Archive for November 2011


Contacting Right Now (a misnomer of a company name)

30.11.2011

If there’s one employee I can never fault at Telstra Clear, it’s Daniel Borgshammar, who has been following up my case with my corrupted custhelp.com profile on the Telstra Clear support site since day one.
   Unfortunately, Daniel has his hands tied. He contacts the people at Right Now, the owners of custhelp.com, and keeps getting polite brush-offs. No ETA is given.
   So, after a year, I thought I’d just ask this American company if it responds to its clients. I wonder if I will get a reply in the promised 48 hours.

Hello there:

I’m not too happy. I’m a TelstraClear customer in New Zealand, and I can’t use custhelp.com. In fact, I haven’t been able to use it for a year.
   It appears that, through no fault of my own, you’ve corrupted my profile. I push TelstraClear on this, and they tell me they push you, to get it fixed.
   A year down the track, we’re nowhere. I still can’t log in or follow up tickets. In fact, I have to send a fresh enquiry each time through its email system just to be heard. Its techs have a hard time following up on any query, since there are no service threads to speak of—just a long, long trail of email messages, as I paste in earlier dialogues each time so they know it’s an ongoing issue.
   Since a large telco can’t get a response or ETA from you beyond a polite brush-off, I thought I’d come directly, and just ask, as Joe Public: can you get this fixed, please?
   I think a year’s wait is long enough. I hope you’ll look in to it.

Sincerely,

Jack Yan

   I see Oracle is going to buy this company. Good luck, folks. Hope you know what you’re getting in to, because there are people there who are put off for nearly a year.

PS.: Right Now eventually passed this message back on to Datum, which passed it on to Telstra Clear’s James Jacques, on December 5 NZDT. It was then remedied immediately: ‘I have tidied up your user profiles and made it so you now only have one login (There were 4 or 5 active in the system). I have sent a password reset request to this email address, please complete this and use this email address as your login ID and the issues should be resolved.’ (The multiple log-ins were created, I should add, by Telstra Clear, each time one failed.) Lesson: cut out the middle man!—JY

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Posted in business, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


The internet collapses further: Telstra Clear’s DNS servers stop resolving some addresses

29.11.2011

Yet another contact Facebook-messaged me tonight to tell me that his email to me bounced. Sadly, I had to repeat the story of how emails from New Zealand now regularly bounce, that with at least one party we’ve had to resort to using the fax, and that, if he had a Hotmail or a Gmail, could he use that instead to reach me?
   It’s a ridiculous state of affairs and I can’t believe I’m even saying it. But here’s a good example that I encountered myself tonight using Telstra Clear:

As you can see, neither Cloudflare nor Lucire will load—in fact, Telstra Clear’s DNS server plain refuses to resolve either.
   Even Duck Duck Go has its share of problems, though eventually I got through.
   No wonder certain people can’t reach us. The sad thing is, it’s been going on all year, and Telstra Clear admits there’s a problem with a subcontractor somewhere down the line, with no ETA on resolution.
   It’s not doing my reputation much good when there are people asking me if I’ve shut down a business.
   Thanks to Jeremy Bank tonight, I switched to Open DNS, at least to get some work done “on the cloud” (and people wonder why I am a cloud-sceptic: if you lived here, you would know why). Things worked for a wee while, before conking out again.
   Both Cloudflare and Lucire worked for a while before something similar happened—and according to my end (on Plesk and at Rackspace) there are no problems. However, I was seeing blank pages with no data.
   In all cases, after switching to a proxy server, either Codeen or a transparent one, things were fine again.
   I’m going to have to place the responsibility squarely on Telstra Clear because it really looks like HTTP is being blocked to some websites. And when you go away from its DNSs and use someone else’s, you’re OK for a while before it blocks that, too. The only way to ensure HTTP service is to use proxies, which, of course, are slow—and usually such techniques are the province of netizens inside China circumventing government censors. Surely no such thing happens here—but then, with our politicians, about as schooled on the internet as Jabba the Hut is on personal hygiene, you never know.
   The more likely explanation is Jeremy’s, from four months ago when I first blogged about this issue: ‘If you’re primarily with Telstra Clear, then I know why. It’s to do with their transparent proxies and caching. Stale content within their system is what often causes fail loads and the like. It’s bad.’
   And it needs to be fixed, unless Telstra Clear wants certain sites to be inaccessible as it leads up to its much-publicized unmetered weekend. Or is this its intention? Block enough sites, save on bandwidth costs.
   After all, this blog and certain other sites we run—far less popular ones than either Cloudflare or Lucire—ran without issue tonight. Their IP addresses actually resolved.
   A similar problem with resolving Lucire and Cloudflare happened last week, confirmed by Twitter friends also on Telstra Clear, but, by the time the tech called back, things were working again. (But at least they call back, right?)
   I didn’t blog about this issue then because I thought it was a one-off. But, frankly, it looks related to an error we’ve been getting through Telstra Clear for several years where some document types were not served; and it’s definitely related to the year-long bug that prevents many New Zealanders sending email to us.
   Pay an exorbitant amount, and party like it’s 2001.

PS.: After one tech support report and reply, on November 30, 1.08 p.m. NZDT, I was finally able to put a traceroute through to lucire.com via Telstra Clear without using a proxy. That’s a lot of hours wasted.—JY

P.PS.: I may be able to let TelstraClear off the hook. Cloudflare Tweeted the following when I asked them, though I’m disappointed it has taken nearly a day for the reply. (Admittedly I had been Tweeting a Cloudflare status account, Cloudflaresys, instead of its regular account, Cloudflare.) ‘There was an issue that affected some parts of AU. Likely same issue that affected you. We have re-routed.’ I am informing TelstraClear now. Looks like we’re back to the original two issues of emails not arriving, and the broken custhelp.com website.—JY

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Posted in business, internet, New Zealand, technology | 5 Comments »


Occupy, the brand

27.11.2011

Serious! "Occupy Wall St"
VBlessNYC, under Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

It was in the fourth quarter of the year that Occupy became a brand. Just capitalize it, and everyone knows what you mean. The original geographical indicator of Wall Street disappeared—to be fair, it began disappearing when similar protests began happening across the United States and then, the world—but I’ve only noticed in the last few weeks that the simple utterance of the word Occupy brought with it a multitude of values. That’s what a brand does: it’s shorthand or code for a range of associations.
   But what associations? If one believes some of the media, then Occupy is unfocused, with its protesters simply upset at the status quo. Others see it as an attack on the technocratic agenda and the multiple facets they possess, whether it’s the financial system being broken (something Chris Macrae brought up at my first Medinge meeting back in 2002) or corruption in politics.
   The truth, at least initially, was probably somewhere in between. I never believed Occupy was one where there was some “protester class” (at least one media outlet believed that), and that its members came from a cross-section of society, even if a few of the international protests brought out a few of the usual suspects from antiestablishment groups. It was clear, early on, certainly from the social networks that brought more direct news than the mainstream corporate media, that everyday people were involved. To me, the most poignant images were probably that of retired cop Capt Ray Lewis getting cuffed by the NYPD.
   However, there were so many conflicting emotions at Occupy that it would be hard to sum up just what people opposed. Maybe it was very hard to voice because there are so many parts to the system that they see is broken. I know when we did our post-Enron session at Medinge, we probably had three dozen Post-It notes on a whiteboard summarizing what we thought was wrong with the business system. They were then synthesized into eight points, not without some effort.
   As the protests wore on, the synthesis has taken place. It’s not an unusual phenomenon: gatherings of people can take time to figure out, through dialogue, what their common grounds are. Better doing it this way, codifying through dialogue, than having a set of values imposed on you from above: it’s a way to preserve authenticity in the movement. A good set of values that represents an organization, in a formal, corporate setting, is usually the result of in-depth research into staff, channel members and external audiences. In the branding world, especially with social networks empowering communications, it makes more sense to harness people’s thoughts through the technology we have at our disposal.
   It was interesting reading what Naomi Wolf had to say about Occupy in The Guardian. The crux of her article is not about brand whatsoever—she highlights potentially dangerous patterns as crackdowns take place and their implication for the US—but read on and she finds out there are certain things that Occupy wants through simply asking its supporters online:

  • get the money out of politics (e.g. ‘legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process’);
  • ‘reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act … This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks’;
  • ‘draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.’

       No doubt there will be variations of these with Occupy movements in other parts of the planet.
       I don’t know Ms Wolf’s processes, or how academic this Q&A was, but perhaps that is not the question here. What we should realize is that the movement is taking a more defined shape, and the media’s contention that this is something unfocused is getting weaker by the day.

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    Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, media, politics, USA | 2 Comments »


    Storm in a teacup on tape

    23.11.2011

    The ‘tea tape’ that’s been on the news for the last week or so seems like, if you’ll pardon the analogy, a storm in a teacup.
       PM John Key and Epsom candidate John Banks invited the media to record them chatting, then dismissed them. One cameraman, Bradley Ambrose, left a recorder on the table. From what I can gather, he did so accidentally. I believe him, and this country, the last I looked, believed in a presumption of innocence. Except when it comes to the internet.
       Unfortunately, the PM didn’t see it that way, and because, by his admission, the police have so much time to investigate matters these days, claimed that the recording was illegal. Four media outlets were searched by police over the matter, and over interviews with Mr Ambrose.
       The PM has his right to advance his opinion and I will defend any citizen’s right to do so. However, I’m not that convinced that both Messrs Key and Banks could expect that their conversation took place in private.
       The submission in court yesterday—the time-worn one of the reasonable person’s expectation that they would be overheard—would have got a nod from me, though Winkelmann J. has declined to rule on the matter.
       Both men are public figures, and while we Kiwis are generally very good at giving people the space they need to chat, it’s reasonable to assume portions of the conversation, though not the whole thing, would be overheard by a bystander, with or without a tape recorder.
       I ran for a much smaller office than the PM and for the duration of the campaign—and even a year before it began—I watched myself over what I talked about in public places. I still do. And I didn’t even win.
       When you put yourself out there, sadly, you sacrifice a little of your privacy. The two Johns have put themselves out there for a lot longer, and with a much greater profile, than I ever had.
       During the campaign, one of my advisers warned me that if I were to chat to any opponent, I must do so in private, because you simply never knew who could hear you. That’s for a local body election. You’d reasonably expect the stakes to be higher for a General Election.
       I am reminded of one private conversation from a public figure that took place in Wellington, which was shared with me by a member of the public. He revealed that that public figure was a potty mouth, complaining about a family member. He was, consequently, shocked to notice that such a discussion would take place in a café setting.
       To me, that’s the typical sort of thing you’d reasonably notice of a recognizable public figure.
       It is only reasonable that we would have been interested in what they had to chat about. If we were there, not as a member of the media, the odd key phrase would have caught our attention. If we walked by, we might have been accidentally picked up a bit ourselves.
       The issue, for me, is whether a recording made of the conversation in its entirety is private—but I think back to the Wellington incident where the member of the public overheard the whole thing.
       If it were anyone who had never run for office, then the reasonable expectation is that the conversation was private. But we are talking about two men who have plenty of experience—and who should know that private conversations take place in private forums. You don’t invite the media along, and once things get sensitive, follow the same rule as with uncomfortable public displays of affection: get a room.

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    Posted in media, New Zealand, politics, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


    The spam commenters’ arsenal revealed

    22.11.2011

    As most people are, I’m pretty sick of comment spammers. WordPress does a reasonable job of keeping them out (though Akismet has been missing a lot more of them lately, putting them into the comment queue). Today, one of our comment spammers must have slipped. Instead of using just one of the lines in his arsenal, he put the whole lot in.
       If you have one of the following lines in your comment queue, then it’s spam. While most bloggers will know by now, this might serve as a useful primer to those just getting started. In other words, if you see one of these in your queue, file it as spam and do not publish it.

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    Posted in internet | 2 Comments »


    Intellectual property doesn’t deserve a black mark, but some powers-that-be do

    22.11.2011

    After being interviewed about the outcome of the ‘Wellywood’ sign vote yesterday (a summary of what I told Newstalk ZB can be found on my Facebook fan page) I was reminded about how a few Wellingtonians, who supported my quest to stop the sign in 2010 and 2011, were not that thrilled that I used intellectual property law as my technique.
       Those following this in 2010 and 2011 might remember that I was the person who called up the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Sign Trust, and was, last year, the mayoral candidate most active in trying to stop Wellington Airport from erecting the sign at the Miramar cutting. This year, with no local election to be concerned about, I remained active, more so upon seeing just how arrogant the Airport’s “leadership” was, before it flip-flopped again by saying that it should consult with the public (the same public it called insignificant weeks before).
       And yet, months later, I was also miffed about the Copyright Act amendments and the introduction of the “three strikes” law, one which the Government seems to be uncertain about as it supports it at home, and opposes it at the United Nations.
       This is not a populist about-turn on my part. I have a view of intellectual property which was refined in part by my time at law school, where I sat the first IP paper offered formally by Victoria University, and my work for TypeRight, the advocacy organization, which wound up winning an award from Publish magazine in the US. This experience leaned toward copyright, more than trade mark and patent, though I secured reasonable experience in TMs working in brand consulting and acting as an expert witness. Through that exposure, I began with the classical argument that the protection of authors, and rewarding them, are good things. No protection, no incentive.
       But, this must be balanced by the rule of law. What we had before the latest amendments to the Copyright Act already worked. Copyright owners could, indeed, pursue infringers, and a plaintiff and a defendant could fairly be represented in a tribunal. It would be up to the copyright owner to front up with a statement of claim, and they had better be ready with sufficient proof to make the case air-tight—just as any other plaintiff in a New Zealand court would require. That seems fair. I have relied on American law often when it came to pursuing piracy of our articles, and, again, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act there worked well in giving both sides a fair hearing without the presumption of guilt.
       As argued in some depth in 2009, and again in 2011, the three-strikes law—which, I might note, the PM was against before he was for, as was the Hon Peter Dunne MP—puts the power firmly in the hands of the copyright owner, so that a defendant has to discharge the presumption of guilt. A copyright owner, as we have learned, can get an ISP to do its dirty work in New Zealand, sending out infringement notices to its customers. Whatever I learned in that IP class at uni, I had always believed the law would take place in a fair forum, and that the common-law presumption of innocence would always stand. What is happening here runs counter to that idea.
       To be fair and balanced here, I should note that the law was proposed under Labour, and received the support of Labour when argued in Parliament, which makes me wonder whether the duty of being Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was fulfilled properly during the debates.
       Such laws, unfortunately, do the idea of copyright no credit. They have sullied the good work that copyright has done in most of our recent history by protecting those who sought it, and deserved it. I think of those who were in the typeface design business with me, who opted to protect their works. Some designers only make a few dozen dollars per annum from a font that might have taken them six weeks to produce. Typically, $300 is a figure I hear for a design that doesn’t make the big time—and the majority do not, just like in music.
       European Commission VP for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, told the Forum d’Avignon on November 19 a similar story: ’97·5 pe rcent of one of the biggest collecting society’s members in Europe receive less than … €1,000 a month for their copyright works.’
       As reported in The Register, ‘Kroes said, copyright as it now stands is failing to deliver the economic rewards that are supposed to be its aim. At the same time, “citizens increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it. Many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognize and reward.”’
       The Register concludes:

    In the context of the public’s increasing resistance to punitive measures such as America’s SOPA, New Zealand’s three-strikes disconnection notice regime, the acrimonious “iiTrial” in Australia (backed by the MPAA via its local sockpuppet AFACT), it’s also interesting to note that Kroes mentions the intermediary business just once in her speech – since, at least to The Register, it seems that most of the public’s hatred of copyright appears to stem from how the intermediaries approach it.

       The distinction needs to be drawn. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. What we should be weary of are not just the intermediaries as The Register notes, but some of the parties who inspire, lobby and even offer to draft these laws. It seems those parties are often those who care little for the thoughts of the community, whether it be an Airport CEO, or politicians who are so inept at understanding their subject they confuse fact with fiction.
       While I will not be drawn on who will get my electorate and party votes for this General Election, the behaviour of some of the powers-that-be seem to support those who claim that we no longer live in democracies in the occident, but plutocracies.

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    Posted in business, culture, design, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


    Today’s adventures with US dollars and New Zealand banks

    14.11.2011

    National Bank Asian Banking
    Above: I’m Asian, and I want banking. National Bank gets me again. (For that story, click here.)

    Out of the businesses I have, one is unincorporated, and it has a US dollar bank account based in New Zealand. Over the years, it’s been at numerous banks, and was at the ANZ.
       Until the ANZ began charging a deposit fee for foreign cheques. It seems that the ANZ does not understand the basic principle that a deposit is a loan by the customer to the bank. I would only accept such a fee if, when borrowing money from the bank, I can charge it a Jack Yan Is Good Looking and Humble fee, but, alas, the bank said it would not accept such a term, nor such an outrageously false name.
       So the account went over to the TSB, still my preferred bank by some margin, but it would have to be a term deposit—that was the rule back in 2006. However, I was advised that it could be turned into a call account, which sounded closer to what I had at the ANZ, but without the ridiculous deposit fee. That would work for me—plus I needed an account where I could deposit US dollars and not be a two-time loser on the exchange rate when depositing and withdrawing money because of using a Kiwi account as an intermediary.
       Unfortunately, the rules have changed. TSB will only open a new account for foreign currency for legal persons, and an unincorporated business is not a legal person. That’s fair enough, though it doesn’t help me. HSBC, for whom TSB acts agent, is in the same boat after I enquired there today about its market currency account. However, I should note that, unlike many other businesses, I had a competent person on the phone who could answer all my questions with only a total of one minute on hold.
       So, what are the alternatives? After visiting several banks, I don’t believe I have any answer.
       Kiwibank, a division of Johnny Foreigner Bank (2013) Ltd., did not know. The teller believed that I might be able to, but it was done over the phone, not in person. She was unsure how I could deposit cheques over the phone. I couldn’t find the slot on my phone where I could insert a cheque.
       The National Bank, a division of ANZ, still charges a deposit fee. I was shocked to learn that the fee has increased to NZ$15. I was pretty sure it was NZ$5 when I left the ANZ group. Stuff that. Enough horsing around.
       The BNZ, a subsidiary of yet another Australian bank, was unable to advise me whether I could open an account without my making an appointment.
       I have yet to try Westpac, where Lucire Ltd. has its account here, but Lucida turns me off. I may have to check them out next, but I would really prefer a New Zealand-owned bank. As I write this, I realize there’s also the Auckland Savings Bank, also owned offshore, but they may be able to accommodate me (goodness, a decade of Goldstein and it’s still not in my consideration set?). Might have to be a trip into Bay Road tomorrow.
       Where does John Key keep his $50 million? Maybe that’s where I should put these funds.

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    Posted in business, humour, New Zealand, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


    Google Plus: the penny drops; Facebook announces it’s taking away a feature it took away two months ago

    09.11.2011

    Looks like people are now being more fair and balanced about Google Plus, instead of drinking the Google Kool-Aid as they did at the site’s launch.
       Farhad Manjoo, in Slate, writes:

    Even Google’s own executives seem to have gotten bored by the site. After several public posts in the summer, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin dropped off the site in the fall; they only started posting once more when bloggers began pointing out their absence. Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman and former CEO, posted his first public message when Steve Jobs died. That was three months after the social network went live.

       If the leadership has little faith in the product, and in this day and age, when we expect flat, transparent management structures, in some companies, we can watch the leaders as effectively as front-line staff.
       On this note, Google Plus seems to be heading toward a ghost-town existence.
       At least I was consistent, being Google Plus-sceptical all along.
       What interests me, however, is this assertion, and it is by no means unique to Farhad:

    And apart from the Circles feature—which Facebook quickly co-opted—I didn’t think Google+ distinguished itself from its rivals in any compelling way.

       I’ve no great love of Facebook, either, but a site having a feature and a site promoting it are two different things.
       From my use of Facebook, it always allowed, at least since I joined in early 2007, two groups—full access and what it called ‘Limited Profile’. Some years later, Facebook extended this, so you could assign a multitude of ‘Circles’. For years—I’m pretty sure for at least the last two—I had five, and different privacy settings for each.
       The only change in these groups, as far as I can tell, is Facebook formally creating extra ones with names it assigned, which meant it was a pain in the neck to those of us who had parallel ones for friends, family, acquaintances and restricted. We either had to move people over, ignore them, or merge them—with no information on what would happen to prior privacy settings if we took the last option.
       Facebook, meanwhile, announced on my home page today I could no longer import notes from this blog as of November 22. My experience is that this feature actually disappeared between September 15 and October 1.
       I have not been able to find—and I looked last month—any way of adding a RSS feed URL into Facebook, and any information regarding that was deleted from its help pages.
       So, Facebook doesn’t seem to know its own features.
       I reckon my upgrade to Timeline on September 25 removed this function—and Facebook’s announcement makes me suspect that November 22 is the changeover date for everyone going on to Timeline.

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    Posted in business, internet, leadership, media, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


    Do you engage a fax spammer?

    07.11.2011

    The anti-spam legislation in New Zealand was extended to faxes on October 20—although, technically, junk faxes were disallowed under the Telecommunications Act, based on my reading, and always were.
       It hasn’t stopped one company from continuing to send junk faxes, and I’ve reported their three post-October 20 ones to the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA).
       However, an interesting one came from Faxads.biz. These folks have, by their own admission, been fax-spamming us for ‘years’. We never consented to being on their list. And now, they are saying that if we do nothing, they will deem it our consent for their continuing to spam us.
       As we’ve always operated email lists that people have to consent to by sending a request to a specific address—unlike many companies, who add you to their emailing list just because you have used their contact form—this approach is foreign to me.
       As anyone who has used email knows, the first rule of spam is never engage the spammer. This only serves to confirm that your address is current, and you will get more spam as a result.
       After reading the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007, a New Zealand junk fax must have a clear means of removal, which, technically, this one from Faxads.biz does. I can ask these folks to remove our number, but should I, when they never should have spammed it in the first place?
       Every company that has used Faxads.biz I have consciously boycotted, bar one, which apologized after I blogged about it some years ago.
       Question: do I engage the spammer? I don’t trust them as far as I could throw them. Or is this going to the DIA as well?

    PS.: The DIA advises that I should request a list removal.—JY

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    Posted in business, marketing, New Zealand, Wellington | 2 Comments »


    It’s the 1st of the month, so Facebook Timeline stops updating

    01.11.2011

    I know I’m not alone on this, as I have heard from two other Facebook friends, but Facebook has trouble getting to a new month with Timeline.
       Ever since my Facebook went to November 1, Timeline stopped updating. What rests there is the last post of October 31.
       Earlier today, I could still have a look at November entries by forcing the URL www.facebook.com/jack.yan/timeline/2011/11, but that eventually stopped working, too.
       There’s no November entry in the month links at the top right-hand corner, either.
       The only way I can see my Facebook entries is in the full history. Yet no one seems to have reported this bug, which only happens on the 1st of the month. Looks like I’ll have to.

    PS.: Facebook Timeline finally made it to November, presumably because the US west coast got there. I assume Facebook is unaware that there are a lot of time zones ahead of Pacific time?

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    Posted in internet, technology, USA | 8 Comments »