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?

Sound for Windows 2003 Server

Recently I needed to add sound capability (to hear alerts) to a Windows 2003 Server. The motherboard didn’t have an integrated sound, and I was running short of PCI slots. Additionally I soon discovered that most sound cards available today don’t declare support for Windows 2003, though for many one can find suggestions on the net “to try to see if Windows recognizes the card as the proprietary drivers supplied with the card won’t work.”

Poking around for a while I came across SiiG USB SoundWave 7.1 which comes with driver support for Windows 2003 and it doesn’t take up a PCI slot. Problem solved. Installation was a breeze (once I realized no sounds can be heard over Remote Desktop..).

The only remaining snag was that when I plugged the USB SoundWave output to an auxiliary input in an older Cambridge SoundWorks speaker set, I was blasted with an amplitude that seemed to have been set to “11”. The speakers use an in-line volume control, and of course only one such cable was provided with the speaker set (and that cable was already in use with a workstation PC). Even when the sound was turned to Very Low in the mixer, the pops and cracks when the system reboots and the USB SoundWave initializes were deafening (being fed at line level to the amp). Some more Googling produced a small accessory cable which, once arrived, installed, and turned about half-way down, fixed the problem.

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!