Open Projects Group?

I had a funny idea the other day. Inspired by Make Magazine, Systm, Prototype This! and other sources, I thought it might be fun to organize a group of fellow geeks and hackers to work on various projects. I got as far as coming up with the following, very rough plan for organizing such a group:

  • Projects could be hardware, software, mechanical, practical, artistic, whimsical, or whatever.
  • All members would meet quarterly to brainstorm new projects, collaborate on current projects and help move stalled projects forward.
  • Members would split into project groups revolving around active projects. Each project group would determine how frequently they meet to progress their project.
  • There would be an annual project fair for presenting completed projects. This would be the deadline for completing projects. Projects presented at this event would be considered closed.

I have a few project ideas on which I’ve never acted. It would be nice to get a group together to help motivate me to take action on these ideas and provide some peer pressure to keep me focused on moving them forward. An Open Projects Group would provide this, I think.

Trouble is, I’ve got to find the motivation to move this idea forward. . .

PayPal/eBay troubles

Awhile back, I sold and purchased a few items via eBay and PayPal. OK, a long while back — before they merged, in fact. So I’ve had accounts on both systems for a long time which I have rarely used since their creation. To the point where I had almost forgotten I had them, really.

Recently I received a payment to my PayPal account from a random user. WTF? Before I could take any action, I also started getting direct e-mail messages from the buyer and seller accusing me of being a criminal. I didn’t want to deal with this, and I didn’t want to become a victim of fraud myself, so I dusted off my PayPal login to make everything right.

But PayPal wouldn’t let me make it right. Because the buyer had filed a claim against me I was unable to refund their money. Again, WTF? I tried to cancel my account. Again, because of the unresolved dispute, I was unable to do that. Huh? Thank You PayPal.

Unable to make it right myself, I decided to let the dispute run its course so I could then cancel the account. Wrong choice. I started to get additional payments from other buyers. Fortunately, I kept on top of the new payments and was able to cancel them immediately.

The seller had apparently given my e-mail address in several of their eBay auctions, so the buyers were unintentionally sending me their money. This could have been an honest mistake on the seller’s part, as our e-mail addresses are very close in spelling. With my refunds, I was able to include a note. I stated that the buyers should contact the seller immediately because of the incorrect e-mail address. That seemed to put an end to the harassing e-mail messages accusing me of criminal activity.

I was not thrilled about the prospect of checking this account multiple times a day until the dispute was resolved so I could cancel any new transactions, hoping I did not receive any more disputes in the interim. My only recourse was to call PayPal directly and request they make it right. That should be easy, right?

I called PayPal support and got through to a live person by hitting zero through the menus because none of the options really fit my situation. After explaining the details of my predicament, I was told that I would have to wait for the dispute to end before I could log back in to the Web site to cancel my account. I put my foot down. I demanded that the account be canceled immediately and that all money be returned immediately. I explained that I wanted to avoid the very likely situation where I continued to receive payments and disputes to the point that I would never be able to cancel the account myself. That’s why I was calling, so I wanted resolution now.

After being placed on hold for about 2-3 minutes, I was then told that the account had a $10 positive balance and it would take up to 180 days for me to receive my check. I advised them I did not care about the $10, just please cancel my account and make sure I receive no more payments. I explained that I did not want to log in to this account again. I wanted it canceled, disabled and defunct NOW. I was told this would be done within the next hour.

The very next day, yet another rogue payment showed up on my PayPal account. Yeah, they did not cancel my account after the phone call despite my explicit request and their assurance that this would happen. It was still in the same state as it was prior to my calling, except that the dispute had been resolved. That, at least, allowed me to log in, cancel the last rogue payment, then start the cancellation process. Oh yes, there was a process.

Since I still had that $10 positive balance, and I did not have payment information on file (thank goodness, lest the account get compromised), I had to give them a valid CC number or bank account in order to close the account. I understand they wanted to make sure to identify me as the owner of the account, but for $10? There should have been an option to disable the account and forfeit the balance, but there wasn’t.

To make sure I minimized my risk, I used my credit card’s online account number generator to generate a one-time account number to give PayPal so I could cancel my account. I put a dollar limit on that account number of $10, and an expiration of 2 months. I was then, finally, able to cancel my account. Whew.

The moral of this little tale? If you have any accounts on systems which take or make payments and you have let those accounts languish, stop reading this entry now and go cancel them. I mean it. I’ll wait for you to get back. Do it right now.

There, are you done? Good. Unless you plan on actively using these services, it is a good idea to not sign up for them in the first place. I thought, at the time, I was going to become a small-time eBay seller. I had various electronic items I was going to sell and I did sell a few things at first. After a time, however, I found it was more trouble than it was worth for me. My only mistake was keeping these accounts around “just in case” I needed them in the future.

Coda: a couple of days after canceling my PayPal account, I received an e-mail stating that someone was trying to send me a payment. It stated I should sign up for a PayPal account so I could receive it. No Thank You PayPal. I’ll pass.