Standalone GPS is going, going, gone

Every once in awhile, I am pleasantly surprised by technology that just works.

I was driving down the highway, loosely following the Navigation application (GPS) on my phone. At one point, the blue line – indicating the route – looked strange. I was on a main road, a fairly straight one, and there it was – the map indicated a big loop up ahead. “Surely the phone must be wrong,” I thought to myself. “I know I’m supposed to stay straight on this road. I’ll just ignore the GPS’ directions and then it can re-route me.”

Technology doesn’t always know best, but this time it did. Up ahead were bright orange signs – “Road Closed Ahead – Follow Detour.” The detour took me right around the loop, the same one that the GPS had displayed a few minutes earlier. I knew that Google Maps – and therefore the Navigation application on my phone – is updated often, but I didn’t know that it also “knew” about road closures and detours. Impressive. It’s no wonder that my TomTom has been shoved into the center console ever since I got an Android phone.

The TomTom requires a special charger, the discipline to plug it in to your computer every few months to download updates (not to mention having to find the pesky cord to do so), and an open wallet to download major map updates. The Android Navigation app has seamless integration with Gmail and Google maps. It’s so easy to look up directions while I’m at work, click a button to e-mail them to myself, then open them with the Navigation application on my phone.

The GPS as we know it – the standalone TomTom, Garmin, etc – is dying, being replaced with something that’s constantly being updated and improved for free…the Android smartphone. I think it’s time to clean out my center console.

WordPress “White Screen of Death”

Recently I was working on a website when I had my first WordPress “White Screen of Death” experience. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for it to happen, but at least now I know how to get myself out of the ensuing mess! It happened when I was adding some custom PHP to custom_functions.php ( I am using Thesis). I modified the file then uploaded it. When I refreshed the page, both the website and the dashboard were just blank pages, hence the “White Screen of Death.” I immediately grabbed custom_functions.php and removed the code I had just inserted, and re-uploaded back to the server. I thought this would fix the problem, but for some still unknown reason, it didn’t. It was almost like the code I put in hosed the theme.

The next step was to deactivate all of the current WordPress plugins to see if they were causing the problem. Via FTP, I re-named my “Plugins” folder to “Plugins.hold” and navigated to the WordPress Administration page. Still, I had a white screen. My last ditch effort was to re-name my current theme via FTP, as this causes WordPress to switch to the default theme. Thankfully, this option worked. I was able to access all my screens again, but of course, most of the work I did (customizing Thesis settings, custom hooks, etc) was gone – well, not exactly gone, but residing in my corrupted theme’s directory.

I carefully re-assembled the site and still managed to crash it a few more times with bad code (oops) but was able to recover fairly quickly due to my initial experience. I’m sure this won’t be my last run-in with the WordPress “White Screen of Death” – hopefully this helps anyone else who runs into similar issues.

Ebay’s Customer Service Approach Allows you to Skip Account Verification

Recently, I had to deal with Ebay’s customer service department and found that they have a pretty cool little way of dealing with phone calls that benefits both the customer and Ebay.

In order to enter the “Call us” section of Ebay, you have to be signed in. Once signed in, you choose which Ebay issue you are calling about and then a PIN is generated.

The PIN expires 15 minutes from when it was generated. When you call Ebay, you are prompted to input the PIN, and you are connected to a representative. The beauty of this process is that the representative already knows your account information and what you are calling about. There is no need to verify who you are, because a PIN can’t be generated unless you are logged in. This saves time both for the customer and for Ebay.

I would love this functionality to be available when I call about any number of things: my credit card, bank account, Amazon order, whatever – the less time I have to spend painstakingly rattling off my first name, last name, date of birth, mother’s maiden name and my favorite food, the better!