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How Modern Technology Ate My Lunch Break - dorsetgirl
September 23rd, 2010
02:18 pm
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How Modern Technology Ate My Lunch Break
My sons' school has recently set up an online payments system, which sounds cool. I've never been happy about sending them off to school with pockets full of money, and there was a memorable day when I shelled out something like £200 hard cash in the course of five minutes because two school trips both came up for payment on the same day.

Anyway, I got an email this morning asking me to sign a permission form and pay £8 for a "House Activities" enrichment day at my sons' school. They're all in the same House, but the letter does NOT make it clear whether the £8 requested is for all three boys, or if not, which ONE the letter refers to! I hope it will be clearer online.


So, it’s currently 12:18 and I’m about to email them back the permission form. But it says “I have already paid online”, so I have to do that first.

And before I can pay online I need to check the state of the bank account.



So I open Excel and get the passwords and codes spreadsheet.

Then I need to open the Word "accounts summary" document to make notes for future reference about what I find when I check the various accounts, and set up a new box for today.

At 12:22 I’m ready to log on to the bank. OK, got the balance, and there’s enough there to make the various payments to the school.

At 12:27 I’m ready to go to the school website and log on. This requires three different codes and passwords, although I understand I can change them and link all three accounts together.

So here I go – for some reason it’s now 12:32! (That would be the blogging).

Right – Fail One (Son One): “The username and password entered did not match a username and password stored.”

Fail Two (Son Two): “The username and password entered did not match a username and password stored.”

Fail Three (Son Three): “The username and password entered did not match a username and password stored.”

Brilliant. But hardly unexpected. This is me, after all. So, next idea: type in the password rather than copypasta. Stopping first to double check Son One's details, because that's the only one I actually received by email rather than paper or pdf.

OK, it’s now 12:43 and I have laboriously typed in the horrendously complicated random password for Son Two's account and I’m in. There are no payments due apart from one for a French/Rugby trip, which I haven’t been told anything about. So I’m going to ignore it!

Apparently you can merge all the accounts together, but if you change ANYTHING, your user name also changes!!! Also, school staff “may” have access to the password, so you have to choose something complicated and unmemorable. And different from usual. Sigh.

“If you change your password, your username will be changed to your registered email address.” This means that you CANNOT change your password AND keep all the accounts separate! Unless of course you want to set up a separate "registered email address" for every child.

At 12:49 I’m about to log in to Son One's account. OK, this one works too, once I type in the long and complicated password.

Ooh, he has “Duke of Edinburgh” listed under “Student Activities”!!!

The site is horribly circular – if you click on 'payments to make' you get another screen that says 'payments to make', and if you click on it again you get 'instalment calendar' and 'payments to make', and you end up with seven tabs open and no actual information.

I’ve found the page where I can “purchase” the DoE expedition, but it DOES NOT SAY how much it is! But I know from the email that it's £25.

So it’s now 12:57 and I’m about to click on “purchase”. Wish me luck.

Huh. Nothing happened.

I wonder if this is one of those stupid-arse sites (like banks) that insist on you having cookies allowed, but can’t be bothered to tell you that’s why it’s not working. Sigh. Again.

At 12:59 I’m off to Internet Explorer 6, because I’ve never worked out how to allow cookies in Chrome. It took 37 seconds to open up Explorer, and instead of offering me web browsing, it’s trying to sell me MSN. I don’t think so, thank you. Right, allowed cookies (I think Chrome must check IE's settings or something), and here I go again at 13:02.

It hasn’t worked, so I suppose I’m going to have to close it down and try again.

I think I’ll try Son Three's account this time, just to see, and then go back to Son One's account.

13:04, and off to try Son Three's account. Right, I’m in. A quick explore, as before: nothing to see. In particular, no £8 fees for Enrichment Day.

13:08, and I’m going to log back in to Son One's account to pay for his Duke of Edinburgh expedition. If it will let me this time. It still doesn’t tell me the amount, nor when it’s got to be paid by, but I have an email which tells me it's £25. Again, I can't send back the permission form yet because it says "I have paid online". And I haven't. Yet. There is still nothing in the “payments to be made” table. So I click on Purchase again and I get…

Microsoft OLE DB Provider for SQL Server error '80040e14'
Incorrect syntax near the keyword 'AND'.
/store/generic/process.asp, line 312

13:15 and I’m googling how to deal with cookies in Chrome in case that’s the problem. Chrome is in general so clean and easy to use, and I much prefer to it FireFox, which has the tabs halfway down the page and so obscured that it irritates the hell out of me, but sometimes you get a webpage that someone has written for IE and not tested for anything else, and there just isn’t an “Allow Cookies” page in Chrome that I can find!

OK, found it “under the hood” *shudder of distaste* Set it to ask.

13:24 and there’s no difference – and it IS NOT asking me if it can set up cookies - so now I’m going to close ALL instances of Chrome, which is a sodding nuisance, and try again. I’m simply not getting anything useful done here, but hopefully once it’s done and sorted, I can go back to returning permission slips as soon as I get them.

13:28 and I’ve finally noticed that there is a little arrow in the title bar of the calendar. This tells me that the closing date for this payment is 8th October, which it actually isn't according to the email. What it is, is the date of the expedition.

13:31 and I’ve discovered that the “Sub-total” figure at the top – which you would expect to be computer-calculated from a list of individual items – is editable. So I’m going to put in £25, although the website doesn’t actually tell me how much, and see what happens. What I seriously don’t get is: they’ve got a copy of the letter at the top of the payment page, so why have they done a special version that doesn’t have THE FUCKING AMOUNT??? Instead of the email version that DOES?

So I hit Purchase, and it got rid of my £25. I’m getting seriously annoyed now, so I hit the arrow to go to October again, and hey presto, this time the payment is there on the 8th (this is about the fourth time I've looked at this page). So in order to make a payment, you have to first do something random that I'm not yet sure about, and then go searching through the calendar to find when that payment is due. But if you select “show instalment calendar” to tell you what's due when you get nothing at all.

So I’ve gone to the payment deadline date where there are now several little boxes, and I've clicked on “1” as in “You don’t think I’m paying for anyone else’s kids too, I hope”, and hit Purchase AGAIN.

Hmm, interesting; the “spaces available” counter has gone down from 58 to 57. I’ll have to keep an eye on that to see how many other people are paying!

The payment company is an outfit I’ve never heard of – SagePay. I wonder if that’s anything to do with Sage Accounting Software (do they even still exist?). To be honest, even though I’ve been paying for things online for years, I’m finding it dead creepy to be putting in my card details when “school staff” might be able to get hold of them. Not too keen on that.

I’ve gone to “Card Verification” and dear God, “securesuite” asked me SEVEN times to allow a cookie. FFS!!!! And then after I’d entered the verification details, I got asked another FOUR times before it would submit my information.





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It’s now 13:43 and I’ve finally paid for Son One's Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Throughout all of that I never once saw the £8 I’m being asked to pay for the enrichment day, and I’m certainly not going looking right again now. I need a rest!

It used to be so simple - you got a pen and scribbled your signature on the bottom of a dirty crumpled letter from the bottom of their school bag. Then you thrust some notes into their hand and said "Here, give that in. And don't lose it else you won't be going."

Total time, two minutes.

Providing neither of us had lost the bit of paper AND I had some cash to hand, which to be fair was quite rare.

But even so.

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[User Picture]
From:gritsinmisery
Date:September 23rd, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
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I am now quite glad that my daughter's school doesn't do any payments online except school lunches.

(And while the payment system works for that, their fingerprint-recognition technology at the lunch counter itself sucks.)
[User Picture]
From:dorsetgirl
Date:September 23rd, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC)
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I thought this was going to be very useful, because I'd got the returning of permission slips down to a fine art, and I somehow imagined making payments would be as easy as it is at various other sites (Amazon springs to mind). But no.

This school still has cash for the canteen, although I know that some round here do a card, where you have to send the money for the term in advance. That would have been a severe problem for me a year ago, when I was struggling to find the money for a day at a time, but fortunately things have eased a little on that front.

What I do now have, due to my mucking about with cookies, is a situation where I can't read friends' posts where they've marked them Adult Content (and it's amazing how many do, for totally boring things that you'd never imagine). I click on the over-14 notice and nothing happens *headdesk* A little job for this evening, then. When no-one's watching what I'm doing, and asking why I want to read something that has an Adult Content warning on it. Sigh.
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