Time Etc Virtual Assistants Review – It’s a Scam

My startup tech business has been growing, and I decided it was time to bring in some help to keep up with things like emails, customer service, and so on. I’m not successful enough yet to hire an employee outright, so I started looking into getting a Virtual Assistant.

I read reviews about a company called Time Etc, and decided to give them a try. Now looking back, 3 months later, I wish I hadn’t. I can sum up my experience with Time Etc in one sentence: It’s a Scam. Once they get your money — and you have to pay them up front — they do everything to avoid actually doing the work you’ve paid them for.

I reached out to them through the Time Etc website, and soon after I had a call scheduled with an account manager person in the UK. I told her what I needed help with, and within a couple of days they found a virtual assistant for me. At first everything seemed great — I signed up on a Monday, and by Friday I had a virtual assistant working for me.

Time Etc has different plans to choose from — I chose their $480/month plan which gives you 20 hours a month of VA time. After the first month I realized my VA was using barely half of these hours. It wasn’t for lack of work to do — I gave my VA plenty of tasks, but assignments that she could have finished in a day or two took her over 2 weeks to complete.

Now, in fairness, I had told my VA these tasks were not urgent, because I didn’t want to be a dick and say everything’s “urgent” when it’s not. So my VA was busy with other clients and more “urgent” tasks. Apparently Time Etc fills up their VA’s schedules with as many clients as they possibly can, which is great for the employees, but lousy for the clients (i.e. me) since I now have to compete for my VA’s attention with however many other clients she is juggling. (I wasn’t expecting a dedicated VA, but I WAS expecting my tasks to get done in a more reasonable amount of time!)

The end result? No matter how many hours you pay for, you’ll never get that many hours worth of work. You will always have unused hours at the end of the month.

After about 6 weeks I decided to lower my plan down to the cheaper, $250/month plan, which gives you 10 hours a month. That was about all the time I was getting out of them anyway. So I logged into the website to change my plan and, guess what, you can’t lower your plan through the website. You can upgrade your plan with the click of a button, but you can’t lower it. To lower it, they make you email them. So I emailed them, and then of course they wanted to set up another phone call with me. In other words, they make it really easy to give them money, but really hard to stop giving them money (or give them less).

Well anyway, on this call the account manager person suggested they could find a 2nd VA for me to help work off the unused hours in my account. I said yes, and she said they would find someone for me. That was March 28th. I didn’t hear from her again, so about 2 weeks later on April 11th I emailed her and asked for an update. She replied:

“No luck as of yet, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get you someone over tomorrow though!”

Tomorrow? Ha! That was the last time I heard from her. Here we are, May 12th, a whole month later, and still nothing. It only took them a few days to find my first VA, but to find another one takes months?

Now here’s the real kicker — any unused hours you’ve paid for “roll over”, but only for a limited time. After 65 days those hours expire and the money you paid for them is lost. In other words, you paid for nothing. It clear to me this was their intention all along — they didn’t really want to find me a 2nd VA to work off those hours. They just wanted to string me along until those hours expired, so they could keep the money and not have to do any work.

So, to review. Time Etc has a great onboarding experience — they’ll find you someone right away and start taking your money right away. But after that, once you realize you’re not getting half the time you’ve paid for, they just blow you off.

My advice: stay away from Time Etc. You’re better off finding somebody on Freelancer.com, where you only pay for the hours your person actually works.

[DEVELOPING] Possible Email DDOS attack exploiting MailPoet (WordPress plugin)

This is a developing issue happening right now, please check back on this page for any updates over the following days.

Last updated 2018-03-29

Starting around March 25, 2018, I started seeing an unusual amount of bounces from my email server. The emails bouncing were the double-opt-in “please confirm your subscription” messages automatically generated by the WordPress plugin MailPoet.  This happens from time to time if, for example, somebody accidentally mis-types their email address. But now, suddenly they were coming in repeatedly for the same handful of addresses, including ones like support@linode.com and abuse@linode.com. So out of curiosity I headed over the Linode Status page, and saw this:

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Fix “Sorry, This File Type Is Not Permitted For Security Reasons” Error in WordPress

So you’re trying to upload an otherwise harmless file into WordPress, and you keep getting a “Sorry, This File Type Is Not Permitted For Security Reasons” error.  Sure you could just upload the file via FTP, but it wouldn’t be attached to anything in the WP database.  Now what do you do?

There are probably many ways to solve this, but here is the approach that worked best for my particular use case.  I’ll share it here in case it helps someone else too.

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Review: Canadian Cloud Hosting (CACloud.com)

Programmer Bear is back online… no thanks to Canadian Cloud Hosting.

Trying new cloud providers has become something of a pastime for me, over the last couple years. In that spirit, last September I moved this very site (programmerbear.com) to a server hosted at Canadian Cloud Hosting (CA Cloud). In the end, I wasn’t very impressed. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to moving this site somewhere else, I feel free to write honestly about my experience at CA Cloud.

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Fuck you Yahoo Mail

I have an email address at Yahoo Mail that I’ve had for at least 10+ years, although nowadays I use it only very occasionally (maybe once every few months) as a “throwaway” address — you know, for those times you have to give out an email address and don’t want to get spammed later.

Well, I should say “had”, because Yahoo just randomly decided to fuck me over today.  Even though I know, without any doubt, my correct username and password, they just won’t let me login.  Isn’t that nice?

“Traveling somewhere new?” they ask.  No, I’m not.  I’m sitting at my desk, at home, the same place I’ve lived at for the last 3 years.

My only recourse, apparently, is for them to send a code to a mostly obscured email address, which I have no idea what is is.  d****@w****.com — what the hell is that?  Certainly whatever it is is some address I haven’t used for probably 10+ years and no longer have access to anyway.  I also tried the “forgot password” tool even though I do know the password — I thought maybe they’d let me reset it, but no.

Now before you go off lecturing me that it’s my “fault” (or some shit like that), for not “keeping my information up to date”… do you realize how many god damned websites I have logins to try and keep track of already?  Multiply that by 15+ years of this shit and… how is anyone supposed to keep everything “updated” all the time?

At least Gmail prompts me from time to time to make sure my recovery info is still correct.  If it’s not, I update it on the spot.  Well, it would have been nice if Yahoo had ever prompted me like that — before locking my account for no reason — which would have avoided this mess altogether.

The lessons from this bullshit are:

  1. Yes, security is important — but not at the expense of permanently locking out your legitimate users.
  2. You get what you pay for — which is why I’ve been progressively migrating away from free email services (like Yahoo) in favor of my own mailbox(es) running on my own servers, where my sysadmin (me) would never pull such a dick move.
  3. Yahoo, as a company, really is fucked.  How are they even still in business?  I’ve seen them fuck up so many things over the years (anybody remember Yahoo Auctions?), that really I shouldn’t be surprised by things like this anymore.  (Ironically, about a month ago I turned down a job opportunity at Yahoo, working on the — you guessed it — Yahoo Mail team.  Gee, I wonder why they are hiring?)

Need a throwaway email address?

By the way…  if you need a throwaway email address, check out the (appropriately named) site http://www.throwawaymail.com/.  I’m not affiliated with them in any way… I just found it while Googling for throwaway email accounts and it worked great for me, and it’s free.  Totally replaced my need for having Yahoo Mail anymore.

Saying “no” to Yahoo

Recently I was flattered to receive a message on LinkedIn from a recruiter at Yahoo.  It’s a nice ego-boost to think an iconic Silicon Valley company might be interested in little old me (even if they are a company on the brink of bankruptcy and/or takeover).

But I politely said “no”.

Current Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously banned remote working in 2013, and continues to support that ban.  I think that’s a pretty big mistake.  Sure, working remote isn’t for everybody.  But it works really well for me, and a lot of other people out there too.  A wiser policy would be to measure what employees actually produce — then you could decide on a case-by-case basis whether an employee could continue to work remotely (or at all, if they’re that lazy).

This was my reply, for whatever it’s worth:

Hi ****,

Thanks for your message.  It’s certainly flattering to know that a company like Yahoo is interested in me, and I’ve been mulling it over the last few days.  In the end, however, I don’t think it would be a good fit right now.  I’ve read about Marissa Mayer ending remote working at Yahoo, which is anathema to what I’ve come to believe with regards to the ideal workplace.  I’ve worked 100% remotely for the last 3 years and have been tremendously happier and more productive in that setting.  As tantalizing as the idea of adding Yahoo to my resume is, I don’t think I would be happy at all going back to an office job.  Should that policy at Yahoo ever change, please let me know.  Otherwise I wish you the best of luck with your search!

Best regards,

****

So much for that.

Why I work as hard as I do

I have a bit of a high-maintenance client.  He’s a nice guy and everything, but one of those people who’s a bit too A.D.D. for their own good… you know, always running a mile minute, talks in broken sentences across numerous emails and texts that I later have to piece together, requiring a fair amount of telepathy on my end to figure out what he really wants me to do.

Sometimes he asks me questions by email which cannot be answered in less than two sentences… and I just know that anything I write beyond 2-3 sentences will never be read by this guy.

Well, recently he asked me a question (I think because he’s angling to start some new tech start-up or app or something, and wants to test my interest), and I ended up putting an unexpected amount of time and passion into my reply.  I guess the question hit a chord in me.

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Review: Cloud A – Canadian Cloud Server Hosting

Recently I had to setup a web server for a client using Canadian cloud hosting provider Cloud A.  This was my first time using them, so for anyone else who may be considering Cloud A, I thought I’d share my experience with them so far. (Overall, it’s good…)

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How To Backup Your Entire Server or VPS While It’s Running Using Linux Hot Copy

I run a few cloud servers at Linode and Digital Ocean which host stuff for clients.  Although I have automated backups in place to backup my clients’ data, I always worry about some catastrophic situation where the entire server goes down and, God forbid, needs to be re-built from scratch.

While places like Digital Ocean advertise you can spin up a new Linux server in a matter of seconds — and no doubt you can — what they don’t tell you is how long it takes to configure that server for real-world use. Depending on how many packages, libraries, and other software you need to install, and all the configuration that goes along with it, you could be looking at 2, 3, or even several hours to rebuild a server.  To many of my clients that kind of downtime would be absolutely detrimental (and not too good for my business, either).

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