Another day, another rabbit hole

After years of procrastinating, I finally decided to do it. Or so I thought.

Years ago, I adopted Steel, a Mac OS X app, as my password database. Almost as many years ago, the developers abandoned the app and recommended that its users migrate to 1Password. Even though I was already using 1Password with Safari, I was reluctant to transfer my 600+ passwords, registration codes, credit card numbers and such. It seemed too cumbersome a process. So I delayed. And delayed some more. Meanwhile, I continued to use both Steel (which still works well, although it offers no extensions or mobile device features) and 1Password.

Fast forward to today. I still have not given up on Steel. With the release of OS X El Capitan, I decided this was no longer a viable option. The day would inevitably come when Steel no longer worked. Before that happened, I had to take the plunge and convert everything to 1Password.

This is where things began to go off the rails.

Back when development of Steel was halted, AgileBits added an option to 1Password, allowing it to import Steel’s data. I quickly learned that the current versions of 1Password no longer include this option. This was understandable, given the passage of time. Still, it was disappointing. Several work-arounds exist, but they seemed too uncertain for me. I was already beginning to question my resolve.

Maybe I could come up with my own simple work-around. I knew I could export Steel’s data as a text (.txt) file. Perhaps I could import that to 1Password. No such luck. 1Password does not accept .txt files.

But 1Password does accept .csv files. And I could use Excel to convert my exported .txt file to a .csv file. Perhaps this would work without much hassle.

Unfortunately, when I attempted to import the .csv file, I found that 1Password’s Import dialog is broken. The dialog opens but neither the Import nor Cancel buttons work. I could use the Escape key (rather than Cancel) to exit the dialog but there was no way I could get the Import function to work. As I learned after some online searching, this is a known bug in 1Password 5.3 and will not be fixed until version 5.4 comes out.

So, after spending several hours trying to find a way to transfer my data to 1Password, I was left stymied.

Even if I eventually succeed, there will remain much work to be done. As I understand things, the import will place all my 600+ items into only one category (e.g., Secure Notes). I will then have to use copy-and-paste to get items moved to other categories, as desired. Ugh!

I don’t mean to zero in on AgileBits here. In my experience, AgileBits is a fine company with good customer support. And my problem is admittedly a rare one.

Rather, I cite this as an example of what happens far too often with modern digital technology: a task that you initially expect to be simple and quickly completed instead takes you down a rabbit hole where you spend the next several hours (or days) trying to find a way out.

One more thing…

In some cases, the blame for falling down a rabbit hole is not so much the technology itself but a support failure by the companies who make the products. Such was the case in my other recent descent into rabbit hole hell. It involves both Comcast (a company I loathe) and TiVo (a company I admire).

Once again, it started with what I thought would be a simple and painless task. After getting a too-tempting-to-resist discount offer from TiVo, I decided to replace my aging TiVo HD with a new Roamio Pro.

As soon as the new TiVo arrived, I began going through the on-screen setup procedure. Although it’s more time consuming than it ought to be, the procedure is straight forward enough. A key step required that I remove my Comcast CableCARD from my old TiVo and install it in the new Roamio. At this point, I needed to call Comcast and have them pair the card to the new device.

And here is where the trouble began.

I spent the next three hours (!) on the telephone with Comcast. During that time, I was disconnected on three occasions (and had to start all over each time, going through their infernal phone tree). At various points, I was transferred from the initial tech support person to other departments that were supposed to be able to resolve the problem. None of them could do so.

Giving up on telephone support, I asked to schedule an appointment for a “home visit.” Comcast couldn’t even manage this without difficulty, claiming their calendar software was temporarily down. Eventually, I did get an appointment and two technicians arrived at my doorstep two days later. They looked over the situation, made a brief phone call and — in less than five minutes — everything was working. Problem solved. Unbelievable!

The fix, as I subsequently learned, requires that the CableCARD be unpaired from the old TiVo before it gets paired to the new one. Without the unpairing, the new pairing will not work, even though it may look successful to a support person.

None of the people I spoke to on the phone were aware of this. In fact, they all acted as if they had never heard of CableCARDs until 30 minutes before my phone call. So the unpairing had never been done. [BTW, it turns out there is a Comcast department, with its own phone number, that does know what is going on and can handle the process correctly. But no one I spoke to on the phone that day connected me to them.] I asked the technicians why Comcast’s phone support was so clueless. Their answer was to smile and shrug their shoulders. At some point, you start to wonder if this is all a deliberate attempt by Comcast to discourage people from getting TiVo.

This is not quite the end of the story. I wound up buying two TiVo Minis in addition to the Roamio. The Minis are wonderful devices (linking to the main TiVo DVR and duplicating all of its functions for other televisions, without requiring additional CableCARDs or service contracts). However, when setting up the Minis, I could not get them to recognize that my main TiVo DVR was present. So the setup failed. Calling TiVo for help led me down yet another rabbit hole.

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that it took some arcane troubleshooting and over 24 hours to get it all sorted out. The sad part is that, once again, if the initial support person had been sufficiently knowledgeable, it could have been resolved in a matter of minutes (as I eventually learned near the end of the process).

The good news is, despite having endured hours on the phone (with both Comcast and TiVo) stretching over several days, everything is now working perfectly. I expect smooth sailing going forward. Still, there was a good deal of unnecessary anger and frustration on the way to this ultimate success.

Maybe someday technology and its customer support will improve to the point that things like this rarely, if ever, happen. If so, I expect it will be a long wait. Until then: beware. Today’s technological marvels can be amazing when they work as promised. But when things go wrong — as they inevitably do — watch out for those rabbit holes.

Sign a petition to get the FCC to protect you against cable companies having too much control over access to CableCARDs and third-party set-top boxes.

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One Response to Another day, another rabbit hole

  1. Liz says:

    How did you get the Tivo mini to work properly?

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