Friday, November 19, 2021

Goodbye Faithful Toaster Oven

As a freshman in college, in 1978, like many in my dorm, I bought some small scale cooking appliances.

From Lechmere, I bought a GE model T114/3115 toast 'n broil TOAST-R-OVEN.

For 44 years it made toast, reheated leftovers and made itself useful. It died last month. Heating element failure.

Perhaps you've seen this model. It even came with a fancy broiler pan:

They don't make them like they used to. This one outlived the store that sold it to me by decades!

I went to Wirecutter and Consumer Reports for advice on a replacement. They definitely don't make them like they used to.

Apparently nobody buys toaster ovens that small any more. I had to re-arrange my counter top to accommodate the smallest one I could find that was from a respected manufacturer, and that would do toast, reheat, bake and broil.

The first one I got, I simply hated, and returned it. I was surprised to discover that shielding behind the heating element that keeps the top from getting too hot is not a common part of current designs.

I've got another one, still bigger than the old, dead one, that touts the hot top as a plate warming feature. (I'm not making this up.) Even so, this other one only gets to about 120F whereas the one I hated and returned clocked in at over 200F, and had instructions to move the oven 4 inches away from all walls and other objects during use.

This post is a lamentation for the departure of a good and faithful servant and for the over-designed appliances that you simply can't get any more.

Goodbye Faithful Toaster Oven

Thursday, April 18, 2019

HP Color LaserJet MFP M477fdw Issues

Epilogue: 27 September 2019 -- It just gets worse:

I'm preparing to delete ALL HP printer software from my Mac. Without any help from HP.

In the time that has elapsed since this article was written, there was a firmware upgrade, to plug security holes, but apparently not to fix anything that I reported. Particularly damning is that the trivial web site redirect mentioned below in the "Support: Wrong page." section is STILL broken.

My Mac is running a process, "HP Device Monitor" that after running for a day or so grows to a memory size of over 1G, and hoovers up between 25% and 60% of the CPU. This has a measurable impact. For example, switching desktops gets delayed until I force quit the process. This for a detector of "Scan to computer" requests coming in? Unbelievable!

Multiple calls to HP gave inconsistent and incorrect information:

"The HP Easy Start app will enable you to delete HP software." No it has no no such capability.

"You can run the Uninstaller." The only Uninstaller I have is from 2011 when I had an HP Photosmart Premium. I really should have learned from the poor quality drivers for that product, and bought from any vendor other than HP for my color laser printer.

"You have to go find the drivers and apps yourself and delete them." True but pretty much the definition of unhelpful.

I am extremely disappointed with the quality of the software and HP's customer support and bug reporting experience. I strongly advise anyone with a Mac to avoid HP printers. I advise everyone to avoid HP scanners.

Now on to the original article:


To replace a dead monochrome laser printer, a color inkjet printer, and an eleven year old page scanner, I went shopping for a multi-function printer. Reviewing the trustworthy, and well-detailed reviews at as an upgrade pick, best laser printer, I bought the HP Color Laser MFP M477fdw. This article documents the issues I found.

First off, I must testify that the printing by this unit is stellar! It prints beautiful color pages very quickly. It is a great replacement for my 20 year old Lexmark Optra E310, and for my HP Inkjet printer.

My issues are in the areas of support, software update, setup, monochrome printing, and scanning.

Footote: When I say, "the printed manual" I mean: HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M477 - User Guide.

Support: Wrong page.

Page 112 of the printed manual says to "Get 24-hour internet support, and download software,utilities and drivers" go to: When you go there, you get redirected to HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277n. So somebody messed up the redirect.

If you instead go to and type in "M477fdw" you will get to the right place.

Support: Bad issue tracking.

I ended up speaking with three different people, but that wasn't the problem.

The first person I spoke to logged none of what we did together in the ticket, so the second person had to start from scratch. I was upset, and said, "Just go through your script and I'll tell you what I've already done."

A couple days later, working with the second Tech, it looked like the problem was solved until I did more testing. I planned to call in again, but before I could do that I got an Email saying, "We've been unsuccessful in reaching you."

That was annoying because the proper state of the ticket should have been, "Resolved" not "Waiting for Customer." Checking my missed call logs, I saw an attempt to reach me the day before my second call in. I REALLY would have preferred that attempt to have been to leave a message, not to just hang up.

I replied to the "We're trying to reach you," message angrily complaining that the email reached me a couple hours after I had spoken with a Tech, that the message arrived at 6:00 PM on a Friday when their lines shut down for the weekend at 8:00, that the ticket should have shown the issue was resolved, except that I've done further testing, found more problems and would be calling in next week.

On Monday I received the following apology:

I do apologize for the issues that the scanner has given you so far.
I couldn't reach you because I didn't have your phone number in our system. Could you please provide me your phone number I could assign a technician to address this matter? 

I didn't have time to follow up Monday. On Tuesday saying that they were closing my case.

I called in, and angrily told them re-open the case and that I'd call in on Wednesday when I was home to do further debugging.

When I did call in Wednesday, after having done further testing, convincing myself that root cause was bad Wireless software, I asked to open a complaint. When they told me I'd be called in 3-5 days, I said, "You need a phone number for me," because of Monday's note. But no, they had a phone number in the case.

So somebody is not reading even the most basic information in the cases.

Software Update: There isn't one. But there is.

I did my homework on this printer, and discovered there were issues that were fixed by an upgrade to Firmware Datecode 20190113. The support page (when you get to the correct one) offers up that firmware.

Page 108 of the printed manual gives "Method one: Update the firmware using the control panel". Following this method tells you that there is no update, and that your firmware is up to date. Except mine wasn't. My "Configuration Report" said I had Firmware Datecode 20180201. So method #1 simply didn't work, and any customer that uses it, will think they're up to date, and have problems with known fixes.

Method 2 worked.

Setup: No monochrome printing.

Problems with setup became visible when I wanted to print monochrome only. A Google search turned up a really helpful article on OSXDaily. There IS an option to constrain printing to monochrome. That option wasn't present in my system dialog. Doing a reset of the printing system would fix the problem. (See also the thread in the HP user forum on this same topic.)

As long as you don't mind losing the settings of all your print devices.

Lucky for me, I was getting rid of my two other printers, so a reset wasn't a problem. However subsequent testing, and debugging turned up another problem:

Setup: Just keep trying...

As I get into later, I tried both wireless scanning and hard wired USB for scanning. When I re-configured the printer for USB instead of wireless, the "Black & White" option again disappeared from the system printer dialog.

I was trying many things but I believe the stages of configuration went like this:

  1. Turn off wireless and plug in USB.
  2. Reset printing.
  3. Add printer.
  4. My printer is found.
  5. About 10 seconds elapse and then a progress bar pops up, with the progress fully filled in with buttons, "Configure" and "Cancel".
  6. I press "Configure" and I am prompted to verify if I have duplex, or tray 3.
  7. Configuration completes and I see my printer and scanner.
  8. I attempt to scan using EasyScan, but it hangs contacting the printer.
  9. I perform a scan using the system setup scan.
  10. I retry EasyScan and it works.
  11. I look for the "Black & White" option, and again it's missing.
  12. I open printer utility. It has a bit of trouble finding my toner status but after clicking around it finds everything.
  13. I reset printing again, repeating steps 2-7 above. Still no "Black & White" option.
  14. I restart my Mac (10.13, BTW). Still no "Black & White" option.
  15. I reset printing again, repeating steps 2-4 above. This time there is NO prompt to Configure. In addition to my printer, an M477fdw FAX machine is also found. FINALLY there is a "Black & White" option in the printer dialog.
It seems to me that a printer setup utility should not have this sort of non-deterministic behavior.

Scanning: Wireless is too flaky to use.

My original plan was to make the printer wireless in my home and to have our various household computers, tablets and phones work with it directly. However that plan was abandoned after giving up on getting scanning to work via wireless.

The initial symptom was to get the error message:
Scanner reported an error:An error occurred while communicating with the scanner
I'd get this message mostly after the first page started scanning through the document feeder. Retrying and re-retrying, I could get a scan going maybe one time in three.

Once the scan got going, half the time it would finish. The other half, the scan would abort in the middle with the same error.

Doing a Google search on this problem turned up several reports of 100% failure. There was one where the instructions (for a different HP printer) to turn off the ipv6 protocol. (See: Toggen Blog: [Solved] MacOS Sierra Scanning Fail.)

I tried that solution, by remotely connecting to the printer, and turning off IPV6, but it didn't help.

So I called in to HP. After trying several tests, the HP Tech had me turn off IPV6 from the front panel setups, and to change the "connection speed" from "Auto" to "100TX Full," it appeared that the problem was solved. Alas, it was not.

The communication error would still occur, but much less frequently. You could cope with the problem by restarting any scan that failed. So don't scan any more pages at a time that you'd be annoyed about waiting for a second time.

But a new, subtler and nastier problem arose: Scanned pages missing content with no warning.

No error message is presented, but the scan gets a blank band in the middle. The band appears randomly, of random side, and oddly, occurs at the same point on the page when a duplex scan is done. For example, these instructions for tax preparation. There's a gap in the middle of the page meaning that instructions are lost. So when you scan your papers, you have to look at every page to make sure that they actually did scan correctly.

Scanning: Pages come out crooked.

After having bought the printer, someone called my attention to his findings of lots of very negative reviews of the M477fdw scanning owing to the scans coming out crooked.

I admit that, I leaned very heavily on wirecutter's reviews and didn't do very much research. Wirecutter had flagged the crooked scanning as follows:
...the M477fdw can sometimes produce slightly crooked scans from the document feeder; to keep your results as uniform as possible, be sure to check that the guides are tight against the sides of your document before you start.
I paid very careful attention to the guides when I scanned, but have a different analysis: The HP Easy Scan software has a "Straighten Pages" setting.

When I tested scanning with the USB connection I tested scanning from two different methods: the Easy Scan app, and System Preferences (the "Open Scanner" button from within "Printers & Scanners" preference).

Even with meticulous attention to the guides, I found the pages scanned from System Preferences were always a little crooked, but the Easy Scan pages were fine.

I conclude that the document feeder actually has a problem centering pages that the Easy Scan compensates for, but that generic scanning, say with SANE under Linux will always have a problem.

Scanning: Sub-par performance even when it works.

The M477fdw was intended to replace two old printers and an eleven year old Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M scanner. I really love this scanner. When I updated to MacOS 10.13, I got a warning that the ScanSnap software was going to have poor performance and that I should look for an update. Root cause is that 10.13 is a 64 bit platform, and doesn't like 32 bit software.

I looked for an update but the web site didn't seem to offer one, instead saying something like, "Look for software relevant to a scanner we currently sell."

However, just now, looking to re-find that message, instead I found an update for the ScanSnap software. Alas, it only mentions 10.12, and it's still 32 bit. So a 64 bit update isn't available.

Here is how the HP M477fdw compares against the Fujitsu for my test case:

Duplex scanning of 9 Sheets four of which had blank pages on side B.

Fujitsu S1500M took 24 seconds. File size was 3.8 MB. Everything was very readable. Resolution seemed to be dynamically set for a very good balance of readability and file size. Color vs. monochrome was detected. Contrast was pushed on faint pages. The 4 blank sheets were auto-detected and left out. Slightly shorter pages were auto-detected. Page width and length are always auto-detected.

The M477fdw using System Preferences took 78 seconds. File size was 10.8 MB. I had to hand-set the page size (US Letter), as well as the resolution (300dpi). Fine writing was blurry. All the pages were a teeny bit crooked. One faint page was extremely hard to read, and would ideally have had its contrast pushed.

The M477fdw using Easy Scan took 70 seconds. File size was 11.6 MB. Again, page size, and resolution had to be set by hand. Contrast on one faint page had slighly better contrast, but nowhere near as readable as the output from the Fujitsu.

The S1500M is a discontinued, eleven year old scanner. You can get one on Ebay for under $150. Or you could go with the M477fdw if taking 3 times as long to get a 3 times larger file that's not as easy to read is ok.

I understand that my comparison here is not totally fair. The M477fdw is a multi-purpose machine, and perhaps is inappropriately being compared to a single-purpose scanning device. Even so, a decade is a long time in computer technology. I find the M477fdw scanner a total disappointment.
The observation that Easy Scan fixed skewed pages leads me to believe that a big part of the performance gap is software, and could have been bridged if HP had cared to do so.

How to make things better?

There are several things HP could do to improve on this situation. In order from easiest to most difficult I call for:

  1. Fix the redirect of to go to the right page.
  2. Find out why Method 1 lied and said there was no software update. Fix it.
  3. Find out why the printer setup keeps losing "Black & White". Fix it.
  4. Add a "Living Summary" section to all tickets. Require all employees to keep them up to date, and to read them. Regularly perform quality checks of Techs to confirm they are reading and writing that Living Summary. Cynically I say, after 3 times being caught not reading/writing Living Summary, you're fired. But the fact is, keeping that Living Summary going is going to save HP resources, and make customers happier. Multiple wrong emails and failed communications hit my ticket. Everybody's time was wasted.
  5. Perform further cleanups to printer setup and auto-discovery: There is the auto-discovery, and the Easy Setup application. These should use the same underlying code so that Easy Setup is just a convenient interface to ONE install system that JUST WORKS. Support Techs should not insist on download and use of Easy Setup as "the way to fix an install problem." If an HP specific setup is required, be up front about it.
  6. Address Easy Scan vs. System Preferences scanning: We see that page skew is a problem. Ideally the automatic document feeder (ADF) would be fixed not to have skew at all. Or the driver that uses System Preferences would get that option too. If there's real need for Easy Scan than make it a REAL scan manager (for example, look at Fujitsu's ScanSnap Manager) and give customers real value add. As it stands Easy Scan is required for reasons that are not documented, but otherwise adds no value.
  7. Improve the baseline scanning software in the printer to properly detect a page, and not require de-skew software. Allow auto-detect of blank pages, color, and resolution. Of course, manual settings should be available, but the dynamic ones should be available, and a pretty good balance.
  8. Find the REAL root cause of missed bands of text and communication problems via wireless, or OWN UP TO THE FAILURE. At the very least have a real review of the instruction, "Set the communication speed to 100TX Full". I've been inside wireless drivers and ethernet drivers. I do not understand why setting the PHY settings for a hardwired ethernet driver, or even turing off a the ipv6 protocol should have ANY effect on the ability to reliably receive scanned images from a printer. If it's not a TCP session with a rigorous data copy, it surely SHOULD be.

Bottom Line:

My joy of working with an amazing color laser printer was destroyed by:
  1. Failed attention to detail on basic offerings of support web pages, software update, and tracking of open tickets.
  2. Sub-par scanning software both within the printer, and at the application level.
  3. Flaky auto-setup software.
  4. Flaky wireless communication software.

Monday, February 29, 2016

PayPal Customer Support: "Sucks" doesn't begin to describe it.

Every month I get an Email from PayPal letting me know I can download a new monthly statement. A few months ago they went live with a new web interface.  I couldn't find my statements so I had to go back to "The Classic Interface."

Finally, I got tired of it and asked for help.

The stock answer sent in reply gives directions that do not match what is on display in the current interface.

The case has been in the hands of seven different people, only one of whom (Ailene) actually seemed to have read what I had said and responded to it.  Further attempts on my part to confirm that the wrong answer will be corrected in documentation and training elicit further DIFFERENT wrong answers to the question I answered myself on 25 February.

Unfortunately, my original question is lost.  Apparently when PayPal replies with a stock answer they throw away the original question and you have to reply to their thread and repeat the original text.

I include below the sequence of communications, with excerpts from the replies sent by PayPal:


On Feb 15, 2016, at 2:41 PM, <> <> wrote:

Hello William Cattey,

Thanks for your e-mail. Based on your selection, we are sending you some details about PayPal account statements, user agreement, and terms and conditions. If you require additional information, please reply to this message or contact us at 1-888-221-1161, Mon-Fri 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM PT and Sat-Sun 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM PT.

A. How do I view my account history and statements? 
Your Account Statements provide a list of your last month's PayPal transaction activity. The Statement will be posted to your PayPal account on a monthly basis. You can access it by clicking "Statements" at the top of your Account Overview page whenever you were logged in.

Please keep in mind that we don't mail Account Statements and they are only available for the last 3 months, so you may want to print or download your statements for your records.

Your History Log records all of your PayPal transactions. You may search your History Log with the Basic Search or Advanced Search.

Basic Search  allows you to search for certain transaction dates or types.
Advanced Search  allows you to search by Email, PayPal Transaction ID, First and Last Name, Receipt ID, or Auction Number. Seaching with your buyer's Transaction ID allows you to locate payments from buyers more effeciently. Subscription ID and Mass Payments can be located with either search option.

To search your History Log, follow these steps:
  1. Log in to your PayPal account.
  2. Click Statements and select Activity Report.
  3. Click Advanced Search to use the advanced search feature.
  4. Enter search information and select Date Range.
  5. Click Submit to view.
If the transaction shows "Completed", the funds were successfully sent from your Paypal account into the recipient's PayPal account.
If the transaction shos "Unclaimed", the funds were not sent successfully. Check the recipient's email address to ensure the payment was sent to the correct email address.

To view a complete list of all of your PayPal transactions, download your History Log.

B. How do I view and accept our Electronic Communications Delivery Policy? 
We ask you to view and accept the terms of our Electronic Communications so that we can continue providing you information about your account electronically. This account information includes legal agreements and policies, annual disclosures, transaction receipts, account statements, and other information related to your account.

If you have additional questions about this policy, or would like to learn how to request a paper copy of a communication we have sent you, please click "Legal" at the bottom of any PayPal page and then click "Electronic Communications Delivery Policy (E-Sign Disclosure and Consent)."

C. How do I view PayPal's Terms and Conditions?
PayPal's Terms and Conditions are subject to change. Any changes to our Terms and Conditions will be updated in our User Agreement. To view the PayPal User Agreement, click "Legal" at the bottom of any PayPal webpage, and then click "PayPal User Agreement".


Copyright © 1999-2016 PayPal. All rights reserved.


Sent: Monday, February 15, 2016 8:25:02 PM (-07:00)

Subject: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS (KMM191249498V65297L0KM) :ppNA

The information provided by this boilerplate reply is WRONG!
THERE IS NO "Statements" link at the top of the page.
There is no page labeled "Account Overview" in the non-classic design.
So if you are going to presume to offer help, then accurate help must be delivered.
As a user and a PayPal stockholder I am extremely disappointed.
Please escalate this ticket to someone who will ACTUALLY READ IT and ACTUALLY GET SOME ACTION TO CORRECT basic failure in both the interface and the documentation!
-William Cattey


Feb 16

PayPal Customer Support
RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA
Dear William Cattey,

I can feel your frustration and I sincerely apologize that the new PayPal interface is difficult to use when it comes to accessing your monthly statement.

At this time, this is the only way that you can access it since the new interface is not yet fully functional. Not all features are easily available in the new interface.

I appreciate your patience and understanding. 


PayPal Consumer Support 


Sent: Wednesday, February 24, 2016 2:39:54 AM (-07:00)

Subject: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA (KMM191337918V25365L0KM)

[From] William Cattey:

Thank you for the reply.
Was there something I clicked on to make this incomplete new interface the default?
How do I undo that?

If someone at PayPal made the decision to make this incomplete interface the default, it is harming the experience, harming the brand and harming the bottom line. Again, I say this both as a user and a stock holder.

-William Cattey


Feb 24

PayPal Customer Support
RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA
Dear William Cattey,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to provide assistance to you today.

We apologize any inconvenience you may have encountered concerning the new website.

Please understand that we have developed these features on the website to provide you with all the information you need to know about your account.

We appreciate you taking the time to try out the new website though. We're continually working on improvements to help you manage your PayPal account better so if you change your account back to the classic view you will still have the option to change again to the new website. You can only switch your account back to the Classic view if you had previously been using the Classic website.

We appreciate your feedback as well as your patience regarding this matter.

Thank you for being part of the PayPal community.


Copyright © 1999-2016 PayPal. All rights reserved


Sent: Thursday, February 25, 2016 3:43:20 AM (-07:00)

Subject: RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA (KMM192404879V52826L0KM)

[From] William Cattey:



I have been a PayPal customer since LONG before the new site came online.

Your apology feels like a lot of words someone told you to say to pretend all was well when a BAD AND INCOMPLETE interface was imposed. It did not make me feel better. It made me feel WORSE! It made me feel like I was not listened to.







PayPal Customer Support
RE: RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA

Dear William Cattey,

My name is Charlene from PayPal Consumer Support. I apologize for the inconvenience that this may caused you. Let me assist you.

William, we have updated the Monthly Sales Report to provide you with the information you need to review your monthly sales, refunds, and other debits and credits.

The Monthly Sales Report provides a quick overview of your daily sales for a selected month or 31 day custom date range. For each day, you will see the totals for payments received, amount received, payment fees, refunds sent, amount refunded, refunded fees, payments sent, amount sent, other debits, other credits, and net amount. Additionally, the beginning and ending amounts for your overall balance, reserve balance, and available balance will be displayed.

To access your monthly sales reports:

Log in to your PayPal account.
Click Activity near the top of the page.
Click Statements and then Reporting center.
Click Monthly sales report.
Select the desired month or date range (the maximum date range is 31 days).
Click View Report.


Sent: Friday, February 26, 2016 2:23:15 AM (-07:00)

Subject: RE: RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA (KMM192566277V52244L0KM)

[From] William Cattey:


Your answer was not correct and did not answer my question.
But NONE of the others who responded to my inquiry did.

However, from your answer I was able to find, for myself, the
answer to the question I originally asked.

My original Question was:

"How do I view my monthly statements in the new interface?"

The correct answer is below.

The original reply with instructions contained WRONG DATA, relevant to the OLD interface.

Lois's reply said the feature was not present.

Jean's reply apologized for my being the victim of a forced march.

Your reply sent me to DIFFERENT functionality than what I asked about.

Give me ONE reason why I should not paste all of this into a Blog posting announced on Facebook with the title, "PayPal customer support sucks!"

Correct Answer:

1. Log in to your PayPal account.
2. Click Activity near the top of the page.
3. At the far right of the page is a pull down labeled, "Statements"
4. Selecting "Account Statements (PDF)" will bring you to the same list of monthly statements that you found in the Classic interface.


Feb 26

PayPal Customer Support
RE: RE: RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA
Dear William Cattey,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us with your inquiry. I am happy to assist you further.

I apologize for any inadequacy or inconsistency of service you've received to date.

I will use your email as a form of feedback so that the representatives will be coached.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Have a wonderful day!

Thank you for being part of the PayPal community.

PayPal Customer Solutions

Copyright © 1999-2016 PayPal. All rights reserved.


Sent: Saturday, February 27, 2016 3:24:32 AM (-07:00)

Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA (KMM192698203V42231L0KM)

[From] William Cattey:

Thank you. That is the outcome I hoped for in my previous reply.


Feb 27

PayPal Customer Support
RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA
Dear William Cattey,

You are welcome. We are always happy to hear from our PayPal members. We at PayPal take pride in our service, and it's a pleasure for us to know that you're a satisfied PayPal customer and that your issue has been resolved. We hope you'll tell your friends about our service.

Thank you for being part of the PayPal community.


PayPal Customer Solutions

Copyright © 1999-2016 PayPal. All rights reserved.


Sent: Sunday, February 28, 2016 3:43:57 AM (-07:00)

Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA (KMM192785942V30228L0KM)

[From] William Cattey:

Actually there is one more VERY important thing that is needed:

If you look back in this email thread, you will see that the documentation given that is supposed to tell people how to access the statements page is for the old interface and is TOTALLY wrong. This most basic initial outreach must be fixed IMMEDIATELY! Can you see to that?

Also, it would NOT be accurate to call me a "satisfied PayPal customer."
Customer support pretty much TOTALLY failed me MULTIPLE times on a
simple "How do I find this feature on the web site." I am still planning to blog about this failure.


Feb 28

PayPal Customer Support
RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA
Dear William Cattey,

Thank you for contacting PayPal Customer Support. My name is Gerard and I am happy to assist you.

I understand that you are trying to download the monthly statement on your account. I apologize for what happened. This is possible a browser issue, please be sure that you are using a updated browser. It may help to clear your cookies and cache according to the browser you are using.

Thank you for choosing PayPal.

PayPal Customer Solutions

Copyright © 1999-2016 PayPal. All rights reserved.


Sent: Monday, February 29, 2016 5:31:32 AM (-07:00)

Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA (KMM192871229V18110L0KM)

[From] William Cattey:


Congratulations! You are the fourth PayPal support employee to pick up this ticket WHO FAILED TO READ AND UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS WRITTEN!

1. I have my answer.
2. The reply I got to my initial question means that the database of stock answers is WRONG. 

I'm putting this whole thread up on my blog next week as a lesson to all support organizations and as a public shaming of PayPal.


Feb 29

PayPal Customer Support
RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Re: Questions About User Agreements, Terms and Conditions VV44REXUS :ppNA
Dear William Cattey,

Thank you for your email regarding your account.

I apologize if the previous responses did not fully meet your needs and regret any inconvenience this may have caused.

I understand the urgency of this matter. Don't worry! I am here to help you.

I want to assure you that you can definitely download your monthly statement through the new interface.

PayPal's Monthly Financial Summary provides you with a monthly snapshot of your PayPal account activity. This report consolidates fees, payments, chargebacks, and refunds, detailing your account transactions from beginning to ending balance.

Here's how to view your monthly financial summary report:
Log in to your PayPal account.
Click on Activity.
Click on Statements on the right hand side of the page.
Click Monthly financial summary.
Enter the month or date range you want to view and click View Report.
Select what format you'd like to download your report in, and then click Download.
The statement defaults to your primary currency. If you wish, you can select to view the statement for a different currency.
For a list of descriptions for the different sections of the statement, click the Help with this page link in the upper right hand corner of the page.
You can download this report to as a PDF, Excel, CSV, or TAB file.
We appreciate your business and resolving your query is very important to me.

Thank you for choosing PayPal.

PayPal Consumer Support


Your reply was sent 02/29/2016 22:39:35

[From] William Cattey:








How do I view my monthly statements in the new interface?

1. Log in to your PayPal account.
2. Click "Activity" near the top of the page.
3. At the far right of the page is a pull down labeled, "Statements"
4. Selecting "Account Statements (PDF)" will bring you to the same list of monthly statements that you found in the Classic interface.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Eversource Website: Does everything except the ONE thing you need!

This will be short and not sweet.

What is the most common use you make of the customer support line and a vendor web site:

Well, #1 is to report an outage.  But the next most common one is to review your bill.

Check out the Eversource web site:

Tabs within tabs.

All kinds of buttons for products and services.

You can report an outage. (Indeed their outage map and their ability to report outages is pretty good. I've used it.)

You can pay your bill, but unless you are enrolled in E-Bills and DISCONTINUE receiving paper bills, you CANNOT see a copy of your bill on their web site.  The feature is simply not available.

When you log in, there is so much stuff on the page on offer that you could spend hours trying stuff out and trying to find the ability to see your current or recent bills. Nope.  Not available.

What WERE they thinking?

When I spoke with a telephone rep. to confirm this, she said that she hears this quite often.

I guess once you invest in the fancy web site that gets approved by the C-levels who have people pay their bills for them, there's no plan ever to learn from actual use of the site, and to incorporate the feedback that the web site is missing a basic feature.

I looked at the source code for their home page to see if there was a third party web site provider that I could shame here.  I saw mention of "Telerik.Web.UI".  Telerik is a web development platform.  So either Eversource in-house design got this, or the third party that produced the web site for them kept their identity a secret.

Be embarrassed Eversource.

Monday, January 18, 2016

New Ally Bank Bill Pay System:
A Problematic Service Now Made Even Worse

I've had a lot of problems with the Ally Bank bill pay system.

Since October 2014, I've been trying to set up automatic payment of only three household bills, Electric, Gas and Cable. It's still not working. Setup for each of the three vendors has been messed up in a unique way. I have twice gone to their highest level of support, "Executive Resolution," and the current issue is still unresolved.

In May of 2015 a name-change by my Electric company, NSTAR, broke auto pay through Ally Bank. I documented that situation at Eversource: Unintended Consequences of a Name Change. I had a great deal of difficulty getting the problem through to people at Ally who could fix it, and in coming to resolution to the problem. That difficulty of getting through continues to be an issue.

In August 2015, the Ally E-Bill system simply forgot the auto-pay I had set up for my cable bill. It took multiple phone calls to multiple supervisors to get someone to look into it and fix it. During one of my extended conversations, I learned that Ally was changing their back end bill pay provider in the fall. I was told I could expect much better service after the change.

It has been worse, much worse.  After six months of trying, failing, calling, and complaining, my electric bill is FINALLY auto-paying again.

More careful roll out of the new system, better implementation of the connections out from Ally Bank with actual error reporting, and real-time dry-run test capability would have enabled this problem to be resolved much sooner.

Additionally, Eversource seems to go out of its way to make everything as difficult as possible.  It appears that one cannot view one's bill through their web site UNLESS one is enrolled in e-billing.


In this article I detail how:

  • Documentation and training for the new version is still incomplete 5 months after go-live.
  • Migration of customers to the new version was problematic.
  • Basic customer workflow has annoying rough edges.
  • Previous useful functionality, including vendor verification and a calendar display of upcoming payments is gone.
  • Setup of autopay is the victim of idiosyncratic workflow.

The auto-pay of my Electric bill that required the first trip to Executive Resolution, has not worked since the cut-over to the new system. I persist in trying to get this working because I prefer my bank to originate the payment, and to specify a maximum amount to pay as protection against errors.

The interface to enable "automatically pay the amount due as long as it is less than a specified maximum" is not shown for this payee. Instead I see an interface appropriate to mortgage payoff, allowing me to set an amount to pay, the period to pay it, and the amount of the last payment.

Flawed Migration:

The problem starts with how Ally Bank decided to perform the migration of payees to the new system.

It could have been worse. I didn't have to re-create all the payees from scratch. Since Ally Bank is using the Checkfree/Fiserv back end, my considerable experience with Fidelity's use of Checkfree leads me to believe re-creating payees should be easy: Checkfree is able to use my address to fill in contact information on file. I flagged this as a problem with Ally Bank's previous system. But I've not actually been through this part of the workflow, so I can't say whether or not they've got it right.

When I got the email from Ally Bank telling me to verify migration of my payees, I found that my cable TV company, my gas company, and my Electric company were there, with the contact information I had manually set under the old system, but with the Electric company's old name, NSTAR. That email also told me that I would have to re-enroll in E-Bills and when the E-Bill was active, re-enroll in auto-pay.

I knew I was not going to enroll in auto-pay for National Grid. I gave up after 5 years of arguing with Fidelity and National grid about how Checkfree, "was screen scraping the wrong part of the bill." It would arrive at Fidelity the day after the due date. Fidelity would decide it was past due, and not auto-pay.

Feeling a bit annoyed that I had to re-enroll in auto-pay, I began. After all, as I said in my earlier article, if it is a choice between keeping my payee login information in clear text and re-entering it to the secure server, I'll re-enter it. For both the cable TV company and Eversource (formerly NSTAR), I got a boilerplate acknowledgment saying that it could be 1 to 2 billing cycles before the auto-pay went live.

The next day, I got email welcoming me to E-Bills for both the cable TV company and Eversource. The email also said it might be a few weeks before everything was actually working. Thirteen days later, at the usual and expected time, I got email telling me that I had a cableTV bill. The email reminded me that I needed to either schedule a payment or set up a recurring payment. At this point, I wish I'd documented a subtle point explicitly: I don't remember if I set up auto-pay before or after receiving that first bill, and now it turns out to have been useful information in knowing why my Eversource auto-pay is still not working.

Rough Edges:

I want to flag a rough edge in the documentation and customer workflow right here:

There are TWO activities that have been smooshed into one term:
auto-pay which pays the bill in full and
recurring payment which pays a fixed amount on a schedule.

This is an example of useful functionality from the old system that was lost. Indeed, for a month after the go-live with the new back end, the online documentation talked about these two separate setups as two separate things. The new interface offers just a link "Recurring Payments" you click on from the "Make a Payment" page to do the setup.

An example of basic customer workflow with rough edges is this "Make a Payment" page. Once again two activities have been smooshed into one page:
make a payment to set an amount and date to make a payment.
manage payees where you adjust contact information and set up E-Bills and recurring payments.

When a customer clicks on the Continue button after setting an amount and payment date, the payment is enqueued. But when the Continue button is pressed after any payee management activities are done, an error page is presented because no payment information was specified. Excuse me, but customers should not be told they made a mistake when the web developers were too lazy to properly separate functionality.

One Out of Three Working:

Of my three payees, the gas company kept working, because I didn't use the Ally Bank system. National Grid initiates an ACH transfer. This is not as safe as I would ideally like, because there is nothing to stop National Grid from writing itself a check that empties my account. This is what I mean when I say, "Nationalgrid online payments are all about their convenience and never about my protection."

The cable TV company got working, but there was some rough boilerplate messaging I got saying something about how I should expect E-bills to be working in 0 days or something. I wish I'd saved that one so I could more accurately report this rough edge.

The Eversource electric bill has, for the second billing cycle emailed me at my home email address to tell me I have a new bill. Ally Bank's system hasn't seen it. The Recurring Payment setup still shows me the fixed amount setup, instead of the pay in full setup.

When I first complained to Ally Bank about not getting the pay in full interface, the Customer Support Rep. said that it was supposed to be that way. I asked to speak to a supervisor. I explained in great detail how useless that was, and left the conversation expecting a call back from someone who could help. A few days later I called back and asked why I wasn't called back and was told it was supposed to be that way. Again I explained how useless that was, and got a promise of a call back. When I got a call back, they called the wrong phone number and I spent two days playing telephone tag. They wanted me to provide screen shots of the problem.

Again I say, excuse me, but if you are charged with helping customers resolve a configuration problem, particularly after a major back end system migration, there should be tests that can be run such that your developers can see what the customer sees without having to ask the customer to provide screen shots.

After having provided the screen shots, I was informed, "You will get the 'pay in full' interface when the first E-Bill comes through." When I probed about when to expect that to be working, both I and the Executive Resolution Rep. agreed that it should be with the next bill emitted by Eversource.

Well, four days ago, I got an email from from Eversource saying my newest bill has been posted. The Ally Bank system still has not seen the E-Bill. It's the New Year's holiday, so I can't call them up and express my continued displeasure with their ability to find and fix this problem. But in what we can call "Angry PoetNerd vindictiveness", I will be pointing the Executive Resolution Rep. at this blog.

Additional Site Problems:

I'm resorting to public shaming as a way to hopefully get Ally Bank to fix problems so that I don't have to move my money away. I wish I could demonstrate the number of customers who just go away mad instead of incessantly calling with obsessive repetition of basic problems until they are fixed.

Here are several other problems that are annoying and inconvenient rather than active failures in my ability to bank with Ally. I've reported them numerous times since first banking with them in December 2012.

Managing my telephone numbers

I have several times had to play telephone tag with Ally Bank personnel because they can't seem to read, "Use this telephone number," when picking up my case. I have three telephone numbers in their system, home, work and cell. On the "Profile | Personal Information" page, Two of them are on display. Why can't I manage all my contact information from that page? Apparently because the web developers can't figure out how to have a web page display all phone numbers, I just get whichever subset was convenient for them.

It turns out that my Business Phone number (one of the two with hard-coded fields to display) is almost never the right one to use. I am blessed with very flexible working hours, and am not predictably at my desk.

The right phone number to use is my Cell number which is the one that shows up in the "Home or Mobile Phone Number" hard-coded field.

Which number do they use? My land line, that is not on display, or my business number.

To work around the failures of their Customer Support personnel, and the laziness of their web developers, my recourse is basically to call them up on the phone and tell them delete my business and land line phone numbers.

Oh yes, and the telephone number you provide to receive a text message containing the second key to activate two-factor authentication for visiting the site from a new computer is on a separate page in the profile and has nothing to do with the other phone numbers on file.

Excuse me, but it is not difficult to have dynamic HTML display any or all fields in the database. It is not hard to have one checked off as "Primary" and another checked off as "Send Authentication Key Text message".

Reporting of Transactions in Foreign Currency

When I did some international traveling, I used my American Express card, and my Ally Bank Debit card for different things. The American Express card did a fine job of displaying the amount paid in the foreign currency, the transaction fees, the exchange rate, and the total amount paid in my home American Dollars.

Additionally, while awaiting the monthly bill, I could go onto the American Express web site, and review all that. Not so with Ally Bank.

The transaction display showed me the total American Dollar amount paid, and nothing else. It was not until the monthly statement was cut that I was able to see transaction fees. The foreign currency transaction amount was NEVER shown. This made it particularly difficult to match debits with my purchase receipts which often the only comprehensible text was the amount in the foreign currency.

I wonder if that lack of transparency violates some kind of national or international banking law. I've complained about it multiple times, but as the rest of this article has shown, it's very difficult to get basic facts through Customer Support to someone who actually understands the problem and who will successfully address it.

I plan to open a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau about this.

Other admittedly minor UI annoyances

Associations between Debit cards and accounts: It is simply not possible to use the Ally Bank web site to figure out which of multiple accounts a particular Debit card is associated with. You have to call Ally on the phone.

Limited subjects for Secure Messages: The secure message system has only hard-coded, generic subject headers, so it's not really possible to identify multiple threads of similar topics.

Sub-optimal locations of functionality on web site: The groupings of functionality under the "Gear" and "3-Bars" tabs make no sense to me. If "Gear" is for control, then Profile and Account creation should be there. Regular business like Statements, Messages, Correspondence" probably wants to be under 3 bars. I'd suggest creating "Manage Payees for Bill Pay" as a separate page under "Gear", separating "Statements and Tax Forms" into separate panes, and putting "Statements" under "3-Bars". Some of what is in a third side bar under "Account Services" seems more appropriate to live under "Gear". Alas, they went live with this seemingly confused notion of categories, and we are probably stuck with it, because such changes are very poorly received by customers. You get one chance to get this right, and Ally flubbed it.

The effective date of recurring transfers is not documented: If you do a single transfer, it is effective now. But if you do a recurring transfer today, the first one does not happen today, it happens next month.

Pending status of transfers not shown in a timely manner: The pending status of newly created recurring transfers doesn't get updated on the same day the transfer is created by the customer.

Disconnect between one-time and automatic payments: (May be fixed with new system.) With the old bill payment system, if you set up auto-pay, but also paid the current bill, auto-pay would not notice that you'd performed the one-time payment. My Electric bill got paid twice, and I had no recourse except to apply the credit to a subsequent bill. The people I exchanged messages with did not seem to understand how, Adding a new payee and setting up automatic payment all at once is a common use case. I'm sorry, but I don't accept that I "just have to know" that I need to mark by hand a one-time payment I make at the same time I set up auto-pay.

Event flow of bill pay is undocumented: Documentation of what to expect when is missing. Customers need to know what to do so that their bills get paid correctly, on time, and not multiple times.

New Bill Pay feature set still obscure: The documentation of alleged new features of the new bill pay system is still not available.

Sloppy follow-through announcements: On November 4, 2015, I got email announcing, the go-live of the new E-Bill system telling me that after November 8, I need to take action to verify my payees, re-enroll E-Bills, and re-establish auto-pays. However the help page referred to with the text, "For other steps you can take to make sure that your payees and activity convert to our new system, go to," even today is a document announcing that a new bill pay service is coming, and to watch for emails with specific steps to take. So instead of helpful follow-on documentation, we get a loop back to where we started.

Overall impression:

Ally Bank has a sleek looking interface. But when you actually try to use it, you discover that these pretty pages have rough edges that more hard working developers could have fixed but didn't. The 24x7 telephone and online support may be fine for getting simple answers to simple questions, but cannot usefully respond to bug reports. Some of these bug reports represent small annoyances. Some however, are show stoppers, and if I knew about them before parking my money in Ally Bank, I would have gone somewhere else.

When push comes to shove, it really seems like Online Banking Theater with a good interest rate rather than a genuinely smooth running and helpful system of web pages and support staff.


22 May 2015: The First Breakdown of Eversource

The rename of NSTAR to Eversource broke auto-pay.

9 June 2015: Executive Resolution Gets Involved and Fails

After working the problem multiple times with regular support I eventually heard from the Executive Resolution Group.  But then nobody replied to my email that included screen shots of the failure.

A couple phone calls complaining that I never heard back on the email thread seemed finally to get someone onto the problem.

26 June 2015: Eversource  Working Again

Finally on 26 June Eversource bills start showing up, and on 7 July the Auto-pay does its job again.

19 August 2015: The Breakdown with Comcast Auto Pay

Ally Bank spontaneously drops e-Bill for Comcast.  First person I spoke to promised to fix it.  Second person I spoke to could find no record of any action to be taken.  Third person got a SERIOUS ear full. I told them I was paying the bill via another bank and I was mondo upset about how my trouble report was lost.

24 September 2015: Comcast Auto Pay Resumes.

After receiving email messages from Ally Bank that my Comcast e-bill was not received on 26 August, something eventually got fixed. Maybe it was Comcast. Maybe it was Ally, but on 24 September Auto Pay resumed.

9 November 2015: New Bill Pay System Go-Live -- Troubles Begin Anew

Official notice is received that the new Bill Pay back end is live, and I need to confirm my payees and re-enroll in Auto-Pay.

20 January 2016: Log Jam Broken

The Representative from Executive Resolution took extra time, and we conference called Eversource where we learned that the e-billing I set up BEFORE enabling the old Ally Bank e-billing was going to cause the new Ally Bank e-billing connections to be refused.  Although this seemed incredible to me, I dimly remembered how, with Fidelity, I was told up front to resign from any pre-existing e-billing with payees.  We are hopeful that when the next Eversource bill posts, the workflow will complete, I will see my Ally Bank e-bill, and I can then establish auto-pay.

30 March 2016: First e-Bill Finally Arrives

Finally the first successful bill notification came through the Ally Bank system, and as predicted by the developers the "recurring payment" interface self-configured to offer the 'pay in full' interface.

At last I was able to set up what I tried to set up in November:  Auto pay in full.

I called customer support to ask if I need to pay the bill by hand, or if Auto Pay will notice there is a bill.  The person I spoke to put me on hold for several minutes consulting with "a bill pay expert" who told me that the bill would auto pay.  When I checked in with Executive Resolution, I was told, I had "been provided with inaccurate information" and that the bill would not auto-pay until the next cycle.  Executive Resolution was correct.  Luckily I watched carefully and manually paid the bill. But this means that five months after go-live, the "bill pay experts" are not properly trained.

13 May 2016: Finally Working After Six Months

Finally an automatic debit was made from Ally Bank to Eversource, and the credit was shown on the Eversource online system.  It took six months, and far too much work from far too many people to remedy what boiled down to overly clever, lazy developers not thinking clearly about use cases, and not providing useful test points and intervention points to fix things up after a problem.
Six billing cycles to get auto-pay working is simply unacceptable.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Eversource: Unintended consequences of a name change.


I wrote a draft of this blog entry while working a problem with automatic bill payment through Ally Bank, but never published it because I wasn't sure there was value to others in my doing so.  Today, I've decided to update and publish the entry as background for a larger article I'm working on that details the ongoing problems with the Bill Pay service on offer from Ally Bank.

The particular problem I had seems to be re-occurring, this time with a different back end provider for Ally Bank.  That situation will be detailed in a subsequent Article.  So this one is more relevant for an inventory of what can go wrong, and what did go wrong in the past.


Following excellent financial advice, I'm trying to put as much of my financial management on auto-pilot.  One way to do this is to have my bank auto-pay my bills.  My bank even has the ability to say, "If the bill is larger than X don't pay more."  I think that's a really good safeguard.

The Problem:

Starting 22 May 2015,  auto-pay broke for Eversource, formerly NSTAR.

Here is what I experienced:

I got email from Ally Bank saying they could not sign onto NSTAR to fetch my bill.
I signed on and confirmed that.
I signed onto NSTAR and thought I could easily solve the problem.

When I signed onto the NSTAR web site, I was taken to the Eversource migration assistant to create a new account on the Eversource web site.  This annoyed me.  If a company is going to change who they outsourced my services to, they should migrate their database and I should not have to be involved.

However, having said that, I would have to agree that service providers should not keep my passwords in clear text for migration. So if they can't migrate my encrypted identity, then ok, send me to a migration page to create new credentials that can be verified but NOT dumped back out in the clear.

I signed back on to my Ally Bank, and re-ran the account verification.  This time it said it was successful.

Except it wasn't.

Multiple times running the verify sign-on, all successful.
But every time I went back to my list of payees: "Please verify sign-on."

Ally Bank's solution: Delete and re-create the payee.
I did that, and along the way I saw they'd not fixed the bug I reported last year when I created the payee the first time.

If your payee database recognizes my payee do NOT make me supply the address and telephone number.  You have it.  Use it.

Anyway, I re-created the payee.
Same problem: Verify -> Success reported -> Please Verify.

Ally Bank's solution: Create a custom payee.
I pointed out that only payees known in their database can do auto-pay so this
was a non-solution.

Here is what I think is going on:

Ally Bank tried to get my bill this month and hit the migration assistant.
When I migrated my account basic login became possible.
But NSTAR changed where my bank needed to go to fetch bills.
The third party system used by my bank does not have an updated record for how to fetch ebills from Eversource.

So auto-pay is broken until the bill paying service updates their database to deal with how NSTAR changed to Eversource behind the scenes and broke it.

Next time you change your name, think about the consequences and get everybody on the same page.


After several conversations with several supervisors, on 9 June, my problem went to my Ally Bank's Executive Resolution group, but still required multiple emails and calls to get them to admit they were actually working with their third party billing back end provider to fix the problem.

When I received an email from Ally Bank saying they'd fixed the problem, I had to forward them the failure email received on 24 June showing things were still broken and that they didn't know it. Finally, on 26 June I got email from the Ally Bank auto-pay system showing a successful restart of the service that broke on 22 May.

I wonder how many users of my bank's auto-pay simply took their business elsewhere through the month of June while I foolishly worked at dragging them, kicking and screaming to a fix for a broken service.

Future topics I'm considering:

  • EDI is not hard but Checkfree and nationalgrid refuse to play well together.
  • nationalgrid online payments are all about their convenience and never about my protection.
  • Online Banking usability considerations.