Chips Ahoy!




            Advance warning. There’s some old man ranting coming up, but it’s the opposite of typical old man ranting. I’m not wishing for the old days, but rather I’m wondering why an element of the new days can’t get here faster. My “wishing for the old day’s” rant would involve newer, better ankles, but I don’t think Costco sells those.

            Most people don’t enjoy change; especially change simply for the sake of it. Where variety can be the spice of life, it’s also comforting to have familiarity. That’s the weird dichotomy of life. In spite of our best efforts, change does happen whether we like it or not, and it’s often necessary as the state of the modern world forces us to discard many of the old ways. To that end, there will always be certain people who stubbornly dig in their heels.

            This happened a few years ago when it became necessary to unclutter the airwaves by switching over-the-air television signals from analog to digital. What this also did for people without satellite or cable was to make their old TV antenna obsolete. This switch required an advance warning by the U.S. government that took Unknownactual years. Somehow people needed that much time and still weren’t ready when the deadline hit. This is in spite of free converter boxes being readily available for the folks who still had the television they bought when Gunsmoke was on the air. Chaos ensued in a manner not seen since the threat of converting to the metric system was lobbed out across America. People panicked. “Remember Sacagawea dollar coins? Any dollar coins? New Coke? Clear Pepsi? Automated shoulder belts in cars? Now we need a new TV antenna and our channels will have decimal points? The world is ending! It’s Y2K all over again!”

            In spite of an Armageddon-level of chaos, we survived the big analog to digital switch, but there is a new threat to out national sanity that is giving us fits. If you’ve been to a store of any kind, you’ll know what I mean.

            Ever seen a chip reader? Ever actually use one?

            In the late 1960s, magnetic strips were developed, but these didn’t filter into mainstream usage until MasterCard and Visa added them to their cards in the 1980s. This meant that cards could now be swiped through a machine rather than stamped onto carbon paper slips that even the most brain-addled thief could use to get credit card information. Even with the new, secure magnetic strips, it took a while before retailers stopped printing the entire card number on thermal paper receipts, but things eventually settled into what was considered to be a safe mode of commerce.

             Sadly, modern thieves are much more clever than honest people, and can simply acquire your information on something called the dark web. They can then build a machine that will pump out fake credit cards that look and work identically to the one you used at Target five minutes ago. By the time you’ve gotten back to your car, some ne’er–do–well has purchased a dozen TV’s, three hundred gallons of gas, and a case of Slim Jim’s several states away on your dime. When this happens, we dismiss it by calling the credit card company and telling them we weren’t buying TV’s in Des Moines on such and such a date and the charge goes away. Yeah, but does it really? Losses due to card fraud in this country topped over $10 billion in 2015.

       hack-813290_1280        Although the United States accounts for only a quarter of the world’s payment card transactions, more than half of all fraudulent card transactions happen here. Our systems are woefully antiquated compared to the rest of the modern world. For example, my wife and I were in France ten years ago, and they already had wireless handheld scanners in restaurants. Here in the U.S., we still hand our card to a total stranger while they go off somewhere to buy new shoes from Zappos. I’ve been in more than one local restaurant where they have returned somebody else’s credit card to me.

             Given our astonishing level of trust in people and our stubbornness in holding onto outdated methods of technology with the tenacity of a bulldog, none of this comes as a shock. Europe had no problems adapting to a much more secure PIN and chip system, while we are still trying to figure out which chip reader we should use. This isn’t Betamax or VHS. Merchants have had years to figure this out and they passed their deadline almost a year ago, and if we were all told tomorrow that we needed a PIN code to use a credit card, I’m certain most of those codes would be 1234. Mine would likely be my birthday, which is hardly the Fort Knox of passwords, so I guess I, as a consumer can take some blame for this, but c’mon fellas.

             All grumpy ranting aside, the machines in most stores still cannot read cards with chips, and these aren’t all small Mom and Pop businesses. The place where I get a haircut has a chip reader, but Costco doesn’t? This is a huge company that has a slab of duct tape over the chip-reading slot.

             For the places that do have them, congratulations, but could someone explain why it takes upwards of thirty seconds for some readers to read the card? The one-gigabyte Gateway computer I had in 1986 was able to connect to the Internet faster via a scrawny telephone line.chip_reader_no

              We are no longer a cash society, and it’s been that way for a while. It’s easier and faster to use a credit or debit card, so the public has spoken, but even that method is sort of horse and buggy now. I can use my thumbprint to activate ApplePay on my phone and be done with a transaction faster than one could read this sentence. Plus, my credit card company actually gives me money when I spend money. Why wouldn’t I use a card account?

             But using a card of any kind these days is equivalent to giving a cashier $10.12 for a $9.12 transaction because you don’t want eighty-eight cents worth of coins in return. The cashier’s head starts to smoke and actual gears can be heard grinding as they try to figure out what to do next, but this switch to a chip reader requires no effort on their part, so why should I have to jam my chip card in a dead chip reader, wait, and then ask if they use a chip reader? All I want is to get in and out as quickly as possible, with the added bonus being that my credit information might not get used in some forty-watt bulb Eastern Bloc country with more advanced computer hackers than we have here.

              I don’t get it. I’m a stuck-in-my-ways old fart and this change makes perfect sense to me, so why can’t somebody simply pull the trigger on chip readers and get it done?

             We put a man on the moon in 1969 and brought him back a few days later without a hitch. The entire Empire State Building was built, from scratch, in only thirteen months in the early 1930s. In stark contrast, it’s taken a crew over a year to remodel a one-story Honda dealership not far from me, and it’s still not close to being done. Salespeople are selling one of the most technologically advanced cars on the road in a gravel parking lot from under a canvas tent canopy. All that’s missing is a basket of figs, a troop of capuchin monkeys, and some fancy silks.

            We used to be a roll up your sleeves and get to work sort of people, but now we wander around in circles like ants in the sun blaming computers for all our problems or hiring one focus gScreen Shot 2016-08-17 at 8.10.31 PMroup after another to evaluate how we should do something. Nothing ever gets done. Man oh man, if a small bistro in Paris was more technologically advanced ten years ago than we are now, somebody has some serious  ‘splainin’ to do.

            Here’s what we need to do. Hire an old guy who grew up and worked in a no-excuses, get it done era to gather all of the credit card geniuses in one room and tell them that this is the system we’re using. I’ve got some time. Let me do it. Seriously, most people know what to do but they need direction. I’d hire one of those teenage wunderkinds who made a robotic hand for a high school science fair or copy whatever system they use in Europe because they seem to have figured it out. Pay me in coffee, and watch how fast the Girl Scout who comes to your house with cookies has a chip reader on her iPhone. Oh yeah, and the cost of these new machines and the setup would be absolutely free to merchants. Banks make enough in ten minutes from interest and merchant service fees to pay for this implementation, so get it done. Also, give people some credit for being adaptable. We aren’t children.

            Old guy out.



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