Daniel vs the ATM

My recollection is that Automatic Teller Machines used to be much simpler devices, and much faster. I’m sure back in the day I timed myself getting cash using the basic buttons and 1-2 line dot-matrix LED “display” they had back then and had it down to under 30 seconds.

These days ATMs are complex beasts with colour screens and animated ads, but the functionality to customers is almost the same as it was back then: put your card in, enter your PIN, do an enquiry (check your balance) or make a withdrawal, from account Savings, Cheque or Credit, enter the amount, then take your cash and card and let the next person have a go.

Each transaction takes waaaaaay longer than it used to. It’s not just the ads, the whole thing seems slower.

Bank of Melbourne ATM: frozen

So anyway, I sidled up to an ATM last night to get some cash. Slipped the card in, and as usual, the face of Jason the local bank manager popped up, with an invitation to contact him via the details on the receipt. (I never opt for receipts, and the ad is the same even when the ATM can’t print receipts, as it often can’t.)

Normally after a few seconds of Jason’s attentive stare, it then warns you to cover your hand as you enter the PIN… despite that Bank Of Melbourne ATMs all seem to have a built-in cover.

This time however, it got stuck on Jason. It had frozen up.

I gave it what seemed like a very generous period of time before I started punching buttons. Cancel, Clear, even that button to trigger the audio prompts through a headphone socket. No response.

Oh terrific.

After a minute or two, it was obviously not going to unfreeze, or give up the card. Jason’s invitation to ring him was still on the screen, but I obviously wouldn’t be getting the receipt with his phone number on it to actually do so… though it was around 6pm anyway; I doubt he’d still be at work.

So I found a (barely readable) enquiries phone number on the ATM and rang it. I thought at least if I can get the card cancelled before I walk away, nobody can use it if the ATM spits it out.

The bank’s hotline of course had an automatic menu wherein no option quite described the situation I was in. Was the card lost or stolen? Well, not really lost, since I knew it was in this ATM. Stolen? Again, only if you count the bank’s own automaton as having stolen it.

I chose the option that loosely approximated my situation, and after trying to tell the machine by way of the phone’s Hash button that I had no idea what my Access Number, Card Number or Access Password was, and some minutes on hold (everybody’s idea of fun), I then spoke to a guy who said he couldn’t help, and he transferred me.

All the while I was standing in front of the ATM blocking anybody else using it, hoping I didn’t look like a dunderhead who can’t use such a basic machine, or some kind of ATM-hog. Thankfully nobody else wanted it.

The lady I then got transferred to was able to help… at least, after making me answer some security questions (including my verbal password, though she never made clear if I had correctly guessed or not), she cancelled the card and ordered a replacement, and usefully also to connect one of my other cards with the bank to the account I had intended to access. I was able to withdraw cash from another ATM using the second card. Hey cool, maybe I don’t even need the replacement!

I also asked her if she wanted to know precisely which of her bank’s ATMs had gone kaputsky. No; she implied she knew already. Perhaps as its last gasp before freezing it sent a message back to base saying it had grabbed my card, and she was able to see that information.

Oddly, passing an hour or two later, the ATM appeared to be working again. Or perhaps it was a trap, lying in wait to lure another unsuspecting customer into giving up their card.

I’ll leave you with this snippet from Wikipedia:

Today the vast majority of ATMs worldwide use a Microsoft Windows operating system

Hmmm. That might explains a lot.

Wrestling with a new blog template

I’m wrestling with a new blog template at the moment. It’s kind of mostly working…ish, but there are still a few little issues, such as the main content doesn’t line up with the page header quite right.

But once the quirks have been fixed, the site should look better, particularly on mobile devices such as smart phones and iPads.

It also has a random picture at the top, just for a little variety.

Comments, or issues you might see most welcome! If you see a problem, please let me know the device, browser and version.

One conclusion: I find CSS to be a little like black magic.

Update 16/1/2014: Some more tweaks thanks to feedback. Have made the page wider, allowing bigger images (will now use 800 width Flickr setting). Memo to self: add class=”postpic” to avoid them going out of proportion when seen on smaller screens.

A case to keep my shiny new phone safe

My new Google Nexus 5 phone is going very nicely, thanks very much.

But I was pondering getting a case for it. The last thing I’d want is for it to be dropped and damaged.

Fortuitously, the good people at MobileZap asked me if there was a product on their site I’d like to review for them. Why yes! Thank you!

MobileZap stock lots of accessories for phones and other devices such as iPads, with everything sorted by manufacturer and model. Unlike some other sites I’ve looked at, they have quite a wide range, even for older models of phone such as ye olde HTC Desire S that I’ve just upgraded from, which is rather good if you’re wishing to hand it down to someone (it still works fine) but need a new case for it.

In the category of Nexus 5 cases, they list 83 different products.

I also like that MobileZap aren’t afraid to publish customer reviews on their site — even unfavourable ones.

I thought the Spigen SGP Ultra Hybrid for Google Nexus 5 – Black sounded good. Not that the name exactly rolls off the tongue, but it looked like the case I needed.

Nexus 5 phone without caseNexus 5 phone in case

One of the things I like about the Nexus 5 is that it looks good. This case attempts, with some success, not to mess with the look of the phone. It leaves the front alone, providing bumper protection around the edge, so unless it hits a sharp edge on the screen, you’re protected.

In fact it also comes with a screen protector, though I’m a little reluctant to fit it, given the phone itself comes with Gorilla Glass, which should make it pretty tough. (In fact the old HTC Desire S, which also has Gorilla Glass, managed to last two years without a noticeable scratch.) That said, I know these days good screen protectors are pretty good at not unduly affecting the touch of the touch screen, so I’ll give it a try at some stage.

The outside edge of the cover (eg the bumper) is rubbery plasticy stuff, which (like the phone itself, at least the black version) is easy to grip, so the chances of it slipping out of your hand are minimal.

The back of the cover is transparent plastic. This does detract a little from the rather nice natural look of the back of the phone, but it wouldn’t normally be facing that way, so I can live with that.

As you’d expect, there are gaps in the case to allow for the camera to work, as well as the power/USB. The Volume Up/Down and Power buttons are covered by rubbery stuff which changes the feel of them just a little bit, as well as making them more accessible because the case buttons are bigger than the phone buttons – no bad thing.

If there is one niggle, it’s this – the bigger Power button is now directly opposite the bigger Volume Down button, and if you’re used to holding the opposite side of the phone to press the Power, you may find yourself initially pressing the Volume Down instead. I found once I got get used to it, this didn’t cause me issues.

Other than that, this looks like a good, durable case, and I feel less nervous now that my beautiful new phone will succumb to some horrible damage on probably inevitable day that it gets dropped.Thumbs up!

Many thanks to MobileZap for sending me this cover.

Some phones can read #Myki cards. Could you one day check your expiry/balance on a phone?

For anybody with an NFC (Near Field Contact)-compatible phone (such as my new Google Nexus 5), you can use the this little app — Tag Info Lite to read Myki cards.

Not that it’ll tell you very much — see below. All the actual useful information appears to be encrypted.

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Apparently in some parts of the world an unencrypted copy of the card balance/status is also stored, allowing apps that will let you check your balance. For instance Farebot works with cards from Seattle, San Francisco, Singapore, the Netherlands and parts of Japan, and Travel Card Reader looks similar.

Shame Myki doesn’t appear to have this option, not even in PTV’s own apps — though I guess in theory they and/or Keane could do it, given they issue devices to Authorised Officers to do card checks.

With the old Metcards, you could easily see the expiry date(s) as it was printed on the card itself.

This is an opportunity, of course. As more phones include this technology, perhaps a future (hopefully minor) upgrade could allow people to check their card balance or fare expiry in this way.

(Some apps claim to do this with Myki, but what they’re really doing is checking your online account, which is not necessarily up to date — the card is the point of truth.)

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Oh, and here’s what I get from a Brisbane Go Card:

Untitled

New phone: Google Nexus 5, first impressions

Over the years I’ve tried to avoid being sucked into buying the latest and greatest technology just for the sake of it.

But I must admit being keen to check out the new Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) and Google Nexus 5 phone.

What would I need a new phone for? I could put Kit Kat on my old phone!

I've got Kit Kat on my phone

Seriously though, I’d upgraded my old HTC Desire S to Android 4.0, and while it works, it’s noticeably slower. I was thinking I’d downgrade it back to 2.3 (the ROMs for HTC phones, for both 2.3 and 4.0 are available here), but given I’ve had it a couple of years, what about a new phone?

Having seen Tony’s Nexus 4, over the past few weeks I found myself salivating for the about-to-be-released Nexus 5. It was finally officially announced and released on the 1st of November.

I was pondering this when my tax return came back, and would easily cover buying one. The Nexus 5 is cheap for a flagship phone — much cheaper than an iPhone. The 16 Gb model is A$399, the 32 Gb is A$449. You can’t upgrade the storage in it via an SD card, so choose wisely. Obviously a lot of people went for the 32 Gb, as it sold out quickly on the first day.

Fortunately a bloke I know accidentally bought two 32 Gb models in black — my preferred colour — he’d been desperately clicking through trying to make sure he got one before it sold out, and wasn’t sure his order had been accepted, so kept clicking.

On last Wednesday I met him at Southern Cross Station to exchange cash for a box with the phone in it, like an extremely geeky version of a drug deal.

I’m not going to bother doing a comprehensive review of the phone — that’s better handled by the professionals. But here’s a few notes on it, which I’ll keep expanding as I go.

Google Nexus 5 phone

First impressions

It’s a bit bigger than the Desire S. Wonder if it’ll fit in my front jeans pocket, which is where I tend to put my phone if I’m sitting down and have no other pocket.

Lovely bright high-resolution display.

The on/off button is on the right hand side, rather than the top as I’m used to, but I’ll adjust. Oddly it feels just a teensy bit loose. Hopefully that won’t be a problem in the future.

I’m thinking I might get a case, or at least a bumper, for it. It looks sturdy enough, but some protection might be good.

Setup

The old phone had a mini-SIM. The Nexus 5 takes a micro-SIM. I sidled into a Telstra shop to get it sorted out, and they used a cutting tool to chop it down. Low-tech, but effective.

Android to Android is pretty easy, because all the contacts and so on are kept “in the cloud” as part of your Google Account.

Text messages, pictures etc weren’t brought across. I copied all the pictures and voice recordings manually off the old phone for archiving on my PC at home.

Text messages were easily saved off the old phone using the freeware SMS Backup & Restore. It saves all the messages into an XML document, making it human-readable if I don’t want to import them into the new phone… which I don’t, especially.

Once the new phone was running, it was easy to go into the Play Store and re-install wanted apps onto it. So far I haven’t seen anything I had on the old phone that was labelled as incompatible with the new one, though I haven’t re-installed absolutely everything — I’m being a little more discerning.

Likes

Very fast. Good to see.

Display is very nice.

I like the effect when the screen turns off. Looks like an old-style television shutting down.

Camera quality in general looks good, though the old phone was able to adjust the white balance (and focus) to a particular object by touching the screen while lining up the shot. This doesn’t appear to have that feature, making some photos more difficult than in the past.

Micro-USB connection — excellent, compatible with my previous phone, so I have plenty of cables.

As with all Android phones, I love the way you can just copy stuff to and from it — not tied to pushing things through iTunes.

Beefs

Any new phone will take some getting used to. This is good, but it’s not perfect…

The iPad and my old phone both had an easy way to grab a screen capture. Does Kit Kat not have this?
People keep telling me to hold down Power and Volume Down… this doesn’t do anything for me. What am I doing wrong?
– 12/11/2013: Okay, figured it out. Unlike with my old phone, you have to press Power and Volume Down simultaneously, not one then the other.

Despite a front-facing camera, it has no mirror app?

I’ve spent years gradually changing all the phone numbers in my contact list to be +61 4xx xxx xxx (4 for mobile, at least) – so the theory was if I ever wanted to dial one from overseas, it would work. Imagine my surprise when incoming texts and calls don’t match up to the names. Only those that are in there as 04xx xxx xxx match up. Seriously?

Text messages are rolled into an app which also handles Google Hangouts. Neato — I guess they’re taking on iMessage. But why when writing a text message, does it not give me a character count, so I know how much I can write without going over 160 characters and paying extra?

More to come

14/11/2013 — I haven’t yet played with Google Now, but this article goes into a bit of detail about how to use it.