18 April, 2005: Miscellany

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You have probably already seen this South Park drawing thingy; if not, have a play -- it's great fun. (Requires `Flash', obviously. But hey -- it could be worse: it could be `Java'.) Anyway, here I am, South Park style:


Moving swiftly on, regular readers will no doubt appreciate learning that I have finally won a minor victory in the Chip-and-PIN wars: Egg, an `Internet Bank' (meaning: like a normal bank but hiding their surliness and incompetence behind a website rather than behind counters in branches) finally issued me with a PIN-suppressed card. Naturally this required an extended and tedious correspondence and I am ashamed to say that I had to resort to argument-from-authority to finally get them to do what I wanted:

They wrote (after apparently agreeing to my request for a chip-and-signature card but in fact sending me another bloody chip-and-PIN one):

In line with the changes that have been made within all financial product providers and the launch of the Chip and PIN facility I regret to inform you that all future cards dispatched will be Chip and Pin enabled, it's no longer possible to be issued with a Chip and signature card.

This explains why you were asked for your Pin when making a recent purchase.

Thanks for your message, I trust this has clarified the matter.

I wrote:

No, it doesn't really clarify it, I'm afraid.

Could you explain why? Further, when I asked for a chip-and-signature card, I was told that one would be issued. Clearly this previous statement was not correct -- or yours was not. How did that happen?

I am not satisfied with the security of the `Chip and PIN' system. Rather than rehearse them here I refer you to the comments made on this by Prof. Ross Anderson a few weeks ago. As he has pointed out, for the customer, `chip and signature' cards are more secure. So I would like one.

They wrote:

Firstly, I'd like to apologise for my colleague who interpreted your message as a request for a replacement Chip and PIN card.

As all financial institutions are converting to the new Chip and PIN system, all cards we issue will be Chip and PIN enabled, as the last message you received clearly stated.

However, in certain circumstances, we can issue Chip and Signature cards. I have ordered one for you and it will be with you within 4-5 working days.

I've read the comments on the BBC Website made by Prof. Ross Anderson and can appreciate your concerns. However, I would ask you to please follow the below link detailing the benefits of the new Chip and PIN system.

[link to some tedious propaganda from Egg]

Once you receive your new Chip and Signature card, you can decide which card you would like to continue to use. Please make sure the card you won't be using is destroyed.

A couple of other comments on the Internet Banking experience. Firstly, Egg don't let you communicate with them by email, but you can send messages to them by filling out a stupid little form on their website. And they won't email you their responses, but they can send you an email which tells you that they've responded. Their website is the normal commercial cack, though in an improvement on normal banking practice it does seem to work on about 90% of the occasions I've tried to use it.

(As an aside, in a fantastic act of security, they even have a page somewhere which purports to show you your credit-card's PIN. I have no idea whether this works, since obviously I'm not going to click on it -- I don't want to know my PIN, and I certainly don't want Egg to have any grounds for claiming that I do -- but I do hope the genius responsible for this innovation has been promoted to yet greater things.)

Egg promise to answer such messages within one day of their being sent, which makes it sound pretty feeble as a way to get any customer service. But actually it's a hell of a lot better than the normal telephone `service' banks provide. Instead of having a stressful battle with some stupid phone menu and incalcitrant operators, you can sit down in comfort, quaff a couple of glasses of wine, jot down a quick email to the bank, and relax to await an answer.

Of course, this `business at the speed of thought' does make it a bit slow to get them to do anything, and coupled with the fact that they only had about a two-thirds success rate in actually sending me cards it took about three months from when I applied for a card until I finally had a usable one. I remain slightly baffled at this performance but frankly I can't be bothered to complain about it.

Elsewhere, much discussion of Who should you vote for?, a small and fun quiz which suggests a party for you to support in the coming General Election. (You may be heartily sick of the election by now, but I'm not, yet -- give it another week.) My name's on the acknowledgements for the quiz (because I helped make a couple of optimisations for the thing before it became really popular) but otherwise it's nothing to do with me, so I'm a bit annoyed that (inter alia) Chris Bertram on Crooked Timber decided that I'd written it, despite a prominent denial on John Band's site, where he found the link. Ho-hum.

Anyway... there are a number of legitimate criticisms of the particular method they use; in particular they only ask about issues on which the main parties have differed and which are prominent in the coming election campaign. So the recommendations come out looking a little bit silly; for instance, they suggested that I vote Green (disqualified because they're unilateralists, among other reasons) or UKIP (disqualified because they're swivel-eyed loons, and also because of their policies -- see a previous note for more on this.).

This being the internet, there were also quite a few of the other sort of criticisms; specifically a number of people have claimed that the site is a Liberal Democrat plot. Now, to be honest, I'm not certain that Liberal Democrats do plot, but I can't say for sure. Frankly I can't be arsed to compile a list of these people, but this rant by `Recess Monkey', who previously worked for a Labour MP gives roughly the flavour. Amusingly the extent of the evidence for this theory is that people who vote Labour tribally object to the suggestion that perhaps they should vote for another party on the basis of its policies. I suppose this sort of optimisation must save a lot of effort in the polling booth.

(Actually I was going to write something more interesting about this but having had a brief Google for further evidence has just left me despairing at the idiocy and political tribalism of the people advancing this theory. I'll leave you with this USENET thread in which one of our glorious Lib Dem councillors reveals that he came out Tory on the test. The singular of `evidence' is, of course, `anecdote'....)

Copyright (c) 2005 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.