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I’m just going to be blunt: do yourself a huge favor and avoid Mediatemple’s hosting services at all costs.

When I first switched over to MT around seven years ago, I had nothing but praise for their customer support, speeds, and pricing. I even had written a glowing review on this very blog stating how happy I was that I had made the transition. One of their employees even found the blog and thanked me for writing such kind words about them. Then GoDaddy bought them out because (according to one of the MT’s employees) they were doing things “right” and GoDaddy wanted to see how their internal operations went. Supposedly, GoDaddy wouldn’t interfere with Mediatemple.

Over the years, I noticed they continued to raise their prices and  attempted to sell unsuspecting customers on new offerings. For example, their Grid Service was notoriously slow – a simple Google search for “Mediatemple Grid Slow” will pull up plenty of links to keep you entertained for hours, if not days. Instead of fixing the core issues underlying their Grid Service in relations to PHP/MySQL, they would rather redirect you to some of their help articles which more or less “tells” you that the “PROBLEM IS YOU,” and “NOT Mediatemple.” And that’s the big problem with their response. They are not owning up to poor performance issues on the Grid Service especially regarding WordPress Hosting. I’ve had numerous blogs hosted by WP over the years (I even set up my own servers), and none have had the poor performance and speed issues that they have. After numerous complaints going back several years ago, MT magically came up with a “new” service that seemed too coincidentally timed called “MediaTemple’s Managed WordPress Hosting” that they want to charge you more money for, and you’ll no longer have unlimited domains that can be hosted there.

To be somewhat fair, webhosts everywhere have been spending a lot of time these past 10 years troubleshooting poor WordPress performance and issues. Most of the time it is user-related and nothing to do with the web hosts. However, when you’ve been other hosts, have been coding websites, and creating blogs for over 15 years – I think after a certain point they ought to stop denying the underlying issues and take a closer look as to why WP has so many speed issues on the Grid.

Their level of customer support in my opinion has also decreased – longer wait times, shorter replies, tech that’s less willing to go the extra mile to answer your questions, and a lack of general answers. Just the past two days, I’ve finally found the time to complain to their customer support that I’ve been receiving hundreds of spam every day. The spam coming through their servers have risen drastically. I maybe used to get a few dozen whereas now it’s not uncommon to receive 500 in a single day. Keep in mind, they have their own internal (and outdated I may add) spam filtering system that they seem so proud of  and refuse to give up for whatever reason. They told me to raise my “spam score” to a higher level such as “4” – the big issue is that I’ve done that in the past and it’s completely prevented numerous valid emails from getting through (false positives.) I’ve told them this was an unacceptable answer and that the fix seems to be pointing on their end. Again, numerous MT customers have complained about the increasing amount of spam they seem to be getting bombarded with. A search for “Mediatemple Grid Spam” will show you what I’m talking about.

Last but not least, the past winter I was stuck shoveling out record-breaking snow and a little too busy to be briefly monitoring my Grid CPUs (they charge overages if bandwidth/CPU cycles get too high.) Out of the blue, I get hit with this $1,000 bill from them. Keep in mind, my hosting was at one point around $20/month. So you can imagine my utter terror and shock when I received this bill. No real warning aside from them “informing” me that it was the customer’s responsibility to monitor the overages. The fact that they can create such an elaborate system, yet don’t bother writing a script that triggers and emails the users that their Grid Service is getting hammered/taxed within only a matter of a few hours is beyond me. In fact, I argued that it was an intentional oversight on their part. After all, they stand to make loads of money on people not paying attention. Long gone are the days of old when they actually used to look out for you. I would say that someone in upper management realizes that this is a subtle strategy to shake the piggy bank for all that it’s worth, but perhaps they went a little too far in this instance.

In the end, I complained to the Attorney General in California and explained the situation. Mediatemple actually went ahead and dropped the charges  stating that they were doing this as a “one time courtesy that they almost never do.” You can make what you want out of it – I personally think it’s shady gouging practices.

I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Mediatemple has seen a mass exodus of employees after their acquisition. People that really knew how to run the show and were probably worth their weight in gold were let go or quit. Most likely new upper management stepped in and called the wrong shots. Others got greedy. I’ve seen it happen time and time again and it’s an unsustainable practice. Customer service, fair prices, and listening to what their customers wanted or needed is what made them great and why I had recommended them a long time ago. Now I can no longer say anything positive about their services.

When I have time, I’ll have to move my sites over to a new website hosting company. I don’t know who that is going to be right now, but I’ll definitely let everyone know when I get there. If anyone has any suggestions for a better yet still inexpensive host (I really don’t feel like paying for a dedicated server…), I’d be more than happy to hear about your experiences.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I have to warn those that are going to close a Citizens Bank Business account of a certain hidden malpractice that they employ. I’ve been a long-term customer with them and at first, absolutely loved their services and customer support.
Over time however, I noticed they had started to insert monthly fees and additional charges (.35 cents per debit transaction for example which added up to over $200 one year.) They didn’t even have a mobile depositing app for the longest time and when they finally did, it was quite buggy and had deposit limits set in place. Plus as a technology buff, it was a bit disappointing that they didn’t support Apple Pay. This was just a few items that started to irk me, but it was never enough to get me to switch.

I had recently moved and got married so we were in the process of consolidating and moving accounts. I decided to go with DCU (Digital Federal Credit Union) due to the positive reviews from the public as well as high praise from Consumer Reports. I was sick and tired of being increasingly nickle and dimed by Citizens. As you may know, it takes time to transfer all of your billing and accounts from bank to bank. During the transfer of finances, I was hit with a few shocking, automatic withdraws for which I take the blame for. I should have listened to my wife initially and had closed the account altogether a month ago and this shouldn’t have been a problem. But after finally “closing” the account with them today in person (since I had a balance, they wouldn’t allow me to do it over the phone), a manager informed me that “if there’s any automatic withdraws over the next seven days, we will automatically reopen your account.”

Let me repeat what she said:

“If there’s any automatic withdraws over the next seven days, we will automatically reopen your account.”

So let me get this straight: I totally close an account. Done. Finished. Finito. They have the “right” to reopen it???
I thought I was hearing things. Because typically, you’d think that if you closed an account, most banks would simply inform whatever automatic withdraws that happen that there is no account associated.
Then they would proceed to charge you $39 for each overdraft although you had closed out the account and they reopened it.

It just doesn’t seem fair – in fact, it seems a highly illegal practice.

I asked the manager if she could point me to where it said they could do this. I asked if it was a State or Federal law, and if not, where in my contracts does it specifically state this. I received no answer but she insisted that this is their practice.

After I returned to the office, I didn’t want to take any further chances so I spent time trying to reorganize some of my automatic debits instead of having to do my work. I also contacted DCU representative and upon hearing my story said, “what?!? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. We just close an account when someone cancels.” After that, I  called up Citizens Bank Business department simply because I thought this couldn’t be true. Another manager from Citizen’s reiterated what she said.

I asked again, “where in the documentation, State, Federal, or contractually does it say you can automatically reopen an account after I have closed it?”

The manager replied that it’s “just part of our system. I have no control over that. It takes up to 60 days to purge your account.”

I insisted that my account be stricken/purged right away – to remove all of my account information to which she said that they couldn’t as it was beyond their control.

I asked to speak with her supervisor and she told me that “the supervisor would take the same steps and say the same thing.” She then offered to reach out to the supervisor in order to not wait, and then stated that it would be another five days before they could get back to me. The last thing she mentioned before getting off the phone was that she was going to try to contact a different department to see what they could do. But let’s just say that I’m not holding my breath.

So now, I really have nothing positive to say about Citizens Bank. They kicked me (and others I’m certain) on the way out and they will literally steal from you.

My recommendation for those shopping around for business banking is to simply avoid them at all costs unless they admit and decide to fix their corrupt practices.

In today’s age, you’re probably better off with an online credit union instead…

***Update: Citizens Bank called today to inform me that they pushed through my request to have my account information fully purged. When I asked about additional charges that may come through, they said that it would not cause a reopening and overdraft. I also asked if their standard procedure was applicable towards Citizens Personal accounts and they said that their procedure of “reopening accounts” was across all of their products. They provided me with a reference number and apologized, stating that they would take notice of my complaint and pass it along for suggestions.

Overall, I’m thankful that Citizens did this for me but I can’t help but think of all the thousands of accounts they have done this to and how much money they make (I wouldn’t even use the word “skim” as it’s not a small amount) from customers that are closing their accounts with them. It’s not only overdrafts, but they also put additional charges on their overdrafts as well. Then they will also make additional money off of the interests. To think that they were somehow “able” to push the information purge through the very next day shows that they can circumvent their automated system and that their current methodology is completely intentional. It’s sleazy. Shame on their overpaid executives which are stealing from the people. The fact is, I shouldn’t have had to deal with this in the first place. If I can save someone else some time and headache or better yet lead to investigations for malpractice, then I’d consider this post well worth it.***

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

*Update: we discontinued our newsletters with Constant Contact. This is an archived post.*

LunarStudio’s summer newsletter went out today to all of our clients and colleagues. It details the architectural rendering projects we have been working on for the past year. Several highlights include our work with Marketing Drive (now called Match Marketing) on the CVS Caremark iPad application as well as an airport terminal proposal in Zambia for AAE Systems, Inc. and Gensler.

If you have a moment, please take a look!



3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

When I first started off marketing my architectural renderings through LunarStudio, I was so eager to obtain that first job that I made two major mistakes:

  1. Creating a whole series of renderings and animations for a very inexpensive price. It was a $12,000 job that probably should have been more like $40,000-$50,000. This was for a major developer for a large-scale, $50 million plus project.
  2. Not putting in a clause concerning changes.

Needless to say, the client was extremely happy with my Red Carpet service, but the owner of the development company probably came to the conclusion that the other 3D firms he was using in the past were ripping him off. My rates probably ended up creating a slight disservice to the industry as a whole. I realized that I took a few jobs away from the big guys. I just didn’t realize the amount of work that would be involved. I was so excited to have landed my first job through the door that I had put my blinders on. At the time, I thought $12,000 was a ton of money. The mere thought that I had negotiated this “huge” deal put me on Cloud Nine. In retrospect, it probably all worked out for the best in the long run. At least I had some great portfolio pieces for an actual project that I could call my own. Plus, the fees that I negotiated ended up paying my rent and bills for a few months.

It was a lot of work initially, but with the agreement and obligation came an expected avalanche of changes. I ended up spending three months total on this project – two of which were dedicated to revisions. There were a lot of sleepless night compounded with stress. Since I was so thrilled to have had the opportunity, I pretty much made any and all of the changes that they had requested. By the end of the second month, my finances were nearly evaporated and I was feeling burnt out. Not having any clauses regarding changes and rates ended up nearly tripling the amount of work that I needed to do. And as most people know, time means money.

I think that not having these change clauses and terms in place is a very common mistake for artists starting out. Also, getting overly excited about the first few jobs and working for rock-bottom prices is another. There is a time and place for negotiating low rates, but it should be the exception and not the rule. I’m also not saying to carve someone either – I’m just simply pointing out that fellow artists need to value their time and efforts and not be undersold.

Fast forward to this year. A relative the other day asked if I could take a look at his logo. The woman he originally hired for $10 to create his logo a few years back completely disappeared, and he was stuck with a low-resolution .jpg that needed to be blown up. I’m sure that the relative thought it might take me a few minutes to resolve his issue but this wasn’t the case. What he didn’t see is that I spent three hours trying to figure out the bizarre fonts the original designer had chosen to use. I also spent another hour trying to locate the globe clip-art the she had also used as part of the logo. It would take me about another half hour to reassemble all of these components back together again – adding outlines, shadows, scaling, etc. I called my relative back, told him my story, and he replied, “oh it’s not that big of a deal – I didn’t care if the font matched.” I replied, “well, I don’t take chances. Every time I cut corners, it usually turns around and bites me. Some clients do care about that sort of thing. How was I supposed to know?”

Aside from things turning out to be more complicated than expected, there’s the time element. I think a lot of people figure, “well, you must enjoy being an artist so you’d be happy to do this.” Overall, that’s true, but there’s only so long that any human wants to sit in front of a computer. In my earlier days, I was working seven days a week times 15 hour days. Some of that was studying and developing techniques and other parts involved actual work. With those kind of hours, that’s not much of a personal life. Sometimes when I’ve finished up a project, I just want to move on to something else and that’s where changes often will drag you back in. Changes are expected to some degree but requests can quickly spiral out of control. At that point, something seemingly simple can take an extra day and take away time spent with family, kids, or just going out for a leisurely stroll. Combine that with possibly not getting paid for that extra time, and it can lead to some bitterness or feeling that one is being taken advantage of.

Last but not least, it is a lot more painful to have to go through multiple rounds versus just having one large consolidated round in the beginning. Realistically-speaking, it’s not always possible. However, the benefit is that it’s much easier to focus on one project versus having to juggle between multiple ones. I find that it’s actually more efficient to make changes all at once. You’re saving on time, it’s less items to keep track of, and plus it doesn’t interfere with other projects and schedules.

My main point is that most people don’t understand how much work is involved when it comes to design, let alone changes. Many people think of it as “just a few clicks of the mouse.” There are some seemingly difficult changes which turns out to be easy, and other seemingly easy ones which turns out to be a royal pain. Now, there’s a big problem when we let people get away with assuming “that it’s easy.” It ends up usually creating unnecessary grief. So it often resolves itself in either the artist or the client getting upset. This leaves you with two options:

  1. Suck it up and deal.
  2. Try to explain what’s involved.
  3. Have a contract with a change rate clause that’s mentioned in the beginning.

The first option is to deal with it. There’s times where it’s the only option. In particular if money is tight or if you think that very last round of modifications will send a project out the door. The danger is that you may be setting a future precedent with that particular client but on the other hand you might be happy that you never hear from them again.

The second option above involves trying to explain what’s involved. It’s an attempt to try to explain why something might take several extra hours or even days. I find that a lot of people are pretty busy or impatient. Other times they’re bouncing the images up to the higher-ups, and these are the people putting in the requests without amending their budgets. The main problem here is that it’s often difficult to get someone’s attention when explaining all of things that need to be done. So, any explanation has to be short and consolidated unless you find that the client is very receptive to listening. I end up trying to keep my emails brief and to the point while remaining courteous. It can be a bit of a juggling act at times.

These days, I always have a clause in my contracts which states that I’ll provide one round of minor changes. It’s mostly an attempt to get changes to be consolidated and efficient. These changes are not to be confused with any of our mistakes which we take care of out of obligation. I usually will provide more than that one round of changes without charging additional if I have the time, the changes seem minor, the client is pleasant to work with, and/or the overall pay is fair. However, I’ve had a few instances over the years in which someone tries to take advantage of your services and is demanding of absolute perfection at rock-bottom prices. At that point, I have little choice other than to write a friendly email stating that “X amount of changes were done out of courtesy but at this point, I need to start charging as per contract for all additional requests.” I might add that it’s interfering with other scheduling or some other points. In a few extreme cases, I’ve had to go line by line on dozens of change requests and document the amount of extra time spent.

I think the main fear some artists face is that if they present these change clauses or speak up, that they will be potentially losing a future client. First, I think a contract looks more professional. Secondly, if a client is running excess changes, I think we need to ask ourselves if that’s someone we want to work with in the future anyways.

If I had to make a suggestion or recommendation from all of my years of experience as an artist, it would be the bottom two options listed above. Make sure to have a pretty solid contract before starting on any project as it can help alleviate excess requests. I’m not saying that a person or a company absolutely has to stick by these “rules” but it might save some trouble down the road. Last but not least, it sets an industry standard in which we all can benefit from.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I first brought up outsourcing (or sometimes referred to as “offshoring”) many years ago, long before President Obama was elected to his first time. Architectural renderers, 3D artists, architects, engineers, manufacturers and software developers were getting bombarded by spam originating from other countries which offered to perform similar services at much lower costs. Unless you were on the front line of this wave of spam, you might have been oblivious as to how frequent companies and people such as myself were being approached with these lower-cost services and opportunities. For many corporations, outsourcing their production costs to other countries such as China and India made great financial sense to the higher-ups and CEOs – they could cut out American workers and try to get a similar product at only pennies on the US dollar. These same companies would be able to provide inexpensive goods to the public which made for great short-term profitability. It’s only fitting that just prior to the recent re-election of President Obama, that job outsourcing became one of the main hot-topic attacks the Obama camp levied against Mitt Romney. Mitt after all was an executive at Bain Capital – a company known to “trim the proverbial fat” in corporations in order to make them highly profitable, often at times through outsourcing.

Politics aside, outsourcing has taken a huge toll on myself and my company LunarStudio, fellow artists, and others within related fields. Many of us have been forced to lower our prices in this economic recession in order to just stay afloat. I have had numerous clients call up and say to me, “well, I can get this architectural rendering done in China for $500.” Others have said, “having the best quality isn’t as important as simply communicating the basic idea.” In other words, they don’t care about the quality of the end product as long as they can save a few hundred dollars. Yet still, I’ve had numerous others come back and say, “I had someone create renderings for cheap in China, but it’s not worth all the aggravation and back and forth – it ends up being cheaper for me to hire someone locally.”

Initially, I based a lot of my conclusions based upon my thoughts and what others had said, but hadn’t actually put outsourcing to the test for myself. The thought was that I could try having another company or individual model a scene overseas, then I could take the model, implement changes, light, and texture the scenes myself. In many ways, it would be similar to having someone in-house perform the modeling grunt work (and in case one has a problem with this concept, you might be surprised to know that Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and authors such as Alexander Dumas had people doing their more menial tasks as well.) In other cases, I’ve had larger architectural firms and developers provide me with models but I always ended up putting together the finishing touches. So I waited for an opportune moment, time-frame, budget, and quality to present itself from another country. Eventually, it came.

The first time I outsourced the modeling portion, it was to another person was in Mumbai. The quality was pretty good overall. The language barrier is almost non-existent depending on the person you are working with. The turn-around times are satisfactory – it’s definitely a lot faster and more accurate to have someone model your scene locally but at slightly higher costs. To be fair, I think accuracy really depends on who you are working with in this situation. The more experience (and motivation) someone has, the faster the process will go. However, the prices are much higher than China. In cities such as Mumbai, I’ve been told fees in the range of $10-$15/hour is not unreasonable. On the other hand, it will come to less than double if a modeling service is performed here in the United States, especially factoring in time zone differences. As for the final images themselves, I have yet to find another firm in India that meets my standards of image quality, so I’ve always ended up working on the final images myself. The savings in this country are definitely not where it was five or even ten years ago. The wage gap for skilled professionals is getting closer.

Another time, I tried outsourcing the modeling process to China. Plans were sent to one of the biggest architectural rendering firms (and spammers) with a request for pricing. The price was half of what people in India were charging and they were willing to put in more effort on complicated plans. However, I discovered that this came at a huge cost of time. Modeling took much longer, and even further out depending on their current scheduling. On top of this, each time they made a mistake or oversight (for which there was plenty), I would sometimes spend hours of my own time marking up images to sending them back then I’d have to wait overnight due to the timezone differences. In some cases, they still got those changes wrong so I would have to wait an additional evening for things to get back to me. Once, the same issue transpired over the course of five different days for a single problem. On one occasion, they made changes but insisted on charging me extra after they had already made them. I told them that it was only fair to have approached me with additional costs beforehand, but I ended up paying because it was nominal in the larger scheme of things, plus I had an obligation to my client to fulfill. Last but not least, they don’t work weekends which is a foreign concept to myself and other artists I’ve talked with here in the United States. It’s a luxury that we often don’t have.

My conclusions after several experiences of outsourcing follows:

I don’t think it’s worth outsourcing to India as the cost-savings are not that significant. The only time I have found that it’s worth it is if I have an over-abundance of work and my time is best spent on less menial tasks. I have developed a relationship with some of these subcontractors, so I probably get a more timely and higher-quality results than most people who outsource occasionally. Plus I know what I am getting because I’m familiar with the process myself. Not having a huge language barrier is very nice compared to the alternative. From an economic standpoint, I’d still much rather do the modeling work here myself or hire somebody else in the US to perform these tasks. It’s not that much of a difference financially when factoring in their extended time. If you factor them in for finishing the finals, the price is almost comparative (depending on the company or individual) and quality can vary drastically.

As for China, unless you have a large project that’s going to go through dozens of revisions and you have weeks to months to spare, a project can turn into a nightmare. I’m very fortunate that I know the process myself and understand how much work is involved, so subcontractors are often unable to “pull the proverbial wool” over my eyes without me catching it. Even so, the wait can be unbearable. I get a lot of clients that call up with extremely short deadlines of a week or so. Using a Chinese firm on a short deadline would not be practical unless you’re satisfied with few changes and lower quality. On the other hand, if you have weeks or even months to spare, then it might be somewhat cost-effective. The people I hired did seem to have a lot of patience when it came to making changes. However, one needs to keep in mind that the person delegating the renderings ends up having to micromanage all of the communications and hours of markups, so it ends up costing time and wages locally. Last but not least, the prices in China are steadily increasing. At one point, I saw animations priced out at $50/second but recently I’ve seen offerings for $150/second. I only think this is going to increase as their economy grows (or they’re called out on currency manipulation), at which point it doesn’t even make it worthwhile.

I’m not being racist by any means – I’m half Asian myself but grew up here. I’m just merely stating what my own personal experience has been. It seems completely in-line with the other stories I’ve heard.

And to be completely fair, I’ve also had negative experiences with subcontractors here in the US as well. I’ve had clients banging on my door and a subcontractor who “disappeared” in the middle of it. He was also significantly late to implement changes. The model itself took months to complete (in part due to the client consistently making changes) and the final renderings ended up being mediocre. During one conversation, the subcontractor had a slip-of-the-tongue and told me that the job I provided him was “lower priority.” I sort of understand where he was coming from, but I would never dare say something like that to any of my clients. Regardless of the difference in job prices and timing, if I accept a job, I’m going to try to put my best foot forward for every job equally otherwise I don’t accept it. Needless to say, he never received any additional work from me.

In all, I think it’s best to try to keep work in the architectural rendering field as well as other similar professions here in the United States. There’s times where outsourcing is the only practical solution given a very tight budget and if they have a long time-frame to work with (which is a rarity in of itself.) I feel that if you want something done right, you often need to do it yourself. And that’s pretty much where I’m at these days.