Friday 30 November 2018

Barclays Merchant Services charges

BMS changed their charging system a few months ago. When I got the first bill from their new system, it was immediately obvious to me, by comparing it with my previous bill, that it was very wrong.

For example, in the past, I've been paying them about £50 per month in VAT charges, and now, suddenly, it was £5.

So I phoned them, and told them about that, and the other two obvious errors.

It took them about three months, and then they agreed with me about the VAT, and sent me a humungous refund on that (going back for years), which (of course) went straght to HMRC. But also a "sorry about that" compensation payment, plus "lost interest", which was nice to have.


But they didn't do anything about the other two issues.

Today, I got two letters from them.

One of them was to tell me that "due to a technical issue" they forgot to biill me £20 management fee per month. They aren't going to charge me for the back payments.

Win! Win!!

The other letter was to tell me that they've been charging me 1% for transactions, plus £0.10 per transaction, and it should have only been the 1%. So they are going to refund me a four figure sum for this cockup.

Win! Win!! Win!!!

I'm not going to complain about this, or make any suggestions to them about it, but I will tell you, confidentially, and hoping that you dno't mention it to them, make a modest proposal.

Test your software before you inflict it on your customers. Do a trial billing run, compare the amounts with what you charged last month, and when you notice that an item is twice as big as it was last month, try to work out why.

And some advice for their customers. I feel sure that I'm not the only one who has had the VAT cockup, but if you're also affected, then you should complain, and ask for compensation and lost interest. And as a general rule - compare your bill for the month with last month. Because they obviously don't.

Changing my epdg Barclaycard password

This has been fraught for a long time. I wasn't able to do it with Firefox or Chrome, but it used to let me do it with Opera. I have no idea why. But yesterday, when I went to use it, it told me that my current password will expire in three days, would I like to change it?

Yes, I would, I don't like leaving things until it's too late.

So I clicked on the link. It wanted my old password, and my new password twice, and then I clicked on Submit. Nothing happened. And the password hadn't changed. I tried it with Firefox, then with Chrome. No joy. Then I tried it on another computer. Still no luck.

So I phoned for tech support  0333 202 7930. The nice lady suggested that I email to with a screen shot. So I did that.

I got a reply very quickly. They suggested that I type the new password instead of copy-pasting it. Why did I copy-paste it? Because their password has to be at least one capital letter, at least one digit, at least one special character and at least one lowercase. And at least 12 characters long. And changed every month. Do they seriously think that I'll be able to remember that? So of course I use a password manager. They also made another suggestion, but that didn't help.

So I tried typing this long and tedious password instead of copy-pasting. And it almost worked! This time, their page acknowledged that the password was strong (it hadn't said anything about it before) and that the second time I typed the new password, it was the same as the first. Result! But when I clicked on Submit, again it didn't change the password.

So I did another tech support call.

This time she suggested that I ask for a temporary password. The problem with that, I thought, will be that this temporary password gives me one login. So if I try to change the password and it still won't change, that's it, and I'm left with requesting a temporary password each time I want to use their system.

Still.  I might as well try it, my existing password will be nullified soon anyway. So I did.

And it let me change my password.

Because the password change page after a temporary password, is different from the normal password change page.

So what in future? Well, if I pretend that I've lost my password, then it'll email me a new temporary pssword, and I'll be able to change it from there.

What a performance! 

And the cream of the joke? Their idiotic system is what forces everyone to use a password manager, which for many people will be "write it on a post-it note" which is far less secure than just have a fairly simple password. And if you want it to be secure?


That's what Barclays Banking online uses, with a little calculator-like gizmo that gives me a new code each time. And even HMRC use 2FA, via my mobile phone.


Sunday 25 November 2018

Alley cat

A long long time ago, I acquired a copy of a game called "Alley Cat". It was a fairly simple game, running under Dos. But when I showed it to my daughters, who were at that time aged several, they loved it, and the beep-beep tune of Alley Cat could be heard very frequently.

Something made me think of it today, and I used Google, And to no great surprise, it's available now. You can run it via your browser.

So, knowing that they read my blog occasionally, I thought I'd mention it here.

Whither Brexit?

Now that the Mogg Coup (it isn't a coup, don't call it a coup) has failed, May will be PM for the foreseeable future. So it's the May Plan for Brexit. Or not.

So, maybe the EU will accept it (except, what about Gibraltar? What about Northern Ireland?) or maybe we'll continue to ask for something they can't accept. But will parliament accept it?

It looks to me like parliament is not going to accept the May Plan. There doesn't seem to be enough votes for it. If that happens, then what?

That leave two possibilities. Leave without a deal ("Crash out") or ask to change our minds ("Remain").

Who decides?

What if we then take a vote in parliament for "Crash out" and that's rejected?

Oh no! A "people's vote", which is what we seem to be calling a "referendum" theese days, because "referendum" is a four syllable latinate word, where's "people's vote" is Anglo-saxon.
But what else is there, at that point? Except that it'll probably be too late to organise, because it'll take a long time to squabble over whether there shoulf be three choices (May, Crash, Remain) or two (Crash, Remain). And I can't see how May could be a possibility because, in that scenario, it's already been rejected by parliament.

So we vote between Crash out and Remain. And now that we've seen how well our government has handled Brexit, why would we think they could handle Crash out?

And after we vote Remain, the EU says "Yes, but not with the favourable terms that Thatcher got for you"

Don't look at me. I voted Remain in 2016, 2 1/2 years ago.

Thursday 22 November 2018

But Brexit aside ...

Everyone is focussed on Brexit. Something will happen on March 29. No-one knows what it will be. But there's something else happening.

On March 31, 2019, MTD happens. MTD is "Making Tax Digital". It means that a million unsuspecting small businesses, will suddenly find that they way they've submitted their VAT returns (and maybe others?) will suddenly not work.

Here's how it works now.

I calculate (actually, the computer calculates) how many sales I've made in each of the 28 EU countries. I apply the 28 different VAT rates to that, and that's how much tax I owe. I feed this in to a government (HMRC) web site (VAT MOSS), it adds up the total, and that's what I pay ... or rather, that's part one. I pay one lump to the VAT MOSS, and they pay from that to the 27 EU countries.

Then I work out how much I've spent in purchases and how much VAT I can reclaim on those purchases. Then I feed those numbers into a different HMRC web site, and it works out how much VAT I pay to HMRC (or what refund I get). How come a refund? Because *all* my purchases are UK, but only a moderate percentage of my sales are UK.

On March 31, 2019, all that changes.

What will it change to? I don't know. Currently, I don't pay any VAT on sales in the USA, because the USA isn't EU. So will I pay VAT on sales to Germany when the UK leaves the EU? I don't know. I phoned HMRC to ask them, and they didn't know either, and thought it was all quite amusing.

But let's focus on the UK VAT, and the form I fill in for that. My understanding is that this form will no longer be available, and I'll have to submit the same information (or is it the same?) electronically (meaning, I somehow ship them a file). What's the format of that file? I don't know. It is SOAP? JSON? XML? I don't know.

And I actually know that this is going to happen. The vast majority of small businesses don't know. No-one told them, just as no-one told us about the whole VAT MOSS system in December 2015.

There's a story that there will be an excel spreadsheet add-on to do this.  That seems to be just a rumour.

There's another rumour that there will be a free HMRC-supplied software to do this.

There's a rumour that, come the end of March 2019, we will be in such a state of utter omnishambles, that no-one will know that to do, and if HMRC suddenly disable the web page where we've been giving our VAT data, a lot of businesses will no longer have a way to report their VAT. And then what?

But all anyone can see is Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. HEY!!! HMRC!!!!! How am I going to report my VAT liability to you?

Tuesday 20 November 2018

TalkTalk oops

Every three months, TalkTalk bills me a couple of thousand pounds for my ethernet link. This month they billed me. And then they billed me again.

We noticed this on the bank statement, so we called them. We got the usual runaround "not my department, try elsewhere" but eventaully, they admitted that yes, they double charged us. A "computer error", apparently.

"Why didn't you tell us you double charged?"
"We've done a refund."
"So you knew you'd double charged. Why didn't you tell us?"
"And why didn't you tell us you'd done a refund?"
"How many other people have you done this to?"
"Do you know what happens when you take a couple of thousand pounds out of the bank account of a small business that they weren't expecting to be taken?"

So I've asked them what they plan to do about compensation.

Monday 19 November 2018

Electric shaver

My fuzzy ears and whiskers take me too much time to shave.

I've been using a rather cheap (£10) shaver, from China. I think the problem with it, is that it gets blunt very quickly, and a blunt shaver makes shaving take a long time.

So, for my birthday this year, I asked for a really good shaver.

I did the research, and decided that what I wanted was German Engineering - a Braun. So I got a series 9.

There seems to be a zillion versions of the series 9, but I think they all have the same shaver head, and that's got to be what matters. So I got one that was reasonably priced. It was the Braun 9 9240s, and cost £120 (list price apparently £300, but I don't believe that).

And it is a seriously good shaver. Whereas before I needed a few dozen passes to mow the beard, now it chomps it up in a single pass.

The s series doesn't come with a head cleaner, but I thought, how hard can that be? And indeed, head cleaning is easy.

The head, I'm told, lasts 12 to 18 months, and a replacement head is about £60. So that's on my list for next year's birthday!

Update on the accident

Now it's 6 weeks from the accident. The huge bruise has faded, and the ribs feel good. I can sleep on my right side now. I'm off all the medications except the ones I was on before the accident (Warfarin for blood, Statin for chloesterol and eyedrops for preventing glaucoma). But my blood INR is still unsettled, so I'm taking slightly less Warfarin.

I took a big buch of flowers to the first aider who stopped and helped me until the ambulance arrived (she was very pleased), and I wrote a detailed letter to the woman who caused the accident, suggesting that she make a substantial donation to the NHS (she agreed).

So will I get back on the bike? I want to, but I'm going to have to fight with ladysolly about that.

But I Jeremy Corbyn can bike around London, surely I can bike around Amersham?

After the accident

As I write this, it's a week after the accident. So here's what happened.

On Monday 8th October, I fell. I was on my bicycle, 12am, full daylight. I had my headlight on, for visibility. I approached a roundabout to go across it. I checked on my right, nothing coming, so I cycled on.

Halfway round the roundabout, a woman drove her car at me from my left.

In England, roundabouts are very common, and everyone knows the rules - you give way to traffic already on the roundabout. She didn't see me. There's word for this, because it's so common, smidsy, "Sorry mate I didn't see you".

And then she did see me, because she stopped, but she stopped right in front of my path. I braked as hard as I could. I have good brakes, I do my own maintenance. I stopped before I collided with her car. But when you brake that hard, you can lose control, and I lost control. I stopped, then the bike toppled to the right, and I crashed to the ground, to the hard, unforgiving tarmac. Wham.

I lay there for a moment, wondering if I'd broken anything, and what should I do? I watched that car drive off, and noted the registration number, in case I needed it.

Then there were people around me, offering help. One woman in particular, had first aid training, and she checked me for broken bones, and they helped me to the middle of the roundabout, out of the road.

Someone called an ambulance.

The ambulance arrived a few minutes later, and they took charge. The woman who had caused all this came back; she'd parked out of the way of the traffic (in England, if you're in an accident, it's illegal to just drive away). She was very apologetic. Smidsy.

I didn't feel very forgiving. The ambulance men helped me get into their vehicle, and checked me over. No, I didn't hit my head. Yes, I was wearing a helmet, and they checked that, no damage. No, my neck didn't hurt. No, I didn't remember my 

phone number. Yes I did remember my post code They poked and prodded my spine, and nothing seemed badly damaged. Not a big surprise; I hadn't been hit by a car, I'd fallen from a stationary bicycle.

They asked me if I wanted to go to a hospital, or home. I didn't feel too bad, just a bit shaken, and I thought a lift home (about a mile away) would be best. When we got there. I made them tea, they checked me some more, they wrote up their paperwork, and then they went on to their next case.

That evening, I had a long hot shower.

The next morning, it hurt. Quite a lot. If I sat up, or stood up, or sat down, or coughed, or breathed in deeply, some guy stuck a knife into my ribs on the right side. Even typing hurt, because of the arm movements. So I tried not to do any of those things, and self-medicated with paracetamol, a painkiller you can get from any pharmacy.

I went to bed that Tuesday evening. It hurt a lot to get into bed, and I knew that getting up again would be just as bad. But I also knew I'd probably have to get up in the night a couple of times, because I always do. And when I did, it hurt. A lot.

Wednesday, I was slightly better, but not much. The guy with the knife now had a sledgehammer instead, and he used it with enthusiasm. Stand up, sit down, reach out, reach down, cough, sneeze, breath deep ... all of these were punished with the sledgehammer. And again, at night, very painful to lie down, very painful to stand up, but when you've got to go, you've got to go. And you can't go too slowly, or you won't get there in time! Oh, and the action of pulling the lever to flush, even that hurt.

Thursday I decided I'd had enough. So I went to hospital, and told them my story. They were very efficient; they triaged me (I obviously wasn't an urgent case), but I still got seen very quickly by a doctor. She did the usual poking and prodding and stethoscoping, and decided that I needed an x-ray.

At the x-ray, I was in a queue, but there was only one person in front of me, a baby had hurt her foot, and they were doctoring that. So the baby went in to the x-ray, and there was a lot of crying and screaming, and then she was done. I persuaded them to shoot me standing, because the process of lying down is painful, with the added feature of looking forward to even more pain when I got up again. But they were very nice about it, and I was x-rayed standing. I was so brave about the whole thing, I didn't scream once, so they gave me a sticker!

So then I went back to the doctor so she could look at the x-ray. And there were two problems, a couple of broken ribs, and what looked like a puddle about half way up the chest on the left. She was worried about the puddle (which turned out to be nothing) and sent me off for a CT (computer tomography) scan. That's like a 3-D x-ray. So I hobbled off to the CT scan.

I forgot to mention, but you probably guessed - walking was painful, so I wasn't walking, I was shuffling along like a very elderly person.

At the CT scan, they saw me immediately. I had to lie down, no option. So I did, and it wasn't as bad as it might have been because they helped me a lot. They injected me with iodine because that's a heavy element and shows up well to the x-rays. The room was freezing cold, because the CT scanner needed that, and by the time they got my scan, I was shaking and shivering with the cold.

Then back to the doctor, and now we knew the extent of the damage. Ribs 7, 8 and 9 on the right side were broken.

And I already knew the treatment for broken ribs, because I've had one before. The treatment is ... nothing. You do nothing, and a couple of months goes by while the pain gradually diminishes. Which is why I hadn't gone to hospital on the day I had the fall.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the Bruise. The Bruise is huge, and black and red, and covers the right half of my arse and then down my thigh. I don't think the Bruise is actually a problem though, it's just a spectacular sight, and would qualify for a Guinness World Record.

But they decided to keep me in overnight, for observation. And they explained that I'd be getting medication. Most of the medication is painkillers, consisting of codeine and paracetamol. But there's more. Because of the pain doing a poo had become impossible, so by then I was somewhat constipated. So they gave me lactulose to help me with that (and, without going into details, that particular problem is no longer a problem). Because coughing was painful, I was accumulating phlegm, so they gave me carbocisteine for that. And Omeprazol for my breathing.

I hadn't known this - if you don't use your full lung capacity but only take shallow breaths, that puts you at risk to a lung infection. That's why I need to take the painkillers - so I can breathe fully.

They checked my blood pressure (fine) took my temperature (fine) and my blood oxygenation (low, probably because I hadn't been breathing well enough).

Overnight turned into a somewhat longer stay. The window next to my bed gave me a spectacular view of a rubbish dump. I shared a ward with three other people. The bed next to me was an 89 year old, he'd fallen, and hurt himself against some furniture. He sang at night, but it was OK, he wasn't loud. By the time I left, he was looking good, they had him out of bed and walking a bit, and if you can walk, that a very good sign.

Next to him there was a couple of brothers, and one of them had suddenly lost the use of his legs, the other one kept him company. But when I went to the toilet in the middle of the night, he was sleeping in a different position, and obviously had moved his legs without realising it. His brother was a pious Muslim, and we had a long chat about Islam (he was surprised that I knew so much). They self-discharged while the hospital was still trying to help them, and that's really stupid. What's he going to do, eat cumin seeds?

And the fourth guy in the ward had tried to kill himself with a bottle of vodka and 96 paracetamols. He told me how bad his life had gotten in the last few years, and I sat with him for quite long periods, just talking about this and that. This was his fourth attempt at suicide.

The nurses were great, and worked very hard. Before I left, I bought the biggest box of chocolates I could get, and left it to be shared by all the nurses and doctors and other staff.

So eventually, they decided that I was well enough to be discharged. But first - a final blood test.

To do a blood test, you have to take a sample of blood. They tried nine times, making nine little holes in me, and failed each time. Then they thought, maybe I'm dehydrated. So I drank three litres of water (that's about six pints) over the next hour, and they tried again. This time, they got the sample on the third attempt.

So they gave me a carrier bag full of pills and potions.

And this was all on the NHS, so the cost to me as zero, the service was excellent, and I love our NHS.

Looking at the other three guys in the ward made me realise how lucky I am with my physical and mental health. The woman who could have killed me has made me realise that I'm not going to cycle on roads any more (most of my cycling has been on cycleways where there are no cars).

So. Here I am with three broken ribs that will heal up over the next couple of months. It means I can't lift anything heavy (and at this point, "heavy" means a full kettle of water), but with the painkillers, breathing is a lot easier. Typing is sort of OK, but not in large amounts.

So now you know.