Category: Inside our World
A look at the daily activities and decisions that go into Tempest.
Over the course of running SearchTempest, I have had the opportunity to try out quite a number of ad networks. Unfortunately I’ve found that most do not have sufficient quality of ads nor earnings to warrant using them alongside Google Adsense. (One notable exception is Sovrn, formerly Lijit, which has been quite good for us.)
However, at least all the networks we’ve used so far do pay their publishers the amounts owed… except for one. We tried out Marimedia for a short time in early 2014. They now owe us several hundred dollars, which has been due for a year, and remains unpaid. We have sent multiple follow-up requests, and have been promised payment several times, but it never comes.
A few hundred dollars isn’t the end of the world, and certainly isn’t worth pursuing legal action, but I felt other publishers deserved to be warned. At least in our case, Marimedia does not pay its bills. I would avoid them.
If the overdue invoices are ever paid, I will update this post.
Update: About a week after writing this post, I was contacted by someone at Marimedia, and about a month after that I did finally receive payment. Since then I have been contacted twice by other Marimedia representatives with no knowledge of our past relationship, asking me to become a publisher for them. Also once after the invoice was paid, to arrange paying it. So, it seems like there’s nothing underhanded going on; they’re just really disorganized.
In case anyone’s interested in a small glimpse into my life, I just finished the little details of setting up my new workspace (just moved a few weeks ago) and figured I’d share.
OK, honestly, it’s because it’s the first time I’ve ever done proper cable management. Here’s how it looked before. 🙂 And yes, it’s always that clean now. … Yep. At least, when I take pictures of it, it is. Just don’t pan to the right or left at all. Or down. But otherwise, veeeery tidy.
The desk is a NextDesk Terra, which I don’t love everything about, but the huge surface and sit/stand adjustment are great. Monitors are BenQ BL2710pt, which I do love everything about. Except the OSD I suppose, but you pretty much use that once ever, so I can live with it. 😉 Great review of it here if you’re interested. PC is a Sandy Bridge home build from about three years ago in a Fractal Design Define case, which has been great. (I like things quiet, so probably spent more time picking out the case, fans, and PSU than the primary components…)
Oh, and the kid on the calendar and the Amazon gift thing on the desk is my daughter, Lila. In fact, that one deserves a closeup. 🙂
The toys you’d see on the floor if you had panned down before are (mostly) hers too.
And that’s about it! Welcome to my little world.
Since I spend a good chunk of my time hacking on SearchTempest and AutoTempest, and a good chunk of the rest of my time playing Starcraft II and such, I end up at my desk for a large part of the day. I decided it would be a good idea to get an adjustable sit/stand desk so I don’t spend that entire time sitting on my butt.
I did a bunch of research and ended up deciding on the Terra from NextDesks.com. I’ve come across some significant pros and cons regarding both the desk and the buying experience that weren’t mentioned in any of the (relatively few) reviews I found online, so I figured I’d share.
First the good. It does what it’s supposed to do. I got the extended version (73″ across) and it’s large, but not at all unwieldy or unattractive. It raises and lowers quite quickly (apparently fastest available), and has three electronic presets. There are a number of color options available, and you can customize things like where you would like the controls to be, cable management options, keyboard tray or no, etc. There is a tiny shudder to the up and down motion, but I certainly wouldn’t worry about anything on the desk shifting. Essentially it does what it’s supposed to do well.
The cons primarily have to do with the buying and assembly experience, but there are a couple to do with the desk itself that I will mention first. The main one is that the height presets have to be held down while the desk is moving to the preset height. This is not the case with their main competitor, the GeekDesk Max. What is particularly irksome about it is that I explicitly asked their salesperson about this before purchasing the desk, because I know some other competitors do have preset buttons that need to be held down. He assured me that their presets do not need to be held, which is simply not true. I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and say he just made an incorrect assumption, but since I’m making a rather expensive purchase based on his word, I expect better.
Now, the NextDesk does adjust height quite a bit quicker than the GeekDesk, but when you don’t have to hold the button you can spend the time moving your chair, standing up/sitting down, and getting back to what you were doing while the desk is doing its thing. Since that time is much shorter but essentially wasted with the Terra, it’s essentially a tie as far as which I’d prefer. However, the GeekDesk is almost half the price. (The presets are still useful though. It’s nice to set your heights then not thinking about it, rather than always fiddling with the height trying to find the level that feels right.)
The other thing I’ve found with the desk itself is that a small chunk (perhaps 1/4″ x 1/8″) of the surface coating has apparently flaked off at some point. The solid bamboo surface of this desk is something that’s supposed to set it apart from the competition, so you don’t like to see the finish disintegrating almost immediately. (I have no idea when it came off, but I certainly haven’t dropped anything on the desk or anything like that.)
One other thing to be aware of with the surface too is that its color appears significantly lighter in person than in the color swatches on their website (or even the physical ones they mail out). Obviously the website ones will depend on the calibration of your monitor, but even looking at the swatch they mailed with the desk, my “dark” surface looks much closer to the “medium” color swatch. (Although when I took a picture of the desk with the swatches on it, it looked closer to the “dark” swatch in the picture, which explains why they look that way!) So this certainly isn’t a knock or anything, just something to keep in mind – it will most likely appear lighter in person than you would expect from looking at the swatches.
Finally, the process of buying and then assembling the desk definitely had some stumbling points. The good first though – they shipped the desk very quickly, and it was packaged extremely well. Essentially no chance of damage during transport, and it shipped in two separate boxes (for the top and the frame), which made things a lot easier to manage since it’s obviously large and potentially unwieldy otherwise.
However, even aside from the misinformation about the presets, I found their support to be somewhat underwhelming. To start with, I asked a simple question about shipping costs (I’m in Canada, so it’s cross-border shipping). Several times my emails went days or even weeks with no answer, and eventually I just gave up on the email conversation and resorted to phone calls. (And then I was promised callbacks on specific days which never came, again requiring me to follow up later.) I also asked them where the controls are positioned because I planned to set my working area up to the right side of the desk and wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be in the way. They told me that I can have it wherever I want, but if it’s not specified they put it about 6 inches from the edge. That sounded perfect to me, so I didn’t specify a position when ordering. That was a mistake, as the desk arrived with the controls installed about 18″ from the edge instead (right where my leg wants to be). I drilled some new holes and moved it, but shouldn’t have had to.
Then of course there was the presets thing, and when I wrote to complain about that after receiving and assembling the desk, I never received a reply. (It’s been about 2 weeks now.) And finally, their instructions are extremely poor. Again this certainly isn’t a reason not to buy the desk, but if you do get one, definitely read through them a couple of times before getting started. There were a couple parts where I had to do some dis-assembly because something that had to be done in an earlier step wasn’t specified until later (or at all). For example, the two legs are interchangeable, but the cables that run out of them to the central control box cannot be adjusted once the legs are attached. So if you don’t pay attention to which way they’re going when you attach the legs, you’ll end up having to take the whole thing back apart to fix it. There were also a couple guess and check steps, like the initialization process: “Press the Down button once or twice, holding it down.” Uhh.. ok. (I pressed it twice, holding it down the second time. That didn’t work though, so I tried pressing it once, holding it down. Still nothing. So I unplugged the desk, plugged it back in, pressed and held once, and it worked. Instructions fail.)
So, if you’re looking for an adjustable-height sit/stand desk, this one IS worth a look. Just be extremely explicit about how you want things set up, and be aware that regardless of what they say, the presets do need to be held down. Personally I would prefer not to support a company that treats customers this way, but there is quite a lack of premium electronic height-adjustable desks out there at the moment. That said, the GeekDesk is certainly worth a look, as might be this NewHeights desk. The main reason I wrote that one off in my research initially was that the presets had to be held down…
Hope that helps! Are any of you using an adjustable desk already? (Or just a standing desk?) What do you figure a company’s response should be after misleading a customer like this (assuming it was a mistake)?
Update – July 2014:
I wanted to update this post, as I just had a really good experience with Priya at NextDesk customer support. I finally decided to see if I could get warranty support for the shuddering issue mentioned in the comments, since it seemed to be getting worse. The response from custom support email was instantaneous this time, and she took me through a set of calibration steps, then when that didn’t help, readily shipped me a new leg along with a return shipping label for the (presumably) defective one. It looks like the company may be maturing, which is great to see. Hopefully this new leg works out!
Update 2 – Septembar 2014
They seem to be trying hard, but so far the first replacement leg they sent me was also damaged, and the second was the wrong color. I also still haven’t received any shipping labels despite asking repeatedly, so I’ve got a growing collection of desk legs littering my office…
On behalf of AutoTempest, our used car search engine, I recently decided to make a charitable donation. We had $10,000 to donate and just needed to find the right cause to put it towards.
As you know, here at Tempest, we’re kind of obsessed with quality. We’re on a mission to bring you the best search results, for Craigslist through SearchTempest, for used cars through AutoTempest, and for movie listings through MovieTempest. So when it came to choosing a charity, it was very important to me to take the time and effort to ensure that we chose a top-notch organization with a similar commitment to quality.
I started by doing some internet research, and I also read The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier while I was considering this stuff. (Great book by the way; I definitely recommend it.) From all that I came up with a list of questions to pose to various charities. In the end, I decided on CARE International. They’re doing some fantastic work in developing countries worldwide, and I particularly appreciate their focus on building skills for the long term, rather than providing ‘band-aid’ solutions.
If you’re interested in finding out more about CARE and the work that they’ve been doing for the past 65 years (the organization started by sending care packages to Europe post WWII) check out their websites: International; United States; Canada. If you’re looking for an excellent charity to support, you should definitely check them out.
And of course, if you’d like to help out AutoTempest, it’s as easy as spreading the word!
You can also read the official announcement about our donation here.
And finally if you’re interested, you can read the full set of questions I sent to CARE and their answers below!
mod_fcgid: can’t apply process slot for [filename]mod_fcgid is a fastcgi module for apache, which allows apache (the web server) to talk to things like php without having to load them inside the server itself. This is great for a bunch of reasons that I won’t get into here. What wasn’t great was that it was out of processes. The server is configured such that it should handle many times the current peak load of the sites (just in case I get slashdotted or what have you.. 🙂 ), so that shouldn’t happen. At this point I’m kind of freaking out because a) all you fine people can’t access SearchTempest, b) the other fine people who probably aren’t reading this because they’re new users are now thinking that SearchTempest is crap and doesn’t work!, and c) I’m nearing the end of my very limited LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) debugging abilities. I sent off a somewhat panicked message to the support folks at the company I lease the server from, then, as is my way, proceeded to get in their way trying to debug the problem myself at the same time. Read More
Likelihood of change = difficulty level * (users helped – users annoyed) / total usersDifficulty factors in because it’s better to do a bunch of things that each help 10 people and take a day than one thing that helps 20 but takes a week. Second, when I’m contemplating any change, I think on how I can minimize the annoyance factor. Mainly, this involves making things optional. For example, the SearchTempest results originally showed just one craigslist city per page, with Previous and Next links to switch between them. Nowadays the default mode shows 20 cities per page, which lets you flip through them more quickly. The original mode is still available though – just click the Display Options tab on the results page. About 10% of searchers still use it, so clearly it’s worth keeping around. That’s not always the case. In theory, making everything optional sounds perfect. Everyone gets exactly what they want! There are two significant drawbacks though. First, each additional option means additional development and maintenance time. And every minute I spend keeping a legacy feature working is a minute I’m not spending on a cool new feature, or even a cool new site, like MovieTempest.com. Second, every additional option makes the site incrementally more complex, which makes it appear harder to use. Even if all these extra options can be safely ignored (which they can due to intelligent defaults), a new user doesn’t know that. And losing new users to other sites because they have less features is an irony I prefer to avoid! 🙂 So in the end it’s all about balance. I will always keep innovating, because if I didn’t, we’d still be stuck with craigslist. I’ll make changes optional whenever possible, because I want the sites to be useful for as many people as possible. But occasionally I will likely do things you don’t like. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. 😉 And if not, I at least hope your email’s funny.