
5 King's Tavern Place, Atlanta, GA 30318 ~ (404) 483-8215


Taurlink did not adequately respond to my complaint.

Actually, it's worse. My first response was entered into a comment form, which promptly ate it without sending it. I re-wrote the response (above) and DID get a response from TaurLink Tech Support ... asking me to return for another chat session to "work through" these issues interactively.

Which of course I HAD JUST DONE. There was no indication they had actually READ the response ... just went with their standard reply:

"In order to help you these issues as efficiently as possible for both yourself and TaurLink... we suggest TaurLink TechChat!"

I'm sorry, I'm not going to play that game. I have a choice for my hosting providers. f@nu fiku will be hosted on another provider, and if that provider works well I'm pulling the plug on Taurlink as my web hosting service provider.

-The Centaur
Renaissance Engineer

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