Saturday, November 7, 2015

Off the Graph -- Prepaid Cards

An obvious source of vertices for The Graph is card transactions.  The obvious alternative is to pay cash.  But sometimes you actually end up in situations where you can't pay cash.  I'm trying out using pre-paid visa/mastercard gift cards in those situations.

They act like a real card.  You can load them up to $500 dollars before they become a "financial instrument" and suddenly everyone wants to know who you are and where you live.  Malls like to sell these as "universal gift cards" and you can also pick them up at just about any large-ish drug/convenience/grocery store.  There's even a machine in the San Diego airport that will issue you one for a flat $5 transaction fee.

Fun fact -- the sketchier hotels I've stayed in seem to be switching over to vending machines that only take cards.  Who wants cash sitting around waiting for someone to try to break in?  The idea of using a card for a buck twenty-five purchase is a little odd to me though, considering the cut the processor takes.

And I've been on gigs where the company break-room has an "open canteen" that's a bunch of stuff on shelves and a machine to handle the payment part.  You scan your things, then swipe your card, and it charges you for the stuff.  They do not take cash.

So far, it's been hit-or-miss with these things.  Merchants (or machines) can actually just refuse to take them -- I assume they can tell from the issuer id.  And if you don't want to register your card on the issuer's web site, you're going to have trouble providing the billing zip code when a site or gas pump asks for it.

But they do seem to work in the necessity situations like vending machines and buying drinks on an airplane.  It's fun seeing where they work and where they don't.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Terminal Terminals

I'm always fascinated when everyday computer interfaces go sideways.  It's a little peek into the innards of the things.  For instance, I was at the Chicago airport when a storm knocked the power out.  They switched to backup power, but not quickly enough ... all the boarding pass terminals rebooted.  So I took a picture.

Then, there are otherwise sensible Point of Sale terminals that run Windows.  Honestly, you're trying to keep your money, not lose it.  Why would you trust it to a system with such lousy security?  Pictured below is a Canteen "Open Vending" POS.

Speaking of money, one of my favorite finds was a crashed NCR ATM in the Netherlands.  I like that the designers at least put a desktop wallpaper on the system that instructs the user not to enter their PIN.  (Though, in English.)

Finally, I shot a picture of an advertising display that lost its mind.  I'm curious about this one, because it's offering to send crash feedback to Logitech.  Either Logitech's getting into a new market, or this thing is a kludge using some sort of Logitech slideshow app.  Or maybe it's just that a mouse driver blew up and took the rest of the system with it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Crib Notes for Cocktail Hour

Got a lull in the conversation?  Try these:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Guerrilla Fix-It: Hotel Lamp Edition

This brand of lamp normally has both plugs facing "forward" like the one on the left.  Most power adapters can't fit, because of the black square piece right there.  Now, if it's loose -- and they frequently are -- you can twist it about 30° to one side and wedge your power adapter in there.  But there's no way to twist it to face a full 90° like the one on the right.

Someone "fixed" it.  I've been to this hotel dozens of times, and none of the other rooms have it like this.  I guess it's just a matter of having a screwdriver with you ... but who took the time?  Some sort of Robin Hood electrician is on the loose.