Bad week, Battle with Firefox, Battle with HMRC, Battle with Oral-B, Battle with Smashwords, Broken toothbrush, Broken treadmill, Broken washing machine, Creeping pixel-dancing disease, TV Licence renewal for over-75s
The last seven days have brought me up against online intransigence and product obsolescence. Here’s how.
First, a battle with Smashwords. I recently announced the publication of my new e-book Fingers to the Keyboard: 2015 – 2017 on the Smashwords e-book website. This is the eleventh e-book I’ve published on this website so you would think I am by now very familiar with the procedure. Not so. Fingers to the Keyboard: 2015 – 2016 caught me out. Briefly to explain: when you submit a source DOC file (Microsoft Word file) to Smashwords, it is first converted into the target MOBI and EPUB e-reader versions and then Smashwords carries out an automatic check for formatting errors and reports back. I couldn’t get past the MOBI conversion process. All I received was a “MOBI conversion failed” message with no indication as to why. I tried everything. I searched deep for a possible formatting error (the rules are quite strict) and found and fixed a few but nothing that would stop the conversion, or so I thought. Eventually, in desperation after three days of on-off searching and head scratching, I used an independent converter program called Calibre to create a MOBI equivalent and then I found it. I had copied and pasted comments from followers of my website into the book and there, lurking in a comment almost hidden from view was a smiley face:
Second, a battle with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), or so I thought. As the “Submit your tax return or pay a £100 fine” deadline was looming, I thought I’d better do the necessary and let HMRC know of my clandestine financial shenanigans for the tax year 2015-16. I’ve been submitting tax returns online ever since I retired in 2007 and usually it’s no problem. My tax affairs are very simple—a bit of interest on savings, a State pension, a couple of private pensions and that’s it—but damned if I could get into my online HMRC account. I entered the usual username and password and received a “We are processing your details. This may take up to 30 seconds” message. Ten minutes later, the little whizzy whirly wheel was still spinning and I closed the tab thinking it was an HMRC server problem. I waited a few hours and tried again. Same thing. I tried a third time 24 hours later; still the same message so I started an e-mail exchange with HMRC. In one of my e-mails, I attached a screen shot of the message. Here it is:
After I’d sent the screen shot, I sat and looked at it still open on my screen and, suddenly, in a head-smacking OMG moment, I spotted the problem. Can you see it? Look again at the screenshot. If you look closely, there above the GOV.UK line, you’ll see a message from Firefox asking my permission for HMRC to redirect me to another website page. Holy moly! That was it. Until recently, I have used Internet Explorer (IE) as my default web browser. IE doesn’t ask permission to redirect but I’ve switched to Firefox because IE crashes regularly these days. (I have a theory that Microsoft is trying to get everyone to use Edge and thus has built crash conditions into IE. I don’t like Edge; hence the switch to Firefox.) The minute I clicked on Allow (top right in the screen shot), all was sweetness and light and I finished up owing HMRC some unpaid tax of £119. That was a bummer.
Third, a battle with Oral-B electric toothbrush registration. I purchased a Braun Oral-B electric toothbrush and was advised in the paperwork to register the product with Oral-B in return for an extended 3-year warranty. I entered the online registration process, submitted the usual details—age, address, where and when bought, etc.—and pushed the Submit button. Surprise, surprise, back came a message informing me I “did not meet Oral-B’s eligibility requirements”.
What eligibility requirements? In what way do you have to be eligible to register the use of a toothbrush? I tried registering again; same feedback. I blasted off the following e-mail to Oral-B’s UK support centre.
I’ve just bought a new Oral-B Pro 3000 toothbrush and I would like to register it with you but for some reason I do not meet your product-registration eligibility requirements. Why? I bought the product from Amazon. I live in the UK (post code XXXX YYY, house number ZZZ). My birth date is 29 November 1941. The purchase date was 14 Jan 2017. I don’t do drugs; I don’t smoke; and I don’t go out with other women! In what way am I ineligible?
I received a nice apologetic reply saying that the technical team were updating the website and this had caused a disruption to registration services. I am now fully registered and have the 3-year warranty. It pays not to do drugs, smoke or be a philanderer!
Fourth, a battle with product obsolescence. In addition, in the same week our 5-year-old Life Fitness T3 home-based treadmill packed up. My wife and I use this machine almost every day when we are at home and its death has made us quite sad! I ran a full calibration test and a diagnostic message came up on the screen indicating a faulty motor controller. The cost of a replacement controller is £300 + labour. £300! I can buy a full-blown laptop that will control a Jumbo Jet for that sort of money.
The demise of the treadmill was closely followed a few hours later by the death of our 20-year-old Bosch washing machine with an immediate replacement cost of £391. (We’re a clean family and need a operational washing machine.) And then the drive spindle of my Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush went wonky which is why I had to buy the Oral-B mentioned above at a replacement cost of £40.
But, finally some good news, sort of. My UK TV Licence Renewal Notice arrived with a request for £145.50 payment on or before 17th February but as I am over 75 years old, I now qualify for a free licence for the rest of my life. Yippee! The only problem is, I rarely watch television these days. I can’t stand the endless cooking programs, police chase and house reclamation programs, talent shows, house purchase and renovation programs, quiz shows, reality television shows, soap operas, football matches, and much of the other dross that gets paraded as entertainment nowadays. In any case, our ancient Sony television is fast succumbing to a creeping pixel-dancing disease so I expect it too is on its way out. I may not replace it when it finally dies.
The £145.50 I’ve saved on the licence fee can go towards the purchase of some decent bottles of wine while I cogitate on the bad week that’s just gone by and hope this coming week will be better.