Not being able to pay

May 27, 2009 | | 3 comments |

It's interesting how the same financial companies can come up with three incompatible and different methods of paying using credit / debit cards. In America we still have magnetic swipe cards which are awful when it comes to security. Visa have introduced (slowly) Paywave which is a contactless RFID-based system. Mastercard have a similar system. In Europe they have Chip+Pin which uses a surface-mount contact-read smart chip, and now V-Pay - also from Visa.
All of the above systems are incompatible with each other, which in short, means that if you travel to Europe with an American bank card, good luck trying to pay for anything. Whilst places in the UK will still read magnetic swipe cards if you insist, for the most part everything is done with contact smartcards now. On mainland Europe, to combat card skimming, they're phasing out magnetic stripe completely. This means that by the end of this year, not only will you not be able to pay for anything unless you have a smart chip in your bank card, you won't even be able to get cash from an ATM because all those are being converted to chip-only machines. Additionally, most automated ticket vending machines (trains, buses etc) are already chip-only. I can envisage hordes of US tourists stranded at the airports because they have no way to pay to get anywhere.....

Why can't the banking system settle on one technology that we can all use everywhere? It used to be so easy to travel and pay for stuff when the whole world used magnetic stripe readers. But those days should be long gone (and are, in Europe) and we should have a more secure system in place. Well - we do, but there are three competing technologies, none of which US banks have put in place.
My advice : open a bank account in the country you're travelling to and move cash into it before you go. It's the most chance you'll have of being able to actually pay for products and services.

Robbing the delivery drivers

May 25, 2009 | | 0 comments |

Eesh. Dominos have increased their delivery charge from $1 to $1.50. As far as I'm concerned they've just taken another 50¢ away from their delivery driver's tips. It's a bloody pizza delivery company - it would be better if they just added to the price of the food instead of taking on a delivery charge. Sadly of course, they've done that too. They all have. Apparently the pizza people haven't realised we're in a recession :-(

The whirlwind tour or Europe. Well - sort of.


We're back from a two week spin around England and Holland. We'd planned a spring break to go over and see friends and relatives, and rather than the usual day and a half in Holland, we spent 5 days there this time. It was great - we got to see a lot of friends and spent some decent time with them instead of it all being rushed. We also managed to get in a lot of touristy type things. We visited the Keukenhof, went up the Euromast in Rotterdam and did one of the Spido boat harbour tours. We got to spend some good time on the beachfront at Scheveningen and we managed to meet up with a friend I've not seen since an accidental meeting at Schiphol airport a few years ago. In England we managed the same thing - lots of friends and relatives as well as some touristy items - the Bluebell railway and Arundel Castle. The Bluebell railway came as a complete surprise. Due to their hideous advertising, I'd thought it was going to be a couple of miles of restored line, a single steam engine and one carriage. Instead, it's 19 miles of line, full rakes of passenger coaches (both Pullman and Southern) and 10 or so working steam engines - big ones too.
The flights there and back were so-so and due to some bungling at Gatwick (which delayed the flight) and incompetence in Vegas (stuck jetway and broken immigration computers) we missed our connecting flight home last night and had to buy one-way tickets on the last flight of the day. $400 I didn't need to spend, but oh well. We're home and now wading through bills and emails.