Tag Archives: money things

Window Tax

I work in Edinburgh’s New Town (it’s relatively new, dating only from the late 1700’s. In comparison to the Old Town, which has buildings from the 1400’s, it’s new.). And the beautiful old Georgian buildings have an interesting feature: many of their windows are blocked.

This is because of progressive taxation. The Window Tax, which was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1696, was levied on homeowners in proportion to the number of windows in their houses. A common tax avoidance scheme was to block off a window so that one didn’t have to pay. Some homeowners even painted the blocked-off sections black, with white lines to represent the mullions.

Building with plain blocked-off windows, at the intersection of Dundas Street and Eyre Place. Taken 10 January 2005.

This building’s main windows are blocked off with plain stone, but someone went to the trouble to paint the one over the front door black. Why do one and not the other? I walk by it every day – it’s cattercorner from my office – and I’ve always wondered. Taken 10 January 2005.

Which windows are real and which are fake? The ones with the curtains are genuine windows, of course, but so are many of the others. In fact, only the bottom left window is blocked off and painted. But a casual glance on a sunny day sees no difference. Taken 10 January 2005.

In 1851, the Window Tax was abolished in favor of a flatter taxation system, which allowed the government to extract a greater proportion of its income from the growing middle class. But many of the owners of houses with blocked-up windows must not have wanted to go to the inconvenience and expense of unblocking them. And now, of course, most of the buildings are subject to conservation laws that determine how much they can be changed.

Web Businesses: A Study in Contrasts

I have had two very differing experiences with Web businesses lately. One has left me seething with fury for almost five months. The other filled me with dread and Martin with foreboding, but came out beautifully.

The Good

As I’ve gained skill as a binder, I’ve decided to sell some of my work as well as giving it away (advt). Despite its negative connotations in some circles, I’m pretty much inseperable from the evilrooster identity as a bookbinder. So the obvious thing to do was to obtain the evilrooster.com domain name. I used to own it, several years ago, but never did much with it.

Now, I am – apart from a role player named Joe somewhere in the States who turns up on two or three sites – the only evilrooster on the Web. So I was not facing much competition for the name. But old domain names, no longer owned, don’t always vanish into the incohate pool of available URLs. If they are still linked somewhere on the web, then they are often bought, en bloc, by search engines and link farms, and redirected to the main search engine page. (It boosts a site’s Google rating to have multiple links into it.)

Evilrooster.com was such a site. It was owned by a search engine named Netster, on the strength of a link from my mother’s old site. That was discouraging. But the Netster site said that the company’s policy is “to transfer a domain name to any person or company that, in our reasonable opinion, has a legitimate claim to that domain name…We do not sell domain names”.

These are very important statements for Netster‘s sake, because the use of domains not immediately related to one’s business is a feature of cybersquatting. (The most famous example being whitehouse.com, which is a porn site – try whitehouse.gov for the seat of American government.) And the current body of decisions on cybersquatting makes it clear that buying a URL one is not entitled to with the intention of selling it to the proper owner at an inflated price is not on either.

(A related web offence, passing off is irrelevant to this discussion – they don’t bind books – but often gets mentioned in the same context as cybersquatting.)

But a policy is not the same as an action, and the new owners could very easily have put a maze of red tape in their policy on website transfers without breaking the rules. For instance, since I don’t have evilrooster trademarked, they could have denied that I am legally entitled to it. Or they could cut a deal with a registrar that includes a high price for domain name transfers, then recharge me their “costs” for handing over evilrooster.com. Neither would be illegal, and I would have fallen back on an alternative URL rather than get into a scrap about it.

Instead, they engaged in a very civil and helpful correspondence with me. In the absence of a trademark, they asked if I was using the identiy on my work. My rooster finishing tool came in handy then – it’s plainly visible on most of the bindings on my gallery page. So they agreed that I was entitled to the site. If I would get an account with their registrar, thy would initiate a transfer. I signed up with the registrar in question, and reviewed their pricing. Their transfer fee was not extortionate. Then I got an email from Netster, which I will quote verbatim.


We have moved the requested domain(s) to your account. Please take care to manage it from there. While during this process we have incurred transfer, registration, and administrative costs, it is not our desire to seek reimbursement from you. Instead, we would appreciate any positive references you might make about our search engine, www.netster.com. We are sure that would be more valuable to us than any fee.


That email made my day. When I get evilrooster.com redeveloped (watch this space for an announcement when it’s up, but don’t hold your breath. I do have a job and two small children, plus a lot of binding to finish before Christmas), I’ll be adding a link to Netster. Considering that they’re primarily a US-based site, I’m not likely to get a lot of use out of it, but maybe the link will be of use to them. I hope so; I want to encourage good Internet neighbours.

The Bad

I wish everyone was as good as these guys. I wish that an internet-based book vendor, whom I had paid, was as friendly, communicative and effective as Netster.

There’s a book on headband construction that I wanted. I have a photocopy of it, from when it was out of print and unobtainable. Oak Knoll Press (to whom I will not link lest I boost their page rank), the publishers, printed a new edition, and I wanted to buy it, to support the bookbinding publishing market and the authors who did the work.

So I went to the Oak Knoll site. First problem: it doesn’t work in Firefox (the mouse-over activated pull-down menus have some strange ideas about where the mouse pointer is), so I needed to use Internet Explorer. It’s a minor nuisance.

I ordered the book on June 17 and paid for it by credit card. Oak Knoll emailed me and told me it would be about 1 week for processing the order, then 5 weeks’ surface shipping. So I expected it in late July.

By early August, I was wondering where my book was. I emailed Oak Knoll, and got no reply. I emailed again, and finally got an answer that showed that my email was caught in their spam filter. Without wanting to tell a business how to run itself, I might suggest that a spam filter that traps your customers’ emails is probably not a good thing.

Apparently, Oak Knoll’s postal supplier lost a bunch of June shipments somewhere in Florida. Did they email their European customers to find out whether the shipped books had arrived? Of course not. Did they contact me and tell me when I’d be shipped a replacement? Don’t be silly.

So I waited a bit, then tried again. Again, no one answered my emails. I finally called them and got some attention at the cost of a transatlantic phone call. They said they’d send out another copy on September 17 by expedited delivery, and could I contact them when it arrived? No estimate of delivery time was given, so I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, well into October, I got peeved and sent them another email. I can’t say I was surprised that they didn’t reply. Only when I sent another email, threatening to post an account of the transaction on the book-arts listserv, did a woman named Jeanette write back. She complained that I was “SHOUTING” at her, and that she was tired of it. She also said that the book should have been inserted into the UK postal service 8 – 10 days after shipping; clearly it had gone astray. Again. Not that they were interested in checking when they could wait for me to complain.

By this time, I was heartily regretting ever having tried to buy the book, or support their business in any way. I finally emailed them to say forget it, I’d source it elsewhere (a UK bookbinding supplier whom I trust to deliver what I’ve paid for, Shepherd’s). Then, after no reply, I emailed them the same thing again, and got an answer. Apparently, without telling me or updating my online order sheet (which I checked after logging onto IE, sigh), they’d already sent a third copy out.

They have since refunded my money, which they held for the 4 1/2 months that they fumbled delivery and failed at customer service. Murphy’s law says that the third copy of the book will arrive, at which point I will either contact them and pay again, or refuse delivery and notify them that it is on its way back to them. One thing is certain, though:

I will never buy anything from, or recommend that anyone buy from, Oak Knoll Books.

As publishers of bookbinding books, they will get some of my money from resellers, but I won’t deal with them directly again. To be clear: I accept that they can’t help it if their delivery company lets them down. But it’s when a problem occurs that a company gets the chance to show its competitive advantage. Oak Knoll’s policy of never answering customer emails the first time and without threats, much less actually communicating with them when they know things have gone wrong, does not shine.

Unlikely friends

I was mowing the lawn this morning when a survey-taker came by. He caught me at a good moment – just finished in front, but disappointed that the sun wasn’t well out in the back garden yet. Fiona was asleep in her Happy Chair in the porch, while Alex was zooming around and poking the gardening fork into the ground in random places. And I have sympathy for survey-takers who come by in person, having collected signatures for a political cause one summer long ago.

So the long and the short of it was that I was willing to have my brain picked for a quarter of an hour on telephone companies. The survey taker didn’t know by whom he was employed, but the nature of the questions causes me to think it was TalkTalk.

My favourite question: If telephone companies were people, how willing would you be to be friends with (insert phone company name from a list of five or six he was asking about)?

My answers were disappointing, I think – I wouldn’t particularly want to be friends with any of them. Not even the company we get our service from. But it made me wonder, in this era of corporate persons, whether we will ever be pals with companies rather than people? Then what? Could you marry a corporation?

Good Customer Service!

Considering how much we complain about our bad experiences with companies, I feel I have to report my most recent corporate interaction. It was so good it was scary.

We have a fridge. It’s an Indesit, about seven years old. It’s so old (in British white goods terms) that the manufacturer has changed its logo since we got it.

A bit of history, as a digression: we got the fridge on the house insurance, after I stabbed our previous fridge in the back while defrosting it. This was in Prince Regent Street, when we lived at the top of four flights of steep concrete stairs. The delivery men were not happy. Then they saw that the fridge went in the back of a kitchen built into a dormer window, and that they had to remove the old fridge over the counters, install the new one the same way, and take the old one down all those stairs. And it was a hot day. And I couldn’t, obviously, offer them a cold drink for their troubles.

Back to the subject. This fridge, though fine in all other ways, had a plastic bottom shelf. This shelf had a little clear plastic window over the vegetable drawer. The little clear plastic window was structurally separate, meaning that the weight of everything on the shelf had to be carried by two narrow beams of the main bit where it went over the drawer. Inevitably, one of those beams began to crack and bend. I repaired it with electrical tape and chopsticks, but its time was clearly up.

With heavy heart and little trust, I Googled “Indesit refrigerator shelf replacement UK” and got lots of useless sites. I also emailed Indesit directly, asking if they by any chance sold spare shelves to the public.

They replied within a day, with a toll-free UK phone number. Now, I hate calling strangers on the phone. Revile it. I’d rather starve in a gutter than be a telemarketer or a phone survey taker. So it took me a couple of days to decide that I hated the fridge shelf situation more than I hated one call.

The spares line answered on the first ring. Wow. The voice was friendly and cheerful. Double wow. They could sell me the shelf, even of an obselete fridge. Would I like a plastic one or a metal one? I was agog. It would be £6.85 including VAT and delivery for the metal one I wanted. I nearly had my head between my knees, I was so close to fainting from shock.

Then the kicker. It was out of stock. Maybe in three weeks or so? They took my credit card number and I hung up, my sense of the order of the universe restored by the one setback.

That was last week. So when the parcel arrived on Monday, with the shelf – the correct shelf, well, I was astonished.

Still, in a bow to the true nature of the universe, it did at least come with a silly warning message.


Revised Final Statement – Reader Feedback Please!

I recently changed mobile phone networks, from T-Mobile to Vodafone. Nothing to do with T-Mobile’s service or anything – just that Martin was moving to Vodafone (as part of getting a company phone from his new employers), and it’s cheaper for us both to be on the same network.

Now, Martin’s move was easy. He simply stopped using the old phone, cancelled one contract and signed another. But I wanted to port my number, because it’s fairly memorable, and I don’t want to have to tell everyone that it’s changed.

So I got a “Final Statement” from T-Mobile a little while ago, and the amount on it was automatically debited from my bank account. All well and good.

But today I get a letter from T-Mobile, with a “Revised final statement”. Apparently they charged me £12.80, but the last bill was £11.41. The front page contains the following text (all text formatting original and not my fault):

Revised final statement    cr £1.39


Call charges £0.00
Subtotal £0.00
Credit amount cr £1.39 <- from last bill
Total we will carry forward    cr £1.39 to your next bill

This is your revised final bill. If you do not pay by Direct Debit, please pay any outstanding amount as soon as possible.

So, since I pay by direct debit, if I owe money, they’ll take it from my account. But if I am owed money, they’ll carry it foward to my next bill. Except that was my final bill. Ah, bureaurocracy!

Gentle readers, I want your input. Do I:

  1. Ring them up and request that it be deposited in my account, or
  2. Leave it, or
  3. Something else (you suggest what)

If this is on the up and up, neither option profits anyone.

If I ring them, I have to do it on their “local rate number” and thread my way through their hold queue. Assuming I can get to a real person, I’ll be out the time and phone bill money. Meanwhile, they’ll be paying the person on the other end of the phone, plus bank transfer charges. What do you want to bet that exceeds £1.39?

If I leave it, they get £1.39 of my money, plus any interest it may earn over time, as a free gift. If it’s a snafu, then they’ll quickly spend more than £1.39 keeping me on the books and printing and posting monthly statements saying I have this credit.

On the other hand, maybe it’s more sinister. £1.39 may not look like much, but if they’re doing this systematically, and if they then don’t send any more bills out to customers they do it to, it could add up. Is this the trailing thread of a massive fraud?

Email me or leave me comments…tell me what I should do! I’ll report any results on this blog as they happen.