All posts by Alex

tech guy for hire

One Game a Month – January Entry

Since I’m participating in One Game A Month (1GAM), I figured I should set up a page for it.

You’ll find it here.

You’ll find thin if not regular postmortems there, as well as links to my monthly entries.

January’s entry is completed… It’s a poor start, but it’s something.

Happy gamedev’ing to everyone. Good luck with 1GAM!

Barcamp Milwaukee 7 Attendance Postmortem

This is my way-late postmortem on the seventh annual Barcamp Milwaukee, held every year to celebrate geeks everywhere and bring people together to discuss and learn from one another about all the things they make and do.

There was only one ugly bit for me this year, during the late, late overnight hours, that kinda screwed up my Barcamp rhythm to the point where I knew I’d not be able to stick around for the full day on Sunday. It was in the form of a drunk attendee that apparently ran out of people to “talk to” overnight. He was wandering the building, and kept drifting back to an area where I was working with a young woman on a Linux problem she was trying solve. Now, I can’t speak for her, but my impression was that she didn’t feel particularly safe with this guy wandering the building, tripping all over himself, carrying beers around, blasting music in the commons downstairs, and so on. He told me the 3D printing guys all vanished–gee, I wonder why–so we were all he had left to talk to. Grrrrrreat it was not.

I’d love to see a reminder that people not be allowed to get drunk-stupid at future events. I had a beer or two earlier Saturday night, so I’m not being a prude about it, but excess… is usually excessive.

As for the sessions… I enjoyed the Artemis bridge simulation software time quite a lot. Hard to believe that’s all one developer’s work. There was a ton of 3D printing going on. Got into an OpenBSD session discussing it and its heritage, got an impression of the state of the apparently-barely-existent game development industry in Milwaukee (not great), learned a bit about cable hacking, sushi rolling, and spent some more time around people interested in the Arduino and Raspberry Pi projects/hardware. Even helped a few people with some hardware/software issues (mostly Linux-related) outside of sessions in the coworking space. The “Nerdy Derby” car racing was a real highlight and treat to watch this year, too, with tons of interesting entries. And finally, I got to knuckle down in a corner and get some work done of my own, as I do every year; it’s a tad anti-social, perhaps, but highly productive time for me!

If you have kids, you should try and bring them to the Sunday “Kids Camp” next year. I keep meaning to bring my own, but Barcamp always ends up being in a bad weekend for my kids (October’s a busy month for us in general). It’s a kids event still finding its legs, but it’s a nifty way to get your kids into making, presenting, learning, and having fun while doing it. I suspect it will break away from Barcamp and become its own event at some point, but for now, you’ll only find it at Barcamp Milwaukee.

Barcamp Milwaukee is free, every year, relying on sponsors for meals, t-shirts, etc. They really want you to come and help make it better simply by sharing what you know. Of course, if you’re able to sponsor, or know someone who can, that’s another awesome way to get involved.

So, summing up: I had a good time, despite bailing early on the second day (and missing Immy’s lunch cater, which saddened me greatly). Most sessions were informative. I never seem to come away feeling like I’ve learned a lot, but I do always come away feeling reinvigorated about learning more than I already know–a net-positive, I think, for the event itself and for me.

Special thanks to the Bucketworks crew for all they do, and to Pete Prodoehl in particular. I understand this may be his last time herding Barcamp Milwaukee’s many cats, and I can’t say I blame him.

Until next October, I guess.

Says Vonage: Five Years Doesn’t Matter. Give Us All Your Money.

The following post is one we wrote almost two years ago (circa July 2009) but never published for whatever reason. We have since dropped Vonage–finally, after a long seven years as a customer–and thought now, about a month post-cancellation, would be a good time to go back over why we finally quit them.

In a nutshell, they didn’t–don’t–care about anything but the money. You may see this as a recurring theme around this blog; I’m not sure it’s possible to put too fine a point on that, either. Money is nice and all, but you can’t focus solely on that and expect to keep people (or your business) around forever.

About a month ago, I finally got around to calling at an hour when they were open to take my call to cancel–and attempt to keep me from cancelling.

I cancelled anyway; it just wasn’t worth it anymore. They became Yet Another Phone Company, leveraging fees for everything and generally behaving badly from a customer-service perspective. The whole reason we went to Vonage in the first place to get away from all of that with traditional telcos!

At some point a year or so ago, we switched from the $14.99 500-minute plan to a 100-minute plan for $9.99/month. That cheaper plan, with 40% fewer minutes, after all the fees they’re now adding, was costing us more than we paid for the $14.99 plan when we started with Vonage so many years ago. And we just weren’t using it. If you have Vonage, great. If you don’t, you’re really not missing anything Time-Warner or Comcast or AT&T or another traditional telco could offer you at this point.

We don’t miss Vonage. At all. At least what Vonage has become, anyway. The idea of Vonage–the core of their business model back then–is still appealing; we do miss that.

If you have and use Vonage, think about whether you’re really, truly using it. You may not need it anymore, either.

And finally, even though we dropped service with Vonage a month ago, we are still unable to access the website to make our final payment in good faith. We offered during our cancellation call, but were told we would continue to have access to the website to pay our final bill at our convenience. But clearly, that’s not quite true:

 [This was a screenshot of a regularly-broken
Vonage website before Twitpic shut down]

So professional.

Anyway, here’s the previously-unpublished post from 2009:


We recently tried to cancel, and failed. We called right away the morning of the first day of our new billing cycle; we had been billed at midnight overnight. After being strung along on the phone for a very long time, we were eventually told we would receive a credit for the billed-in-advance amount. Except, a short time later, our bumbling phone-center monkey handed our call off to someone else–a “supervisor”–who told us no, they were absolutely not going to do anything of the sort. Yes, certainly we could cancel today! And yes, they would gladly terminate our service immediately! But… they would be keeping our money for the rest of the billing period anyway–so sorry!

In the end, we opted not to cancel for the time being–we didn’t want to lose our money. Turns out that was stupid. We switched to a lesser, cheaper plan, and they issued a credit and a couple months of free service, only to end up coming up short on their promises and start billing us again a full month earlier than promised.

But first, back to the initial cancellation attempt and how we were treated. The fact that we’d been always-on-time, regular, loyal customers of theirs for a full five years prior? Well, it was utterly irrelevant to the a-hole “supervisor” we ended up talking to. He also insisted he could not–would not–transfer us to anyone else to discuss it further. We had our options: stay and pay, or leave…but still pay. Jerk.

Vonage does NOT want you to quit them. If you call to cancel–and indeed, you MUST call them to cancel, which is also completely ridiculous–expect to be hassled. They will NOT schedule your service disconnect to coincide with the last pre-paid day of service. They WILL, however, cancel your service immediately and keep whatever pre-paid amount of money you’ve given them. Even if you’re cancelling on the morning of the very first day of the billing cycle. They will not prorate any refund. They want it all. Inexcusable greed, pure and simple.

If you’ve got Vonage service, call them and attempt to cancel. You’ll see. And you’ll probably want to cancel for real after that. Quitting something has never been so difficult or fraught with sliminess.

Griping on Twitter got us somewhere. Shockingly. I was still treated like I was demanding some monumental favor, talked at like the guy was reeeeeeeally bending over backwards to do something Really Special for me. Like honor their promise to extend enough credit to cover not having a bill with them again until November? Nah, they hit us with a $20 bill in October. For a $9.99/month plan. Nuuuuh-uuuh.

So eventually the final day of our “deal” arrived. Except I didn’t call in by 7pm CST for a billing that doesn’t happen until midnight. Vonage only has open phone lines until 8pm Eastern time. I had called around 715–I was too late. That, to me, seems pretty evil and deliberate…or conveniently profit-inducing, depending on which side you’re on. So we’re screwed again for another month. All apparently by design.

Run away. As fast as you can. Eventually, we will be done with this.