Archive for the 'Business' Category

This is why you should let someone experienced do surveys. Or, well, not.

July 1st, 2008

Surveys are complex. There is a lot that you can do wrong. Actually, looking at many surveys around, there is a lot that is done wrong. Time after time.

Sometime it’s the big stuff. Sometimes small.

Sometimes the surveys are not done to get answers, but to show what you want the answers to be, by skewing the questions. That’s bad for academic research, but very popular in politics.

And sometimes you really do want answers. Which is hard to do right. Ask the wrong question, ask them in the wrong way, or give the wrong options for answers, and the results may not say what you think they do, or may be impossible to analyse properly. That’s why there are those who deal professionally with surveys, know the theory (and, hopefully, statistics), have done it many times before, and should be able to avoid most of the mistakes.

They usually don’t do the really big mistakes.

A very long birth yearThey do, however, often do small, or really incomprehensible, mistakes. I guess finding a professional can be a problem as well.

Take, for example, a survey currently being run by iPerceptions , for InforWorld and ComputerWorld.

Both these clients are one client, belonging to the same company. And they do very similar things. So the surveys are practically identical (I did the ComputerWorld one originally, and just now noticed they also run it for InfoWorld. I progressed a little bit, and they’re the same questions in the same order with the same possible answers. Just the name of the company in the survey changed).

This survey has some strange points.

One main problem was that they apparently forgot that some questions may not apply. There was one (maybe 2-3) question where they did have an option to indicate the question is not relevant, or that I don’t know or can’t judge. For all the rest, and there were many of them, I was asked to rank the sites on many criteria, some of which really didn’t interest me and I didn’t know. But the options were just to rank.

Assuming that I’m not the only person who goes through a site that has many different sections, and doesn’t know (or use) all sections, this means that the answers they receive are worthless. What do you pick when you don’t know, or can’t rank? Do you say that it was excellent, since you don’t know it’s bad, causing a potential problematic part to appear good? Do you rank it as very lousy, since it didn’t do anything for you, thereby causing a potentially excellent service to appear bad? Do you rank it in the middle, trying not to judge either way, but still making anything really good, or really bad, seem more average and undeserving of attention?

This is why these things usually contain an answer to state that this question isn’t relevant for you, and you don’t have a real answer for it. But here, no. Good luck to them in the later analysis.

A second point is much less severe, but far more amusing and baffling.

In the personal details, at some point they asked for year of birth. And provided a field to type the year number in. With a maximum of 500 characters. Yes, you read that right, 500 characters to answer the question “In what year where you born?”. They also made the text box large enough to type a small essay in.

What sort of an answer where they expecting? Hmm… Maybe…

That’s a tough question, there. I don’t know what year I was born in. It was a cold, harsh, dark year for my family. My parents were moving a lot. I don’t have no birth certificate, ’cause they were always running from them cops. Who need a stinking certificate? My mom knew I was born. And I had a tough childhood, so people tell me I look 40, but I bet I’m younger. I don’t remember much from those years, really can’t say. Is this important? If it is, I can try remembering, just let me know. Yes?

That’s not a true story (for me, anyway), but it does have exactly 500 characters. For comparison, writing something like 2008, or 1912, takes 4 characters (as does “NOYB“). They could have even been generous, cover all their bases, and give 5-6 characters (You know, for time travellers, or for really really old people). Maybe 3 digits more, for a space followed by “AD”, in case they’re actually worried? A little longer still, so they can get “year of the dragon”? Why the heck 500 characters?

You want to know what’s even more strange? This is in the third part of the survey. In the first part they already asked most personal questions (gender, business, people working in same company, etc), including one about age. But there they just gave several age groups (e.g. 24-35 or something like that), so I suppose they really needed the birth year too.

Then again, if they ask for birth year, why bother asking for age? Odd, that.

Well, I was in a nice mood (this was more amusing than annoying), so I decided I’ll let them know. At the last page of the survey they had a link to provide feedback. I was actually impressed with that, since sometimes I have comments, and nobody official to tell them to. This was nice. Or so I thought.

It was a mailto style link, that contained an email address, and a prepared subject line with the code/number of this survey (Good idea, so they won’t have to wonder what survey it was, and I won’t have to try and describe it too much to ensure they identify it).

There was just one main problem with it. The email address they provided? It wasn’t correct.

I sent a message. I got back a bounce.

<>: does not like recipient.
Remote host said: 553 mailbox is restricted (Mode: normal)
Giving up on

Impressive. This is a company that specializes in running surveys. In getting feedback from people for their clients. Except they can’t seem to arrange to get feedback for themselves.

It seems like a typo. The “1″ in the email address does not belong. I checked later on their site, and this address is listed there, without the “1″, in their contact page. But, well, by that time I was out of the helpful mood, and into the annoyed and unimpressed one. Which I think is perfectly understandable.

Some basic math for waiters

October 8th, 2007

When a group of several people eat together at a restaurant (or bar, coffee shop, etc…) there are common ways to split the bill:

  • One person pays everything.
  • Split evenly.
  • Each pays for their own portion.

The exact values are of course a bit fluid on the last two options, since the numbers may be rounded. Currency is discrete rather than continuous, after all. Not only that, but it’s often simpler to divide up to the main coin and not the sub-coins[1].

The payment can be done by cash. In that case the people would usually just collect enough, pay with it, and divide the change between themselves when the change comes back. The work on properly dividing the charge is on the customers in these cases.

Sometimes, though, people pay with credit cards. Which means that many times the waiters will just receive a bunch[2] of cards, with simple instructions on how to divide the charge between them.

The common one is of course “Split it evenly”. And these are the cases where money is often rounded to higher coins, since apparently most waiters have a problem with fractions. I can recall maybe 1-2 cases, ever, where the individual charges weren’t rounded with one person paying the extra.

When things are not split evenly, well, that’s when the fun begins. And by “fun” I mean an all too common tragic comedy of errors.

The simple case is when the customers still calculate the amounts in advance. In this case the waiter receives exact instructions in the style of “Put 100 on this card, and 150 on that card”. Simple. Easy.

And they still sometimes manage to get it wrong:

  1. The bill comes back split evenly.
  2. The amounts are charged correctly, but on the wrong cards. In this example, the first card is charged 150, and the second 100.
  3. All of the cards are charged the same amount, which is one of the sub-amounts. So, for example, for this 250 bill either both cards will be charged 100, or both will be charged 150.
  4. Some of the cards may be charged correctly, and some will be charged an unrelated amount. This is because the complexity of the task got the waiter confused and he/she charged an amount due for another customer entirely.

I had all of these happen to me, as a customer in restaurants.

One time I had two of them happen in a series. The waitress made a mistake (#3 above), I alerted her, and she came back with a “correction” that included another type of mistake (#4 above). When there’s a charge, and a cancellation, as a customer you’re requested to sign on both. If you simply don’t sign on the charge, it creates all sorts of complications. So I ended up having to sign five times for my bill that day. What did I tell you? Fun!

It also happens, though, that the job of dividing the charge is placed on the waiter. Sometimes the customers know the difference between what they’re supposed to be billed for, but not the final amount.

In which cases someone has to do the calculation. It’s a simple enough calculation, you know the total, and you know the differences.

And the natural tendency would be to let the waiter do it. People just had a meal, are finishing up, and they need to pay the bill. Why would they want to do the work, as easy as it is, when there’s a waiter that will have to process the charges anyway and is being paid for it?

Makes sense.

Except it doesn’t. Because many waiters seem a bit deficient in the math department.

The latest time this happened to me was a couple of weeks ago. I was finishing a meal with a friend. We basically shared the dishes, so almost everything was supposed to be split evenly. The only difference was that I had an extra glass of some medium-pricey alcohol.

The waitress arrived, and saw the two credit cards on the tray with the bill. The dialog between me and the waitress went something like that:

Waitress: Should I split this up?
Me: Yes, but it’s 70 more on this card.
Waitress: Right. 70 on this card, and the rest on the other card.
Me: No. Split it between the cards, so that this card is charged by 70 more than the other card.
Waitress: Eh…
Waitress: Hmm….
Waiterss: I’m…. err… not….
Me: It’s simple. Just split evenly, add 35 to this card, and reduce the other 35 from the other card.
Waitress: Ah. Yes. OK, sure.

And this is the math lesson for today. If you want to divide a sum X between N people so that everyone pays the same except for one who pays an extra Y, this is what you do:

  1. Divide X by N. Let’s call that A for average. You already know how to do that. This A would be what you’d charge each card if you had to split evenly.
  2. Divide Y by N. Let’s call that B. This value is like the average of the differences. Mathematically it’s the exact same process as the previous step, so if you knew how to do it, you know how to do that.
  3. Everyone, except the person who has to pay more, pays A-B. You know how to do subtraction already. It’s the same thing you’d do if someone paid part by cash and part by credit card, and you’d have had to reduce the cash amount from the total to get the credit card charge.
  4. The person who has to pay more pays A + [(N-1)*B]. Basically all the B’s you reduced from the bills of the other people, you add to this one’s bill. You already know how to do addition too. It’s just like what you’d do if someone asked you to charge the tip on the card as well, telling you how much is the charge and how much is the tip. You already know how to do multiplication as well, it’s what you’d do if you got everyone else’s cards and they all told you they have to pay B.

That’s it. Easy. Simple steps. And these are all things that waiters are supposed to know how to do already.

Except sometimes they don’t.

In this case, for example, I was indeed charged 35 more. The other card? Charged exactly the amount of an even split.

Wait, wait, I know what you’re thinking. In this case it would mean that the total would come to 35 more than the real total, right? So the waitress, or at least the cash register computer, should notice something is off, right?


But they had a simple solution for that. You see, the final bill came back printed with three items:

  • Credit card charge : A
  • Credit card charge : A+35
  • Refund : -35

So the total was absolutely correct, making the waitress feel perfectly happy about it. No problem if it all adds up, after all.

Except that, of course, we didn’t get that refund. The bill did not come back with 35 cash, nor did one of the credit cards get a refund (which would have kind of defeated the whole purpose, but at least would have meant the amount of money passed from us to the restaurant would have been correct).

Our poor waitress didn’t quite see the problem. It all adds up after all, and the total is right. Luckily another waitress/supervisor did see the light immediately after a very brief explanation.

Waiters should learn a little basic math. Me, I should learn not to trust waiters to do even the most basic math. I think I learned my lesson. Now it’s their turn.

  1. OK, Poor terminology here. I mean that, for example, to split 25$ between to people you’d sometimes, often, see one charged 13$ and one 12$, rather than 12.5$ each.[back]
  2. 2 is also valid for “bunch”[back]

Don’t bother people who are not your users

August 29th, 2007

I just got a message from Yahoo letting me know that they’ll be shutting down the Yahoo Photos service soon.

The stated purpose of which was to let me know that I need to take out the pictures I stored in Yahoo Photos and move them elsewhere.

Except that, well, I don’t have any pictures in Yahoo Photos.

I tested it a while back. Once. I just put a couple of pictures there, saw the behaviour, and then removed the pictures.

Haven’t used the service in over a year, I believe.

And in any case, I don’t have any picture there. When I tried to follow their link to go to my pictures, just to verify, it didn’t show me any picture either.

So I know I’m not using the Yahoo Photos service. And Yahoo knows I’m not using the Yahoo Photos service. In this case, what exactly was the point in their email?

Paying exact change should be a good indicator of choice

August 22nd, 2007

I just don’t get the thought process of some people.

Some days ago I had to take a bus ride. This bus covered two areas (same city, and a different city it was going to), so had two different ticket prices based on the destination.

The cheaper ticket was 3.50 ILS, and the more expensive one was 4.60 ILS.

I needed to go to a station in the same city, and I had too many leftover small coins, so I prepared exact change. 8 coins, totalling 3.50 ILS.

I went on the bus, and gave the coins to the driver.

The driver then counted the money. He went over flipping the coins one by one. This was definitely counting. He saw exactly how much money I gave him. And again I remind you, there were only two different fares for this line.

After counting the money, he pushed a button on his register, and it printed a ticket. Or a sort of a ticket/receipt combo, since these new machines look pretty much like cash registers elsewhere. And are amazingly designed to print the actual fare, the worth of the ticket, at the very last, where you can’t see it when you take the ticket out.

Of course it’s possible to take a look at the ticket after pulling it out. But that requires doing so consciously and intentionally. If you just take the ticket out of the machine and put it in your pocket, you won’t see the value.

So I took the ticket, put it in my pocket, and went onward inside the bus to get my seat.

Suddenly the bus driver yelled at me. He asked me where I was travelling to.

Somewhat perplexed I told him what station I needed to get to, and that it’s inside the city.

He then started to complain, being quite indigent, that I should tell him things like that when I ask for my ticket, because he needs to know what fare to charge me.

Turns out that, after counting my 3.50 in exact change, he still assumed I wanted the 4.60 ticket, and that’s the one he issued me. So when I just went inside the bus without paying the reminder of the money, he was annoyed.

I went back, gave him the ticket, and got a new one. Somehow I refrained from apologizing for my inconsiderate behaviour…

Leave the toilet paper alone

June 20th, 2006

Sudoku toilet paperLook, we all know why people buy toilet paper, where they put it, and what they most likely plan on doing with it. Right?

When toilet paper rolls with delicate designs such as light drawings of flowers, puppies, or abstract shapes came out, I didn’t really get it. I care about the texture, but not about how it looks like.

Ideally I prefer not to look at toilet paper. Not for long.

But apparently everything is a market, and even toilet paper makers have aspirations and imagination.

Black toilet paperA few weeks ago I discovered there’s black toilet paper. Deep uniform rolls of black toilet paper. Quite pricey, too.

And now I see another version, going not for the artistic angle, but for the useful-pastime angle. Sudoku toilet paper. With a new Sudoku puzzle on every sheet.

What toilet paper innovations are we likely to see next?

New neighbours in the office again

June 20th, 2006

The last ones left a few months ago. This starts to feel like a recurring theme, the companies in nearby buildings are stationary, but the people trying to get the upper floors in our own building never stick for long.

The last ones were quiet, and we had little interaction with them. But the newcomers give a first impression that remind me more of the ones we had before.

They came around with the landlord, as he was showing them around the place. And no, I’m not sure what reason is there to show someone around after they already closed the deal. Presumably they got to see what they’re renting before that.

They were quite an odd looking pair (even number of odd people is a lousy pun, isn’t it?).

My boss asked the one that seemed in charge what business are they in.


Informative, and highly descriptive. So my boss asked for a few more details, trying to understand just what will we be getting.

Oh, you know, all sorts of stuff. Like, err, toys. Or computers. Stocks. All sorts of stuff.

So my boss further asked if they’re just using the space for storage, or will there be an office there. And if they’re importing merchandise, or doing something else?

The guys said that he’ll be there personally in an office as well. And that’s it’s not an import business, it’s “stocks”. Consisting of “Toys, all sorts of stuff, computers, whatever”.

The exact word he used, all this time, was “stockim”, with the “im” being a Hebrew suffix for plural, like the “s” in English. Normally when a Hebrew word exists people use it. Such a form of the English noun with a Hebrew suffix is only used when the word is one for which there isn’t yet a Hebrew word, or it’s a very uncommon word.

Stocks, if it’s not obvious, is a word for which there are a few perfectly suitable, and well used, Hebrew equivalents. So even if it wasn’t clear from the guy’s demeanour and attitude, it was obvious he wasn’t exactly talking about moving regular stocks, but usings “stocks” as a codeword for something else…

Oh, well, at least this time they didn’t get parking rights, so we won’t have to share the limited parking lot of the building. Still, looks like we’re going to have some good high-quality legal company again.

Warm welcome for ‘Playboy’ in Indonesia

June 16th, 2006

An Islamic group in Indonesia decided to aggressively object the publication of a local Playboy Magazine edition.

Two policemen were injured Wednesday when about 100 demonstrators, most of them Islam Defenders Front (FPI) members, attacked the Playboy Indonesia editorial office in South Jakarta.

Protesters pelted the building with rocks, shattering windows and panicking the tenants.

A very violent reaction. And while 100 aren’t that large a group in general, it’s a very large group if they’re all actually taking part in the riot and not just standing and looking.

There are legitimate ways to object to things you don’t like, but this sort of violence isn’t one of them. If they think there are legal issues, and they claim they do, then they should have used the courts. If they object to the content they should avoid buying the magazine, and encourage others to do the same.

The demonstrators earlier visited National Police Headquarters to complain about the publication of the magazine. They made a bonfire of about 100 copies of the magazine.

Burning about a 100 copies of the magazine is also not the way. And not only because book (and by extension magazine) burning is bad in general. It’s also because in order to create a bonfire of a 100 magazine they had to first purchase those 100 magazines.

This happened before the riot. So these weren’t copied found in the offices by someone breaking in.

Buying the magazine is a good way to encourage publication. It’s demand. Playboy doesn’t care if people read the magazine, or burn it. They earn the same amount of money either way. And either way they can claim the buyers think it’s hot (OK, lousy pun there, sorry).

Plus, imagine how this looks like in the organization’s expense account. Going over the general ledger of an Islamic organization and finding a purchase order for 100 Playboy magazines is bound to make some accountant giggle.

Imagine that, since it’s related to the organization’s goal, they ask the Indonesian equivalent of the IRS for a tax refund…

The Independent Journalists Association (AJI) condemned the attack. AJI secretary-general Abdul Manan said

“According to press regulations, the FPI could face a maximum Rp 500 million fine,” he said.

500 million Indonesian Rupiahs are a little less than $53,000. On the one hand it seems like a small amount of money compared to the damage described. On the other hand in local terms it may be quite a lot, I’m really not sure.

I’m also not sure why someone from a journalistic association is a reliable source in determining the maximum fine the organization may receive for the damages they caused. Even if the lawsuit for damages will be done by the AJI, and not directly by Playboy Indonesia, or the country (remember, policemen were hurt), their lawyer should make these kinds of comments, and preferably base them on what they request in the lawsuit. This, however, just seems pulled out of nowhere.

And just how seriously do these guys take it? Was that just a one-time riot because people got in a frenzy? Well, no, it’s more serious to them than that, according to their leader:

“If the magazine continues to be distributed, the FPI is ready to go to war,” he said

Of course, saying war when you’re an organization, rather than a country, carries a different meaning.

Still, it’s a shame that people can actually consider going to what they consider war for a purpose as important and crucial as preventing publication of a magazine.

Chief editor of Playboy Indonesia Erwin Arnada said

“Playboy Indonesia is in full compliance with Indonesian law and does not, and will not, contain any nude photography. We have also …

What was that? Playboy Indonesia magazine will not contain any nude photography? Hmm…

I never actually opened an issue of Playboy, but aren’t these things supposed to kind of be about… nude photography? Isn’t that like the whole point?

Or is this supposed to be the version where people finally, finally, actually mean it when they say they only read it for the articles?

How El-Al’s online check-in worked in real life

April 25th, 2006

In my previous post I mentioned trying El-Al’s new system of online check-in through the Internet before reaching the airport, the few problems they had with the procedure, and some of the expected benefits.

Now I’ve actually taken the flight, and got to experience the results in the airport. The short version is that they get lots of points on intent, but still fail miserably on execution.

The first, and most direct, benefit was supposed to be the ability to skip the regular check-in lines. Since people who went through the online procedures already made their seating/food/etc selection, they can use a quicker queue to only send the luggage. That’s the theory anyway.

The printed check-in paper had a note stating we need to go to a specific check-in desk (number 78 in this case) instead of the regular check-in desks used for the flight.

But the big electronic billboard in the airport, listing the gates for flights, included gate 78 as well. It was right up there on a listing of “All flights” together with a few more general desks. Meaning that we all went to that line, but regular passengers for regular check-in did so as well.

In my case, for a example, two people in front of me were this older woman who seemed to have lots and lots of problems, and a younger relative who seemed to have lots of issues of his own. Our line actually became the longest queue at some point, because the few people from online check-in all went there, but other people could distribute themselves based on queue length.

One woman behind me on the line even complained quite loudly that she could have saved time by not doing the online check-in. And the sad thing is that she was right.

A couple right behind me were there for regular check-in. People tried telling them that this is a line for people who only did the online check-in, but they pointed to the large electronic billboard, and said that this line is good for them as well. And the sad thing is that they were right as well.

What’s worse, at some point the woman working at that desk started to almost cry to a supervisor that she’s also taking regular people, and she can’t hold under all that pressure, and that the queue is getting too long, and they have to do something. I would have felt really sorry for her if I weren’t so busy being one of the people annoyed at having to wait so long in the queue that was supposed to be the fastest.

Eventually the came up with a temporary solution. They managed to find another clerk to open another desk, and someone arrived to tell us that all the people who did the electronic check-in should go to desk 75 now.

This was of course a temporary solution, since all the people who didn’t arrive yet would all still come to desk 78. In the future they should probably just have a different listing for it on the billboard, which they can change in real time. They can’t change printed paper, though.

Another point of confusion was that they also recently started with the idea of E-Tickets. Plane tickets that you can print from their site. Which are an entirely different thing from the boarding pass you can print during the online check-in. Except that, naturally, it doesn’t feel that different to people. There were a few who figured that since they printed their tickets online, then they did their online check-in.

We moved to desk 75, and gave our luggage to the person operating it. And they gave us a real boarding pass instead of the one printed online. They also verified with us again the seating arrangements and the other details. Which is to say, the procedure took about the same exact time as a regular check-in, since we went through the exact same procedure.

Well, not entirely. This was longer. Because of the other benefits that online check-in had, the coupons for a free coffee and a discount at one of the stores. They said that they had to give us a coupon for the coffee.

Actually, they asked each and every one of us if we printed the coupon during the check-in, and each and every passenger told them that the printed document did not include a coupon. So we were directed to desk 77 to take a coupon for the coffee.

The woman there again asked if I didn’t already had a coupon. At that point I thought maybe the reason for me was that I did it by phone, and the support tech didn’t fax it to me. And that there were other technical problems preventing it being printed for all the other passengers near me. What I didn’t know and, much worse, the El-Al people there didn’t know was that these coupons were not offered for printing at all.

I was given a coupon for a free coffee, and went on. I didn’t realize how clueless they all were, so I didn’t think to ask them for a coupon about the 25$ discount at the duty-free sports shop. I assumed that they know their procedure, that the coffee requires a coupon (since it’s hard to track) but that the discount will be given by presenting the printed boarding pass which we all still have. Since they didn’t mention it, but were sure to mention the coffee coupon, this was a reasonable assumption. Reasonable, but wrong.

But let’s stick to the coffee for now, before getting back to it. The coupon was for a free coffee at the Arcaffe stand in the duty-free area.

The duty free in the new terminal in the Ben-Gurion airport has a central area containing most of the duty-free shops, and a few concourses radiating from it into the gates. Arcaffe has a stand in the central area, so I reached there, and showed them my coupon. And the man there told me that the coupon only applies to the second stand they have on concourse D.

Not that big a problem, since it’s not a long walk (and in that particular case near the gate I’ll have to take anyway), but somewhat annoying. They’re the same network, and should be selling about the same thing, so I can’t see the sense in the separation. Plus, this was not listed on the coupon page.

Oh, and if you took a look at that map, notice that the Ben-Gurion airport site has managed to misspell Arcaffe in English. I just saw that, and I must say I’m not impressed.

Later on I went to the Arcaffe location on the D concourse, showed them the coupon, and asked what it included. I expected that, as this is a deal/coupon, it will basically be a small cup of a regular coffee, or somesuch.

So I was pleasantly surprised. The employee at the shop told me that it covered all the various kinds of coffees they have. And it covered both the smaller sizes and the larger sizes.

The cost difference to them is of course much smaller than the cost difference on the menu presented to customers, so being consumer-friendly like that is a smart move, and one that I liked. Since it’s a deal with El-Al however, I wonder based on what price are they charging El-Al. It has to be a fixed price per coupon…

So this one benefit turned rather very well. Now back to the sports store, which turned out not to be quite as simple.

I went to check the store. Now, the deal there was a 25$ discount for any purchase above 100$. Meaning that the coupon is only useful if I actually find something there that I want to buy in those amount.

The store contained sports gear (mostly clothing and such), and shoes. Actually it looked a lot more like a shoe store than a sports store.

I didn’t need any of their sport gear, but I did manage to find a very nice pair of New Balance shoes which were comfortable and looked good. And since I can actually use another pair of shoes, that was alright. They cost 109$ (Which is the same as the retail price in the US, so is cheaper than the retail price in Israel), which made them a relative bargain at 84$ after the discount.

I reached the checkout counter, told the clerk there that I did El-Al’s online check-in so deserve a discount, and showed her the printed (and faxed) boarding pass.

She asked for a coupon (You guessed that was coming by now, right?).

I told her I was not given a coupon, and was not told that there’s a coupon. I asked if the printed boarding pass isn’t enough as a proof that I did the online check-in. She called a supervisor to ask, and gave the reply that they get the money back from El-Al on the coupons, so as far as they’re concerned the coupons are like money during the purchase, and they can’t go on without it.

Very annoying, and something I did not expect. Though maybe, given the state of confusion in other aspects of this check-in experience, I should have. So I asked her to keep the shoes at the counter, and went to find someone from El-Al who could give me my coupon.

I went to the information desk, and the guy there said El-Al has a lounge (King David’s Lounge, intended for first-class and business class passengers) with El-Al’s people there which I can try and talk to. I went there, and the woman at the counter sent me one further door outside to their Passenger’s Support counter.

In I went, and was greeted by a young man working there (called Yehuda, or Yoav, or somesuch. I asked him later, but forgot to write it down, and the name got a little fuzzy in my memorry). I said that I didn’t get my coupon/voucher for the 25$ at the sports store, and he looked at me quizzically and asked what I was talking about.

Turns out that this El-Al employee, which they placed there for passenger support, was not even notified about their online check-in procedure. Not only did he not know about the coupons, he wasn’t even aware they had online check-in. At all. This is a major screw-up from El-Al’s side.

I explained to him about it, and showed him the printed boarding pass, and the page saying that doing the online check-in should entitle me to that discount. He checked for some things on his computer, apparently didn’t find anything useful, and called a supervisor.

Now, the coffee coupon was a pretty simple thing. Could have been easily reproduced by a home printer, and looked like it has been photocopied. So I expected they’ll just tell him to print a copy of the coupon at his station, and that would be it. No such luck. It requires an “original” coupon (which turned out to be of the same simple-print and photocopied quality. of course).

And they didn’t have them in any location inside the duty free. They had to send a stewardess in from outside with it. Meaning that she’ll have to go through all the security check points, and whatever else people have to do to get into the terminal. Not a quick process.

Not quick at all, actually. It took over 25 minutes. He told me it would take a while, so I went to do other things in the terminal. But his time estimates were way off, at about 10-15 minutes, so when I came back to ask what’s going on (He did take my phone number and said he’d call me, but I decided to go back and check in person) he still didn’t have anything.

Because of the long delay, and the fact that my boarding pass was closing, he went with me back to the store, and tried to ask the saleswoman at the counter if she’ll accept his personal guarantee as an El-Al employee that he’ll give her the coupon later. He showed her his ID and everything. But, as we expected, she said she couldn’t and will require an actual physical coupon.

Eventually a stewardess came rushing in. carrying a huge pile of pages with the coupons. He took one, wrote my details on it, handed the page to me, and that was that.

At that point there were a few other El-Al employees in the Passenger Support area. They asked what that was about, and he explained it to them. They too never heard that El-Al had this online check-in option.

All in all I’d say that this could be a good thing, but they really have to pay more attention to their procedure, and iron out all the kinks. The guy at the support counter was extremely nice and tried to help, but the overall experience has been extremely amateurish and disorganized…

In this series (El-Al online check-in):

  1. Offline online check-in
  2. How El-Al’s online check-in worked in real life

Movie studios still refuse to get it

April 7th, 2006

Most of the US movie studios are claiming to be going to offer their movies for download, through a site called MovieLink

On the face of it, a good thing. Saves shipment cost and time. Allows to easily see the movies on the computer. And could be cheaper since many of the costs are cut.

Except that they managed to do it wrong on almost all fronts. If this is supposed to be their way to combat piracy, or compete with similar offers, they’re on a totally wrong track.

New films will be priced similar to DVDs—between $20 and $30—while older titles will sell for $10 to $20, the news service said.

That’s mistake number one. When someone downloads a movie they get less. They don’t get a nice box, or a nice disc that they can hold in their hands and feel. They don’t get any extras which movie DVDs almost all contain, and which are a large part of their attraction. And if they want to see it on their TV, they have to work on it, and can’t just slide the disc into a DVD players.

And when the offer is less, the price has to be less. Simple economics. You can’t charge the same for an obviously inferior product, because people won’t buy it.

And what do they do? They charge the same amount as the boxed DVD. And there’s another issue, it’s also annoying, because they have less costs. They didn’t have the expense, however small, of arranging for the box, the design, the printing, storage, and many other things involved with creating DVD boxes. Sure, on-line distribution has associated costs as well, but the marginal cost per movie is much smaller in the on-line versions.

But wait, that’s not even the biggest problem. This is:

he downloads available on Movielink will include copyright protection software that prevents them from being transferred directly to a laptop or portable device, or burned onto a disc that will play in a DVD player. Copies of the films will only play on a maximum of three different computers, which must be authorized by Movielink, the news service said.

When someone buys a DVD, they can put it in any DVD player they want, and watch it. Well, as long as the region matches (another totally annoying, pointless, and needless concept, but that’s a different rant. And something which is also quite easy to bypass). They can also watch it on any computer that has a DVD drive, something which is becoming very cheap and very common. This, however, is more limited. It cannot be used everywhere a DVD is used. It cannot be used as freely as a DVD can, even with all the limitations that DVDs carry.

So this downloaded movie gives far lower flexibility. And very likely carries an expiration date, since future computer installations may be counted as a new computer. And yet, same price as a DVD. Stupid.

Movies which “include copyright protection” also usually mean they can only be viewed with the specific program that the company provides. Compared to DVDs which can be viewed with any DVD player, and with many different media playing software on computers. Or compared to other computer movies, like the pirated ones they think this will compete against, which can be played with any media player the user wants.

So users will not be able to use whatever program they like the best, or most comfortable with. Also, as is often the case with these tie-ins, the program they’ll provide is bound to be limited, and less useful, than other available alternatives, for many users. Some people may prefer it, but all the rest will just be stuck.

An what happens in a few years? Other programs can come and go, but there will always be alternatives, and support for common video formats will always be kept. But with a format that just one program, from one company, supports, what happens if they decide to close shop? All those downloaded movies, those paid for downloaded movies, become unreadable data.

After reading that article, I still had one other question, about another issue which has a large impact on how good the new offering is. What is the quality of the movies? Is it identical to the DVDs? Superior (for new movies)? Inferior?

So I decided to go to their website, assuming that they should have the data there. Guess what? They decided to also make the website as useless as possible.

After going to the site I was redirected to a page telling me:

Thanks for your interest in Movielink, the leading movie download service. We want you to enjoy our powerful movie experience, but it is presently unavailable to users outside of the United States.

We hope you enjoy the products and services offered below.

If you are an existing customer of Movielink and believe you have reached this page in error, please access Live Chat with Customer Service under Help in your Movielink Manager.

This is the wrong thing to do on so many levels:

  1. IP Geolocating is pretty good these days, but still not perfect. They can block potential real customers, in the US, from reaching their site.
  2. This is the website, not a direct link to purchase a movie. The website (potentially) does a lot of other things. Provides information, for one. So why block it to all people from outside the US? Publicity is good publicity, even if it’s for someone who isn’t currently a customer.
  3. There can be US customers, who have accounts with them, who are travelling abroad, and want to check their account. Why prevent them? If paying customers can’t access their accounts, they will get angry. Guaranteed.
  4. What are those “products and services offered below” exactly? Nothing below right now except a trademark/copyright notice.
  5. How can you be “the leading movie downloading service” when you haven’t started working yet? Even if you are, why should I care? You just told me that you don’t want my business.
  6. If you actually realize that real customers can be caught by this thing, as you must in order to give that instructions to people who installed your program, then this same instruction is absurd. These same people won’t reach a stage where they can download the program, so they won’t have the Movielink Manager, and won’t be able to access live chat. You’re saying “If you can’t get to our program, please use our program to contact us”. That’s stupid.

Oh, yes, and the stupid page has the word “untitled” as the page title, and uses table elements for alignment… Very bad design. Actually, the other pages in the site I reached later, they are all formatted inside table elements.

Oh, well, I still wanted to know about the image quality, so off I went to run the site through a proxy, preferably one in the US…

And was then greeted with a more nicely designed page (visually nicer, but still the same horror from a technical standpoint), containing a little self-advertisement, links to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, and nothing else useful. Why? Well, the main thing was this message:

Sorry, but in order to enjoy the Movielink service your browser scripting AND cookies must be enabled.

I don’t want to enjoy the service. I don’t want to even use the service without enjoying. I just want some information. But no, I have to enable scripting and cookies. Oh, well, if I have to, I have to. So I did. And tried again. Still no go:

Sorry, but in order to enjoy the Movielink service you must use Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher, which supports certain technologies we utilize for downloading movies. Click here to get the latest version of Internet Explorer.

We do not support Mozilla or Netscape. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Let me give you a hint. It is totally, entirely, and completely possible to download files in Firefox. Really.

Well, I don’t want to check stupid questionable sites in IE, so instead I changed the User Agent string, in essence lying to the site and telling it that I’m using IE as my browser. The sad (or happy, depends how you look at it) fact is that about 90% of the sites which insist they require IE actually work perfectly well in Firefox. The only feature on most of them that doesn’t work is the browser version check. So it was worth trying here as well.

No go:

Sorry, but in order to enjoy the Movielink service your browser ActiveX must be enabled. Click here to learn how.

ActiveX components, for anyone who doesn’t know, are full fledged programs. This means code that can do anything it wants, that has to be allowed to run on the computer. Now, for sites you absolutely trusts, when it should do very specific things you want it to do, that may be acceptable. But for a movie studio site I know nothing about, when I don’t even want to run their service but only to see some information pages?! No friggin way, sorry. Especially not with the abysmal entertainment industry history on the field…

I did take a look at their page of recommendations on how to enable ActiveX on IE… Here’s how it starts:

1. Open Internet Explorer browser and select the “Tools” menu
2. Select “Internet Options”
3. Click on the “Security” tab
4. Move Security Level slider to “Medium”

They don’t only ask to put their own site in the trust list. Oh, no. Anyone who doesn’t know any better is instructed to lower their security settings for every site on the Internet… Horrible, terrible, pathetic, and even dangerous.

Well, back to that main page. At least they did provide minimum system requirements:

.High-speed Internet access
.Windows 2000 or XP
.Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher
.Available only in the U.S.

And no, I don’t know why they have those “.” at the beginning of each line either… What I do know is that it’s possible to watch movies on operating systems other than Windows 2000 or XP, and that it should be possible to download them with other browsers.

The last thing I did before giving up was checking those Terms of Service, to see if maybe there I’ll find some technical information about the quality of the video they provide. No such luck. But I did find other interesting things (emphasis mine):

(ii) Retained Content License. Upon payment of the License Fee, Movielink will grant you a non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license under copyright to create and retain a permanent copy of the Retained Content and to view, use and privately display in your Residence or for Permitted Non-Residential Use, the Retained Content purchased by you, subject to the following rules:

(A) You may retain a permanent copy of the Retained Content on the hard drive of your personal computer (or other device specifically authorized by Movielink) to which the Retained Content is initially delivered via a connection to the Services over the Internet.

(B) You may make a single back-up copy of the Retained Content on removable media (e.g., recordable DVD) in the same format as the original downloaded file to play on (i) the single computer to which it was initially delivered and (ii) if specifically permitted at the time of purchase on the Website (on a case-by-case basis), up to two (2) additional licensed computers for your personal non-commercial use. In order to enable viewing of your Retained Content on personal computers other than the one to which it was initially delivered, you will have to obtain a new license by connecting each such computer to the Services via an Internet connection, logging in to your Account and downloading a new license. Any back-up copy of the Retained Content on a DVD will not be playable on a traditional DVD player. Movielink may determine from time-to-time in its sole discretion those devices that are compatible to receive a license to view Retained Content as indicated on the Website at the time of downloading and installing the new license. Any rights granted to you hereunder (or on the Website at the time of purchase) to make and keep any copies of Retained Content is solely an accommodation to you and shall not constitute a grant or waiver (or other limitation or implication) of any rights of the copyright owners in any audio or video content contained within any Retained Content.

So, in essence, they are not letting anyone to buy the movies. Only to license the right to see them, and store them in a limited fashion on specific location that they approve. And that’s supposed to be worth the price of a DVD one can actually buy, and own?

You may not: (i) frame or link to the Website except as expressly permitted in writing by Movielink;

(iv) copy the Content or any portion thereof, except as specifically provided for herein;

Oops. Oh, well, sue me. I want to see a judge looking at this without getting into fits of hysterical laughter. Not allowed to link to the website except as expressly permitted… Get real!

5. MINIMUM SPECIFICATIONS. The Services will operate only on those hardware and software platforms specified on the Website. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have the appropriate software, hardware and Internet connection to operate the Services. Movielink reserves the right to cease supporting any hardware or software platform at any time, with or without notice.

I think this clearly shows that I wasn’t kidding when I said one day people may upgrade their computer only to find out that they can no longer see their downloaded movies, doesn’t it? It will work only on what hardware they want, and they reserve the right to stop supporting any hardware and software whenever they want, without notice…

So we have a bad deal, under bad conditions, and with bad execution. Inspiring, isn’t it?

With this attitude, I have a feeling they’re not going to see too many paying customers from within the US as well. Of course, once that happens they won’t try to figure out what they did wrong, they’ll just go on to blame it on piracy and on how people expect to get movies completely free…

Heck, I’m perfectly willing to pay for movies, if they’re worth anything. Many people are. But that’s for usable movies, not this dreck. Make the legally purchasable movies with similar quality to the pirated stuff, and as usable, and people will pay a fair price, a price higher than zero. People are aware that there was an investment in making a movie, and that the makers need to make money. Most people do want to play it fair.

But not when it’s good pirated movies compared to crappy legal ones. That’s not a competition.

Sponsored sub-domain

November 26th, 2005

I’ve just noticed one of the oddest types of TV show sponsorship notification I’ve ever encountered.

Anyone who watches TV shows, at least on channels which aren’t entirely viewer paid, must be familiar with both commercial breaks, and sponsorship notification. To clarify my terminology here, which may not be the proper one, by commercials I mean those breaks in the program that show general ads and try to sell you products, and by sponsorship notifications I’m talking about the specific subset of those which aren’t a regular product commercial but rather say things like “This show brought to you by SponsorCompany”.

I was just now watching a local TV show, and the commercial breaks also included a sponsorship notification for the show. But they went a little bit more than just saying that the sponsor company helped to finance the show’s production.

They presented the website address of the show during that sponsorship notification. And the official web address was not in the main domain address of the show, but in a sub-domain named after the main sponsor. So anyone trying to go to the show’s website will have to type the sponsor company’s name to get to it.

To illustrate, if the show had been called Example, and the sponsor had been SponsorCompany, then instead of the show’s address being , it was . And that’s the only website address for the show that was presented.

There’s an amusing twist, though. This address, and the main domain address, both automatically redirect to a different page, under the domain of the TV company producing the show. So the sponsorship isn’t ever in the address beyond being typed initially. And it doesn’t have to be typed there, but just optional.


Unfree parking

November 19th, 2005

The Tel-Aviv municipality handles the administration of organized parking lots through a municipal company, Ahuzat Ha’hof (Roughly translated as “The Beach Mansion”). This company is in charge of the proper operation of the parking lots according to the city regulations, and to contracting out individual lots to subcontractors.

The regulations leave it up to them, and the contractors, to determine the operating hours of each individual lot. The condition is that on the hours where they don’t operate a lot (By putting a person there, to monitor entrance and charge for parking) they must leave it open for free public use.

A policy which actually makes sense. The lots will be free on the hours where there are not enough potential clients to make it worth for the contractor to pay workers, while the people who do look for parking will not have to go look elsewhere while there’s a whole empty parking lot nearby.

And this last is something which sadly does happen in many places where it’s less regulated. You can sometime see cars doing the rounds looking for parking, while there’s a large area that could have held them all, with a locked gate. Not entirely unreasonable from the lot operator’s perspective, though, since they do incur maintenance costs on the lot operation, even when it’s freely open. Even just the usual wear, and the potential for damage that people will cause the unattended lot, costs money on average.

One big problem that occurs with leaving parking lots open while not having well defined working hours, is that it’s not immediately obvious if the lot is open or not. When you go to park the car, and someone is standing at the entrance and charging, it’s not obvious if they’re official employees of the parking lot, or not. There are quite a lot of cases where other people take advantage, standing in front of those parking lots while they’re supposed to be free, and pretending to work there.

On occasions it can be obvious. Some of the parking lots have some sort of small shacks where the workers sit. So if someone is sitting outside, while the shack is locked and the lights are out, they’re cheating. Most people, however, are not very observant. Sad, but true. Plus, many of these places either don’t bother locking this shack properly, or simply don’t have one, so this cannot always be used as an indication.

The end result being that this sort of thing is far from rare. And they usually get away with it just fine, since nobody, or at least nobody official like the police, seems to care. People complain, on the few cases they realize they’ve been had, but it doesn’t get anything done.

Usually it doesn’t, anyway.

A few days ago there was a supposedly big sports game of some sort (As you can surmise, I’m not a big sport fan). And the parking lot, belonging to this same company, was officially out of the working hours and so open for free public use. Except that some entrepreneurial spirit saw the golden opportunity, and decided to sell parking tickets. Which worked well enough for most of the evening, until someone noticed something was fishy and raised hell.

Since there were a lot of people there, and sport events get noticed, this got noticed this time as well. The matter was, at long last, brought to official attention, be it the police or the municipality. They finally deigned to realize that the problem exists, and that something should be done.

Now, what I’d have thought a normal person would do, when confronted with a problem of thieves posing as official parking lot operators and swindling the public, is to try and figure out ways to catch the people who do these things, and discourage this from happening, so people won’t pay when it’s supposed to be free.

But that wasn’t the case, not in real life. Because, well, what bothered them wasn’t that people paid when they shouldn’t. No, it was that the people paid to the wrong party. So they made a new regulation to solve the problem. The decision is that when there are major events taking place near an official parking lot, the parking lot operator is bound to keep the lot working during the event, and charge for it themselves. Just like if it was during their normal working hours, and they’d have made a decision to keep the parking lot running at that time.

There, problems solved. Nobody will be in a position where they pay a thief when they could have parked for free.

Now they’ll pay an official contractor who otherwise wouldn’t even be interested in being there and charging there. No more chance of parking freely near such events, as was mostly possible so far.

Brilliant, just brilliant.

Odd pointless spam

November 15th, 2005

Not that spam ever has much of a point for me, beside being a huge bother, but it usually does serve some purpose for the spammer. They want to get people to buy stuff from them. Or they want to con people into thinking they’re buying stuff from them while shelling out money for nothing. But it servers a purpose, and the spam message has some way for the recipient to get in touch with the spammer to give him (or her, women can spam just as well as men can) the money.

And yet over the last couple of weeks I received two types of trackback spam1 that did not fit into the mold. They were, from the sender’s perspective, totally pointless. Or at least appeared to be so, though there may be possible explanations for each.

One kind were a couple of messages with links pointing to the official SPAM site. The site of Hormel’s Foods Corporation, who are making SPAM for many more years than those annoying unsolicited sales messages are running around. And who have nothing to do with spamming.

In fact, they’re so not amused by the whole different meaning their product name obtained, that it’s clearly not possible that those were… Spam about SPAM.

It wasn’t theirs, but it pointed to them. Pointless.

It could have been someone’s idea of a joke, sending SPAM spam. I can see the humour. What I can’t see is investing the necessary resources, and going through all the bother. Because those message were, by all technical purposes, spam. Someone had to either get a list of blogs from somewhere, or set up random guesses and searches. And someone had to dedicate computers (Those trackbacks came from two seemingly unrelated IP addresses, meaning from two probably far away computers) to go and post trackbacks on them. It’s spamming technique with spamming tech. And is technically spamming as far as any possibly related laws would look at it.

The second type of trackback spam was more popular, and I received more of those. They started at a high rate, but very quickly (before I disabled trackbacks) slowed to a trickle of once a day, and then disappeared.

They all came from different IP addresses as well, spread all over the US. They seemed to target posts that included the word trackback, or just the word back in the title. So someone was especially trying to target trackback spam at people discussing trackbacks. Go figure.

These ones were more complex, the URIs they used were written as if to different pages, that contained in the address words from the post they were trackbacked (can I verb that?) to.

But all those links, from all those trackbacks, were worthless. Because the site, under which all the pointers went to, was down. Just a general notice from a hosting company that this is an unused domain and is on parking. Nothing there.

So why go through the effort (and with this amount of different IP addresses it may have been a bot net of zombie computers, so somebody invested work and money on this) just to point people to pages that don’t exist, on a site that doesn’t exist, where they can’t make any money out of it?

Although here I have not one, but two, possible yet unlikely explanations.

The first is that this is some sort of whacko tech evangelist trying to warn everyone about the dangers of trackbacks. This would explain the targeting of posts talking about trackbacks, but is pretty stupid otherwise. Usually even the crazies in those minor tech battles are better civilized than that, and don’t invest more than a lot of typing time.

The other option is that this was some sort of busted operation. Maybe the site was live, and real, at some point. Some law enforcement agency may have caught them. Or someone may have complained to their host who decided to shut their site down (Though not likely, I’d expect that these people would usually have their own servers and won’t depend on hosting).

But given the amount of spammers out there, and how little is done about the large majority of them, I don’t buy that either. I didn’t find (Though didn’t look too hard) anything about that, or them, anywhere else, except for similar trackbacks from the same date range. So this would have had to have been one quick operation. Nobody closes down spammers so quickly, ever. Not without it making headlines. All of that spam was sent and posted when the site was already dead.

Most peculiar.

1. Here’s the ultra-quick explanation of what trackback spam is: Trackbacks are a feature on many blogs that allows another blogger to signal that they have a post on their own blog which is relevant to the trackbacked post. This appears on the target post, in a manner similar to a reader’s comment, and includes a link to the second blog post. This allows several people, on several blogs, to keep a discussion on a same subject and keep everyone notified that they posted on the issue. A sort of easy version of going and manually writing an “I wrote about that too” comment. And as everything else, this is used by spammers, who post trackbacks that point to their own sordid sales pages instead of to anything relevant to the post they’re putting the trackbacks on.

Employee Safety

October 16th, 2005

How do you decrease the chances that someone will enter your store to rob the cash register and the safe? That’s a hard question, which I suppose a lot of stores debate.

One (or actually, many) of the usual means are security. You can hire security guards. You can put visible cameras that potential robbers know will assist in catching them later. All sorts of mundane stuff like that.

This video rental store in Los Angeles (I think it was somewhere next to Sunset blvd.) used two different ideas

The first one is directed at small-time theft. They state that you’re not allowed to enter with bags or backpacks. People are less likely to swipe a few DVD boxes if they can’t quickly hide them. They put it on the same sign forbidding food and drink, which on the one hand are different things since they’re not related to theft but to store cleanliness, but on the other hand this is also meant to prevent damage to inventory so there are similarities.

We were inside for a few moments, browsing the collection, and we both carried bags. V might have even had a small backpack. Nobody mentioned anything, and they didn’t seem too troubled by us being inside violating that sign on the door.

The second one is directed towards robbery. A sign stating that employees do not have keys to the safe. It tells potential burglars that the money isn’t in a cash register but in a safe. And it also tells them that going inside and threatening the employees won’t do them any good, since they can’t open the safe.

Is it true? I don’t know. Someone who work there has to have keys to the safe, otherwise there’s no way to put money in it, or take money out of it. But for someone scoping businesses, trying to decide where to hit, this might serve as a pretty good deterrent. On the chance that it’s true, robbing the place would get only the profits from one day, or maybe not even that. It won’t prevent a robbery, but it would shift it to a different place, which from the store’s perspective is good enough.

I’m just a little surprised that an area heavy with tourists is such a risk for robberies. I don’t have any experience in the field whatsoever, but I’d have expected people to attempt and be more low-profile when robbing stores.

Locked tight

August 22nd, 2005

When shops close down for the night, the owners have an understandable desire to reduce the chances of a break-in. So usually closed stores at night are locked behind solid metal bars, grates, and blinds. And when you go to a commercial center, containing many stores, they all are, one after the other.

So when I went to withdraw money from the ATM the other day, it being located in a cluster of shops, it was not surprising at all to see sights like these:

locked and barred stores locked and grated stores

supermarketWhat was surprising, though, was to find that a supermarket located in the same area, right next to them, only managed to get half the point.

If you look on the left side of the picture, you could clearly see the nice and strong metal grate which covers the entrance. So anyone wanting to enter through the locked sliding doors would be unable to. That’s a wise security measure, just like the bars on all the other shops in the area.

On the other hand, if you’d look at the right side of the picture, the same picture of the same supermarket, what do you see? Yes, you can blink again in disbelief, it won’t change anything. You really are seeing it. A clear glass (well, probably some transparent plastic and not glass, but that’s not really important, is it?) pane. A large and easily accessible clear pane, not protected by anything hard or metallic.

So instead of breaking the door, which is impossible because of the metal grate, anyone so inclined could just break the wall next to it. Very smart, isn’t it? What were they thinking?! Where they thinking?!

Why can’t PayPal handle basic credit card number format?

July 27th, 2005

Just a minor rant.

A short while ago I updated the credit card number I have on my PayPal account. There was a standard text box to enter the credit card number into, and since it didn’t specify any limitation I did it with the separating dashes.

It’s pretty standard, after all. Most listings of the number group each five digits separately by placing a space or a dash between them. It’s much more readable, and so much easier to verify you didn’t enter any wrong number.

Yet the PayPal page refused to accept the number, complaining that it’s invalid. Entering the same number as a long consecutive string, not broken up, worked fine.

This is very pathetic. This format of writing credit card numbers is common, and done a lot. Stripping the dashes from the number on the server side, after the user posts it, is extremely easy. So why haven’t they done so?

And it must have been going on for a long time. After all, PayPal are dealing with credit cards from pretty much day one, years ago. Forcing me to enter the number like that myself, doing their own very basic data entry formatting, is not impressive at all.