Universal PIN for Credit Cards!

Last night I went to get a pizza.  When paying it, I asked the cashier if they would take debit card. “Sure.”  So I handed the debit card over, and the cashier ran it through the terminal.  “Oh, it’s not taking it.”  Of course it didn’t – they didn’t have a PIN pad.  They, of course, meant to say that they accept check cards (with a Visa/MC logo), not debit (aka ATM) cards.

Few of years ago I had a check card, and I also occasionally used it to purchase something on the web.  At some point some local business double-swiped the card creating a physical copy of the card.  Over next week or so some $1,500 disappeared from the attached bank account, used at various restaurants and spas around the metro area I live in.  I filed a police report and the bank returned the money fairly quickly and issued a new card with a new number.

About six months later either some outfit on the web leaked the card number, or the number got stolen from someone’s system.  The result: over $5,000 went missing over couple of days before I caught it.  This time mostly spent for various adult entertainment and tech purchases around Central Europe.  I reported the activity to the bank, and their “zero-liability” answer was along the lines: “we’ll need to investigate..”  =:-o

The bank did return the money about a week later, but this experience was enough for me to close the check card and revert to debit card only (at least it works in most grocery stores, gas-stations, and at Sonic :)). Surprisingly, even though PIN-based transactions are clearly at anyone’s reach, they haven’t become more popular.  Perhaps they cost more money (?) for the merchant and/or the credit card company, but surely making PIN-terminals more commonplace can’t cost as much as the money lost in fraud without them! Anyone can forge a signature. Sure it’s a crime, but that’s why they’re called criminals.

Maybe users users would not like to use a PIN, so why not make it optional? When getting a new check card, the card holder would have the option to allow the card used only for transactions where PIN has been entered.

There must be some reason for why this isn’t being offered, right? Technically difficult? Costly? Does anyone know?

Blog is as blog does..

Couple of years ago when I originally set up this blog I decided to leave the charter of the blog initially undefined. That was not such a great idea; what’s the motivation to write in a blog without a purpose? Unless a blog has a known readership (friends, relatives, co-workers..) there’s not even a certainty that anyone will ever read the words that were written. Bulletin boards are a bit different; especially if you frequent a board, you tend to know at least some of the other board users — there is a sense of community. Blogs, on the other hand, are sort of like a endless monologue (give or take an occasional comment).

But one thought I often come back to is: what would be the easiest way to contribute to the “collective mind” of the internet. So often I come across either a complete solution, or a sufficient hint toward a solution, to a tough technical problems. And every now and then I come up with a similar solution that at least I think is clever :). So now this blog has a charter: it is mainly a technical blog where I can post such discoveries and solutions that, once indexed, hopefully will at some point help someone scratching their head with a similar issue.

In other words, welcome to the second (or is the third?) incarnation of this blog!

Digital tech books, where are you?

Why are PDF/CHM-versions of many (most) tech books so hard to find? Perhaps I’ve just missed the store that sells them? Digital versions are so much more convenient – they’re always along on my laptop, and they can be searched easily. Yet even O’Reilly’s site doesn’t sell the PDF versions. Yes, there is Safari, but I don’t want to have to read them through my web browser. First, network connection is not always available (customer locations, etc.) and secondly I don’t like Safari’s pricing. I simply want to be able to buy the books I need, and have access to them at all times without a monthly fee. After all, if I buy a print book, that’s the way it works — except that I have to lug the physical book around.

I believe the reason for why they’re not more readily available is the fear that they would be more easily illegally duplicated, yet it’s apparent that most any book does already exist in electronic format. So why are they not sold; would the loss of revenue from illegal copying really exceed the increase in revenue from people who would buy more books into their electronic reference library? Fortunately some publishers already include the electronic version along with a print book, for free! For example, the recent editions of Wiley’s JavaScript Bible have included a CD-ROM/DVD-ROM that has included the same book in electronic format along with the code examples for the book.

If someone reading this knows of a web-store that has a good selection of PDF/CHM format tech books for sale (O’Reilly, Wrox, etc.), I’d like to know!

Process kills!

I have had the opportunity to observe a certain large American corporation revising it’s internal IT processes, i.e. how the work gets done, since the early this year. Where the amount of bureaucracy was staggering before the institution of the new processes, the amount pales by comparison to the “new” way of doing things.

Before the changes it was possible for people from one team to call or email people in another, and ask for help/advice with their projects. If the request didn’t require so much time as to interfere with the ongoing project schedules people generally helped each other spontaneously. Often such requests took few minutes to complete, frequently saving the person who was making the request tremendous amount of time.

With the new system in place all that is history. Now nothing gets done without a pre-approval, a process that rarely takes less than a week, often more. The business culture changed (to the worse) virtually overnight. Of course the goal of such strict control was to enable the management to better determine where people spend their time, and direct the time to those tasks that they deem most important. But at what cost? People who still few months ago would gladly help others upon request no longer do so. The (micro) management surely has increased, and the mangement definitely has more information about what people do with their time. But has the productivity and efficiency improved as a result? I much doubt it. The situation is akin to the socialist countries who tax their citizens heavily and then determine, among other things, how/where even the charitable donations are made. Yes, donations get made (the citizens have no other choice since they pay the taxes), but at the same time such practice teaches the individuals not to make such donations voluntarily, because they want to help those in need. Similarly in this large American corporation (which by no means is the only example of such practices, just read “Dilbert”, or watch “The Office Space”—the jokes and references are quite universal) the individual employees are quickly taught not to facilitate smooth operation of the business as the process comes first.

The influence on the business efficiency is just the first casualty (though the most important one) of the poorly thought-out and excessive business processes. People, litereally thousands upon thousands of people in a single organization, spend countless hours—thousands of work-days—learning the new system which will enable them to expand a formerly five minute process into a week of paperwork, reviews, consultations, approvals, etc.

Maybe I just lack the bird’s eye view that would enable me to see the logic in such processes being put forth, but I suspect it’s more likely that the people who instantiate such processes simply lack the common sense, and the courage to move from the industrial age management practices to the era of Knowledge Workers (whom 99% of IT personnell is).