The Chip Card Disaster

The Chip Card Disaster

Credit cards have never been terribly secure. I’ve eaten at a restaurant on a Friday night and by Sunday realized I left my card there and the waiter had taken it to the bar district that night. From the charges, I’d say he bought a round for everyone.

These one-off fraud cases aren’t the real problem though. The problem has been the large retailers who store customer credit card numbers by the millions with less-than-ideal security. The hackers break-in and everyone needs a new card.

So the credit card industry decided a more secure card was the answer. Today’s chip cards no longer provide your number to the retailer (despite it still being written in large, friendly numbers on the front of your card). Instead, the chip card has encrypted data on it that is transmitted to the vendor’s credit card processor. The vendor themselves never gets your card number.

Almost a year ago, here in the US, we were supposed to be switching to these new chip cards that have been in use in Europe for several years. While I’m seeing more and more of them these days, about half are like the one above, with the chip reader taped off and a message telling us to swipe instead. If you wonder why, you’ll know once you try using one.

When they do work, the user experience is nothing short of awful. First, why do I have to insert this card and then wait? Who thought changing the way people have been passing their card info (swiping) was a good idea? Swiping wasn’t a great idea to begin with since it’s not obvious which way you should hold the card when swiping it. We eventually learn of course but it’s not obvious.

Quite often I’m stuck in line behind some poor shmuck who is just trying to pay for his turkey sandwich and can’t figure out which of the four possible ways this card could go in to the reader is the right one. Swiping a card takes half a second. These chip cards take something like 10 seconds to authorize. I could literally type in the number, digit by digit, faster. And when you get the card in right, when finally unlock that achievement, you’re reward is a loud alarm sound  suggesting to everyone around you  that your card has been declined. What panel of experts thought this was an improvement?

It’s my guess that most of the chip card-enabled readers actually work but the retail staff are so tired of the problems they create, they just pretend they don’t work.

Let’s compare this with ApplePay, Apple’s iPhone-based payment system. I pull my iPhone from my pocket, position it near the card reader and rest my thumb on the Home button. My screen comes on showing my default card and a little animation appears indicating that it’s detected my valid fingerprint. It ends with a friendly checkmark on the screen and a happy bling! sound. The entire process takes 1 second tops. It’s simple, faster than getting my card from my wallet and just as secure as a chip card. I presume Android Pay is similar though I have no experience with it.

This chip card transition is like a Greek trajedy. Almost every aspect of it that could be done poorly, was. Fortunately, more and more retailers are taking Apple Pay and Android Pay. If you work for one that doesn’t, please urge your employer to do so post haste. Paying for my turkey sandwich should never be the most complicated part of the transaction.


Recovering My Digital Past

Recovering My Digital Past

Hard driveYears ago when I started doing writing on the computer, shooting photos, then video, and saving them digitally, it was so much better because it would last forever. Of course it will, right? After all, it’s digital. Bits and bytes don’t decay. Oh how naive I was. I should have known better. I had kept a journal for years and in some transition from one computer to the next I just didn’t notice that my journal didn’t make it. Years of thoughts and feelings were lost forever.

In 1999, I married. I made sure that the wedding videographer was using a digital video camera because I wanted to be able to edit the video on my own. A few years later we started having kids and of course took lots of photos and video as parents so often do. I then started creating iMovie projects from these videos but because they were so large, I stored them on a separate external hard drive as to not consume what free space I had on my Mac’s internal drive.

Around 2007, I went to access that drive only to find it wouldn’t mount. The drive had gone bad and of course, I had no backup. One option would be to pay around $500 to see if a data recovery service could retrieve anything. I decided to hold off on that and put the drive into a drawer where it stayed until about a month ago. I found myself wondering if perhaps something had changed in OS X that will allow it to mount the drive now. Wishfully thinking of course but it couldn’t hurt to try, right?

With little hope, I plugged the drive into my MacBook Pro then nervously listened to the whirring sound the drive made as the disk spun up to speed. Although it sounded normal, no disk appears on the desktop. I launched Disk Utility, a disk repair app provided with OS X, hoping that perhaps it could see the drive. It did but after it spend several minutes analyzing the drive it concluded that there was nothing it could do to help.

I considered spending $100 on a disk recovery app but since they offered no refund should it not work, I decided to call my friend Greg and see if he’d had any success with this kind of software. He said he hadn’t used the one I was looking at but had had some success with a different package. Greg then asked me if the drive was in a case in which it laid flat or stood upright. When I told him it was the latter, he suggested that I lay it instead on its side (flat) and then plug it back in to my computer. With very little hope remaining and the bar set incredibly low, I did as he suggested. Incredibly, the drive mounted and I was able to copy all of my precious iMovie projects off the drive. I asked Greg why he made this suggestion. He told me that when drives sit upright, the bearings inside sometimes wear unevenly. Sure enough, that was the case. I was quite grateful.

iMovieMy next step was to open these old iMove projects in the current version of iMovie and export them into Quicktime files so we could watch them again. Unfortunately, they were in iMovie HD version 6 format and iMovie has been through so many changes since then that the current version could not open them. Worse, iMovie HD version 6 is so old that it won’t run on my 2012 MacBook Pro. After some research, it looked like iMovie 08 would probably open these old iMovie version 6 files. Once there, I could then save them and open the iMovie 08 projects in iMovie 11 which I had on an older iMac. Once in iMove 11 format, I figured there was a good chance I would be able to open them in the latest version of iMovie and I’d be back in business. Then it would simply be a matter of exporting them.

This turned out to be even harder than it sounds. I bought a copy of iMovie 08 off of Amazon but couldn’t find a Mac old enough to run it. I called a video service thinking perhaps they had had pathetic customers like me before and might be able to help me update my digitally ancient iMovie files. They couldn’t and suggested that my approach would not likely work well anyway. The changes in iMovie over the years were so vast that it’s unlikely I would get what I was hoping for. Their suggestion was that I take the clips from the iMovie projects (which are stored separately on disk) and manually recreate the movies in the current version of iMovie. I was disappointed to say the least. The thought of spending hours and hours digitally recreating these movies, trying to get them just right from my 10 year old memory of them, was depressing.

ConvertingThis morning, I decided that I might as well give it a go. Recreating them was better than not having them at all. As I browsed through the various clips, audio, and graphics files associated with each project, I noticed that each had a .mov file with the same name as the project itself. I opened one with the Quicktime Player app which immediately displayed a progress bar and the message “Converting”.

New iMovieA moment later the full movie, exactly as I had edited it with transitions, effects and sound, appeared in front of me. I then simply saved the movie and voila, it was completely restored. It was amazing. I went through movie by movie and was able to restore them all. Apparently, in that old version of iMovie, each time I made a change, it rendered the entire movie out to a Quicktime file that fortunately was still compatible with the current version more than 10 years later.

I thought these digital files would last forever. Then I thought they were lost forever. Then they were almost miraculously recovered. The lesson here is that if you have old files that are important to you, you will need to keep them up to date with the latest version of the software with which they were made. If that software is no longer being updated, find another app to which you can convert them. I almost waited too long and lost these precious movies forever.