Wednesday, April 15, 2009

High-Risk Countries for Online Transactions

I read a recent news that correlated the increase in online e-commerce fraud during times of economic crisis. I guess that is to be expected as people become more desperate -- not that I'm condoning it.

In any case, one of the tools commonly used by payment gateways (including PayEasy Online Payment System) is to use MaxMind's GeoIP database to map IP addresses to geographical location. Sometimes, you can pinpoint the IP address right down to the specific state or city. But I don't find it that accurate. So most of the time, we just settle on determining the country where the user is in, given the IP address that appears. Its not a perfect science but its better than nothing.

In any case, a recent study listed the following as the top countries for online fraud (not sure if its in any particular order):
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Lithuania
  • Kazakhstan
  • Ukraine
  • Ivory Coast
  • Nigeria
  • Ghana
  • Egypt
  • Pakistan
  • Macedonia
  • Lebanon

To safeguard PayEasy merchants, we do not automatically open all countries for receiving payments from. We normally just default to the common/familiar first world countries. Only if the merchant is sure they want to receive payments from specific countries do we open the rest of the world.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Annoying Pinoy Habit of Using Salutation with Firstname

I went to Cebu Pacific's website to buy a couple of round trip tickets for the folks to Boracay this June.  Their reservation site was quite slow this morning -- probably lots of users trying to make online bookings.  After a couple of unsuccessful searches due to timeouts, I finally got through all the way to the payment page.  But after entering my credit card details and clicking the continue button, it timed out again.  I didn't want to re-do the transaction for fear that it will get doubl-posted.  So I decided to call their call center trunkline.

It took quite some time to get somebody on the phone.  Had to do a bit of navigation through their IVRS first.  Waited on the line for what seemed like 10 mins, then an operator answered the call.  I explained to him what happened and he proceeded to ask me questions regarding my booking.

The operator was obviously gay from his voice.  I heard that call centers have a disproportionately large number of gay operators because they supposedly have more patience and maybe can perform better under stress.  So much for the Odd Man Theory.

But any way, I digress.  For the record, I have nothing against gay operators.  But in this particular case, he was really getting into my nerves due to a mannerism he had (and his very strong probinsiyano accent).  He kept referring to me as "Mr. Robert".  In fact, he would end almost every other sentence with "Mr. Robert".

I really don't understand why Filipinos have this penchant for using the salutation "Mr." with the first name of a person.  Nowhere else outside the Philippines have I heard people use "Mr." with the firstname.  Its just not right.  You can call me "Mr. Chiang" or just "Robert" (or even "Sir Robert" if you want to show a certain level of politeness).  But calling me "Mr. Robert" is just downright wierd.  "Mr." has to go with the lastname of a person.

Everytime I hear somebody does this "Mr. firstname", I would cringe.  I would remember always this entertainment guy (was it Chino Trinidad?) interviewing George Clooney for his latest movie, and he kept calling him "Mr. George" on the tv show.  I wonder if George Clooney found it strange as well.  I think the only acceptable salutation that can be mixed with the firstname is "Dr." -- as in "Dr. Phil".

Aside from this "Mr. firstname" thing, I have to admit that the guy was polite and that he accurately answered my inquiries.  It seems that my transaction went through after all on the payment side, but it did not generate the necessary email itenerary probably because of the timeout.

Interestingly enough, about an hour after this incident, I got a call on my mobile phone from an "(no number)".  At first, I thought maybe Cols or the folks were trying to call me from South Korea.  But a very heavily accented lady was on the line.  She sounded like she was calling from an Indian call center.  I had to ask her to repeat what she was saying a few times before I figured out that she was calling in behalf of Standard Chartered (my card issuer) to confirm that I really made an online transaction using my card!  So I guess with all the airline online fraud happening, they are very wary of these things too.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Playing Nintendo Wii at the Home Theater

Tito Ben gave us a Nintendo Wii earlier this year as his house-warming gift for our house blessing. I connected it to our Samsung Series 5 LCD TV using regular RCA connection. The display looks pretty good. Its probably because games have very bright colors and do not need much depth in skin tone unlike regular movies.

The main differentiator of the Wii vs. other consoles like the PlayStation or XBox is its unique motion-based game controllers. You navigate the onscreen pointer/mouse or game character by moving your arms on air as if you were inside the game. A thin, horizontal motion sensor has to be placed in front of you (below the TV) to detect the motion of the controller.

The sensor has a limited distance, of course. My estimate is its only good for about 3 meters. Beyond that and it cannot detect your motions anymore. That kinda sucks since if I sit all the way back by head board of our bed, I would be about 6 meters away from the TV. So I have to move to the foot board of the bed before I can navigate the menus. Strangely though, the other functions work quite well even from that distance. For example, playing Mario's Cart by using the controller to simulate a steering wheel works fine even at 6 meters. I don't know why this is so while other motions are limited by distance.

Anyway, I've been wondering what it would be like to play the Wii at our home theater using my Mitsubishi data projector and Harman Kardon A/V receiver with JBL speakers. It must be an awesome experience to be immersed in a home theater environment while playing. When I tried to connect the Wii to the A/V receiver, I realized I had a problem. The video output of the Wii is the standard yellow RCA plug, wheras the data projector is connected to the receiver via component video.

It seems that the Harman Kardon can only send component video output if its input is also via component video. It cannot "switch" a composite RCA video signal and convert it to component video format as output. All the while, I thought that any input video signal will be automatically converted by the receiver and sent out as component video so I only provisioned for 3 wires between the receiver and the projector -- just enough for the component video signals of Y/Pb/Pr. The cables run through a conduit in the home theater wall and up above the ceiling, and further down into the ceiling mounting kit leading to the projector. So its not trivial to add another cable for RCA-style composite video.

The Mitsubishi projector has support for 3 video sources actually -- computer, S-Video and composite video. Using a cable adapter, the component video connects to the computer video input port. In hindsight, I should have provisioned another cable connecting the composite video input into the composite video output of the Harman Kardon. That way, I can connect any input source to the receiver and just have it switch the output to the projector. So even my VHS player or camcorder can connect to the receiver and have its output sent to the big projector screen.

For now, the only workarounds are either: 1. to connect the composite video output to the Philips DVD3455H player's CAM1 input port and specify it as the source (since the Philips player is, in turn, connected to the receiver via component video already); 2. connect the composite video output to one of the composite video inputs of the receiver, and then physically transfer one of the 3 component video cables (eg. the "Y") to the composite video output/input at both ends (the receiver and the projector). The latter is actually better since it does not require the Philips to be turned on. But it involves physically moving around some cables. Maybe when the electrician comes back for some odd job, I'll ask him to layout a fourth cable between the projector and receiver to be permanently used for composite video.

While I was able to send the Wii output to the projector, I still have to contend with the distance problem of the motion sensor. If I put it on top of my center speaker, which is mounted on the wall below the projector screen, and I sit by the sofa (which is over 3 meters away from the sensor), I cannot do certain motions. I have to sit down on the edge of the home theater elevated platform before it can my game controller.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Reconfiguring My Old Linksys WAP54G

The Belkin wifi access point (WAP) + DSL router that I bought from the Microwarehouse sale last year did not live up to its wifi access range.  I installed it at our den where the Bayantel DSL modem was located, and its range hardly reaches the second floor of our house.  I don't know if its because I placed it under the study table, which is made of solid wood, or the walls of the den are significantly blocking the signal.  Or maybe its tiny antenna just does not generate enough juice.

I tried to install another WAP at the second floor today with no luck.  This is the old Linksys WAP54G that we bought back in 2005(?) and was originally placed at our Yellow Cab Marikina store.  Since I could not find the installer CD, I downloaded a setup program over the Internet.  The setup program asked for the WAP's password.  Unfortunately, I could not remember the password so I cannot change the settings.  I tried pressing the reset button at the back to no avail.

After reading some forum postings, I found out that you have to keep it pressed for about 60 seconds.  Tried it and it seem to have reset the IP addresses and SSID to the default.  However, the admin password is not being reset.  Other people in the forum seem to have encountered the same problem and a guy commented that the setup program has to match the firmware version.  Otherwise, it just won't work.  So maybe that's the problem.  I have to look for my old installer CD.  Bummer.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

With Ethan at Riverwalk

With nothing much to do this Holy Week and with Cols and Caitlin in Korea, I picked up a book that I was supposed to read last  year but never got around to doing.  Black Order by James Rollins has been on my Shelfari virtual shelf for so long.  Its a Sigma Force novel, which I think took place before Judas Strain.  If you like Dan Brown or Michael Crichton stuffs (and I do), you're gonna love James Rollins' books.

Anyway, I read the book while looking over Ethan sleeping at the guest room.  When Ethan woke up, I took him to the Marikina Riverbanks.  The Riverwalk is the paved riverside in the Riverbanks complex.  It was developed to be a park, or well, a delapidated-looking one at least.  Its clean, but the river itself is quite dirty and stinks

From Marikina Riverwalk

In recent years, the riverbank has been known to be infested with janitor fishes.  I guess they're the only fish specie that can survive the stench.  They looked disgusting too -- bobbing up and down the murky waters of the river like some alien creature.

Free Online Computer

A new dotcom has joined the "cloud computing" bandwagon and launched iCloud, a free online virtual computer. The virtual computer desktop runs completely on top of a web browser. So I guess its kinda like having a regular OS on a PC, running a web browser with another OS desktop running inside the browser. Kinda confusing, isn't it? I don't see much value in this other than the novelty of it.

The virtual OS desktop comes with a suite of 30 basic applications which let you share and create text, video and photo files online. The free registration entitles you to 3GB of space. Beyond that and you have to pay a monthly subscription already. The system has built-in Instant Messaging and news feeds.

What really caught my attention is that it is supposedly available in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Swedish and Filipino! Why would a new OS want to support Filipino? I don't want to sound unpatriotic and all, but it just does not make commercial sense. They are better off supporting languages like Japanese, Korean or Thai because those countries have low English proficiency. But any Filipino who can operate a computer would already have a basic command of English. I mean, even the base OS which, most of the time is Windows, is based in English. So the fact that you can boot up your OS; run a browser; and go to a virtual desktop would mean that you can control a computer in English.

There also seems to be a way to develop apps for this virtual OS. I am not very optimistic that there will be a lot of developers banging on their doors to write apps though. Google's approach of implement a Microsoft Office-like environment (Google Docs) over a browser seem to make more sense.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

YCMK Midnight Outing at Antipolo

With the long Holy Week starting tomorrow, half of our store crew closed early and arranged for an evening outing. From the office, I had dinner at home first, then proceeded to the store around 10pm by myself since Cols is in Korea with the folks. I brought the Altis and our store manager, Harry, brought his van. We convoyed to Bosay Resort in Antipolo.

Bosay is about 20 minutes away from the store. We went straight along Sumulong; went up the Antipolo mountain, passing through Cloud 9; then to the other side, passing through the Ynares sports center. We turned right on a small street with a hospital being renovated at the corner. From there, it was a couple of minutes drive to the resort.

The resort was amazingly jam-packed at night. There was a long queue of people trying to get in. Luckily, we made reservations so we were able to get through. I guess everyone had the same idea in ushering in the long weekend -- through an all-night swimming party.

We had dinner first. Well, for the guys from the store, this was dinner even though its already almost midnight. For me, it was a second light dinner/midnight snack. We had grilled liempo, fried chicken, noodles and punch. After dinner, everyone changed to their swimming attire (except me, since I had no plans of swimming at night).

Bosay has 3 separate pools spread out in its hilly terrain. There was just sooooo many people. By my estimate, there was easily more than a thousand people inside the resort complex at that time of night. The parking areas were also crowded. We were able to squeeze in in one of the pools where the crew had some games.

From Bosay Outing

I stayed until past 1:30am. Was really starting to get sleepy and I was not sure how to get home from there. I do recall that this was the same route we took last time we went to Punta de Fabian in Baras for our workshop because I recall passing the same Ynares sports complex. With general directions from our riders, I took a different route via Cainta, then Pasig. The highway eventually intersected C5 and I easily found my way home from there. Got home around 2am feeling very tired and sleepy.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mobile Roaming in South Korea

Cols is going with Caitlin and the folks to South Korea tomorrow for 8 days. Being a CDMA country, I gave both Globe and Smart a call to determine if their service can be used there. I called Smart first. The wait time for an operator to pickup the phone was terribly long. I had to hang-up my wireless handset, and go to a speaker phone so that it can play its music loop again and again while I wait endlessly for an operator to pickup.

When I did finally got to talk to someone (after maybe 10 to 15 mins of waiting), the guy told me that he is sure the Smart SIM will work in Korea, but the user has to rent a local CDMA unit and transfer the SIM there. Such phone units can be rented supposedly at the airport. This gave me an idea -- our Bayan Wireless Landline is actually a Huawei CDMA phone. Maybe it will work. I opened the unit and tried to plug in Cols' Smart SIM. To my amazement, the Bayan Wireless Landline has no SIM inside even though there is a SIM slot!

This made me wonder -- can network operators actually provide phone service even without a SIM? They can always identify the handset anyway by its unique manufacturer's id (the IMEI) anyway. Apparently, that's what Bayan is doing with their CDMA/Wireless landline service. They don't bother with SIM's. All contacts, call details, short messages, etc. are just stored directly on the phone memory. Can Globe/Smart also do the same if they really wanted to? Or is this something specific to CDMA? In any case, the phone seem to be locked to Bayan as there was no menu option to change network operator settings.

So I tried my luck this time with the Globe call center. The wait time to get an operator to answer the call was way much shorter than Smart's. Maybe 5 mins or less -- either Globe has more call center operators, or Smart's subscriber-to-operator ratio is just so much higher. The Globe operator put me on hold while he checked some documents on their side. Then he got back to me and said that any 3G-capable phone should work in South Korea.

Hmmm... This can mean that one of the two info given to me by the two different call center operators is wrong. Or it can mean that Globe has a GSM-based roaming partner in Korea, while Smart doesn't. Seems unlikely though.

Cols called up Shella who went there last year. According to her, she didn't notice because their phones are Nokia N-Series phones which are quad-band. And it seems that Quad-band phones can work with UMTS signals and are compatible with South Korea network operators. Well, we'll find out tomorrow when they get to Korea if they can reach us.

Choosing Between DVD-R and DVD+R

I bought several blank DVD recordable discs from CD-R King in preparation for the VHS-to-DVD transfer that I plan to do over the long Holy Weekend.  I've been meaning to transfer our old VHS tapes to DVD before they become unreadable.  Luckily, dad still had an old, but functional, VHS player at Valle Verde sitting idle.  So I took it home with us and connected it to my Philips DVDR.

I just bought TDK Gold DVD-R's the other day for Php13.00 each.  This time, I saw Maxell DVD-R's for only Php8.00.  I've never bought Maxell's DVD-R's before.  In fact ,the last time I've bought Maxell recordable media was way back during the 5.25" floppy disk days!  Anyway, I wondered about the disparity and suspected if the Maxell's are of lesser quality -- as I've already wasted 2 Maxell discs due to bad recording.  Also, this got me curious again as to exactly what is the difference between a DVD-R disc and a DVD+R disc.

I did some research on the 'Net and found out the following:
  • The DVD-R format was originally developed by Pioneer and was intended for DVD home use.
  • DVD-R is the "official" format supported by the DVD player industry
  • DVD-R is designed for linear sequence data format, and not random access (which is probably fine since one normally watches video as a sequential stream)
  • The DVD+R format came later and was intended more for computer/data use, as evidenced by its developers which included the likes of Dell and HP
  • DVD+R can be formated for sequential data stream or random access (which is more important for data)
  • DVD+R has better defect management and better accuracy
In the earlier days, it was important to know if your reader/writer is using DVD-R or DVD+R as they are incompatible.  But the distinction is not really relevant anymore these days as practically all DVD players support both + and - formats.  The same is true for DVD-Writers for PC's.  Prices for both - and + also seem to be the same.  In any case, I will look into buying DVD+R in the future.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Shopping for Nintendo DS Lite at V-Mall

Took Caitlin shopping at Greenhills to buy her Nintendo DS Lite. I promised her the unit if she ends the school year at ICA with at least second honors, and she did. Well, a deal's a deal.

I hate shopping at Greenhills. There's just too many people and I hate the whole tiangge concept. Too crowded. Too many people bumping into you. We went to the Virra Mall area (now renamed to V-Mall) to look for a unit. We asked around until we settled with a store selling the Nintendo DS Lite package at Php7,600 inclusive of the R4 kit and 80 games pre-loaded.

The R4 is a compatibility kit that allows one to copy games onto a regular Micro SD card. The DS Lite will see it like it was a regular DS Lite cartridge. Below is a video of how it is used.

While at V-Mall, I also saw a couple of video products that I've only recently read about in gadgets magazine. The Western Digital's WD TV, which allows you to copy your movies onto a regular USB using almost any imaginable format, and the WD TV will let you play it onto your HD TV supposedly at 1080p via HDMI cables. The product sells at V-Mall for Php6k++. That's not so bad considering its sold in the US for USD99. The only downside is it has no network support. So you have to transfer whatever you want to view onto a flash drive first. Of course, USB flash drives are dirt cheap already at CD-R King. I think 8Gb Kingstons cost less than Php1k nowadays.

I also saw one shop selling Popcorn Hour already for Php13k++. It retails for about USD215 in the US, so the pricing is not bad. Popcorn Hour is a network video appliance that lets you stream your videos from a PC onto your TV or projector. It also supports most of the popular formats. The A-110 version can have an internal hard drive and has a native BitTorrent client to let you download movies directly to the unit without the need for a PC.

Both products would be a nice addition to our home because I don't have an Full HD player yet and our Samsung Series 5 LCD can do Full HD. However, I feel that I should just wait for the next generation of video players which will most likely have networking built in already. And our home theater has an RJ45 outlet that connects it to the home network.

The WD TV and Popcorn Hour seem to be just stop-gap products while the mainstream consumer electronics play catch up. The same thing pretty much happened to TiVo. It was very innovative at the time, but now, consumer electronics giants like Philips, Sony, etc. have features similar to the TiVo built it to their DVD players. Even Samsung boasts of LCD TV's with built-in TiVo-like functions already.

Here's related article on Nintendo DS and R4 from the venerable PC World.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Smart Money - Simply Complicated

I finally got to use my Smart Money card for the first time today at a gas station. I opened a Smart Money account about a month ago. This was prompted by inquiries of some customers on exactly how do they fund their PayEasy Wallet account using Smart Money. I didn't really know how to answer the question as I personally have never used it.

Also, we have been accepting Smart Money funding manually with the sysads receiving a Smart Money notification via txt and they would authorize the Wallet funding manually. So I thought we might as well automate it also using our Mozcommunicator SMS Gateway. I resolved to get a Smart Money account to test these once and for all.

Opening a Smart Money account felt straightforward at first. I filled up an application form online and submitted it with a click. Then I received a call after a while from a Smart call center person confirming the details. They had to call me at two separate occassion to confirm and validate the info I provided. Since there's something wrong with my N6120's ringer, I missed one of the calls, so I had to call back their call center to know what the follow up call was all about.

After close to a week, I went to the Smart Wireless Center along Ayala to pickup my Smart Money debit Mastercard. They charged me something like Php30 for that card. Not surprising, the plastic looks really thin and cheap. The card details are just printed on the PVC and not embossed unlike regular credit cards. I take it that nobody uses the old style "plantsa" anymore to capture credit card images at retail stores. If there were, you certainly cannot "plantsa" this card as there is nothing embossed that will come out on the carbon paper.

I don't remember why, but I did not immediately fund my account on that day, and had to go back to the Smart Wireless Center again on another occasion to do the funding. This time, I had to line up at their cashier section to fund Php506 for my testing. It was another long wait just to put a small amount into the account.

Then came the most complicated part of all -- I had to "link" my Smart number to my Mastercard. The instruction on the booklet looked really simple. You txt your Mastercard number to short code '393'. It then prompts you to enter your Wireless PIN (W-PIN); then your Mastercard ATM PIN. The probem is, I don't recall ever being asked for a PIN during my application. So what can the PIN be? I tried my usual ATM PIN's, but it said it was wrong.

I called up the Smart Money trunkline and the lady told me to try the default - '123456'. No luck. So I asked her to just have it reset. This was already around 6pm and I was still at the office. She told me that they were experiencing system problems and she kept asking me to wait a few more minutes as her access to their system is very slow. After about 20 mins of waiting on the phone, I told her I'll just do it tomorrow. She said she will just go ahead and have it reset when the system goes up again and that I will just receive an SMS within 24 hours once its done. Fine.

Next day, I did receive the SMS informing me of the reset. So I quickly tried the process again of sending my Smart Money card number to '393' and went through the motions. This time around, it prompted me that my ATM PIN is wrong! I tried the usual ATM PIN and the default '123456' and neither one worked. So I had to call the Smart Money trunkline yet again, this time, to ask for a reset of my ATM PIN. The lady warned me the other day that I had to go to a BDO ATM to do an actual attempt to use the card in order for them to verify that my ATM PIN is wrong. So I did that earlier already. Luckily, there was a BDO ATM not far from our building.

Again, the long wait to get a request to have the ATM PIN reset. She told me to wait for an SMS confirmation within 24 hours to know if it has already been reset. 24 hours passed and I did not get any confirmation. So on the next day, I called up the Smart Money call center again and gave them the service reference number. The operator told me that the reset already went through and that maybe I just did not receive an SMS notification. Now armed with a new W-PIN and new ATM PIN, I was finally able to "link" my accounts. And it took me almost a whole month to get this whole thing done!

The Smart Money debit Mastercard is a no-balance-required account with Banco de Oro. I believe Smart originally tied-up or acquired a bank (was it Prudential?), which it renamed to 1st e-Bank, then was later acquired probably by BDO. The Mastercard is associated to your Smart number so that when you use it in retail establishments, it sends an SMS notification to your phone also. You can do mobile transactions using your phone, and it will do the debit Mastercard transaction in the background. Its actually quite sophisticated and can do a lot more than Globe G-Cash. But unfortunately, in its effort to do all of that, it has made the product quite too complicated to get up and running.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

KFC Wow Meal

I didn't feel like taking a long walk this lunch time so I went to the usual, tried-and-tested KFC right across our building along Leviste Street. That branch is always full during lunch hour so I try to avoid the crowd by going there past 12:30pm.

I was planning to go with my usual 1-piece chicken meal (original flavor, of course) when I noticed a new item on the menu. There's the Wow Steak chicken meal for only Php53. That's a far cry from the 1-piece chicken meal which is already at Php83. What gives? Its the same 1-piece chicken with rice and soda. Well, since I wasn't that hungry anyway, I went for the Wow meal.

Brought back my styrofoam pack to the office. When I opened it, I thought to myself: "Wow! This piece of chicken is so tiny!". Maybe that's why they called it a "Wow" meal -- because that's the reaction of people when they see how small it is.