A payment on a flight story

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

“Three beers and three chicken sandwiches, thanks” – I said, graciously handing over my VISA card to the flight stewardess to pay for everything for me and my two Haxx friends Björn and Linus. 20 something Euros. Neither of us were carrying any cash.

We were happy that we had seats in the 7th row on the way back to Stockholm since when we flew down to FOSDEM Brussels just two days earlier we were in the 18th row and by then they had ran out of sandwiches. Brussels Airlines on a direct flight.

The lady inserted the card into her handheld card-reader, messed around a while since it wouldn’t “take” at the first attempt and then she handed it to me to enter my PIN. So I did.

credit cardsMs stewardess pressed some buttons or something and then she said, “no it doesn’t work” and continued to try inserting my card in basically every variation you can (especially having the chip side turned out has to be a very clever way) while repeating to me that it doesn’t work. This is the same card I’ve used numerous times during the weekend and I used it several times at the airport less than an hour ago. I know it works.

“OK let’s say you’re right”, I sighed as I really didn’t think I nor my card were to blame but I also didn’t feel like just causing trouble. I handed her my second VISA card. “Here, try this instead then”.

“No it doesn’t work either”. This certainly wasn’t right.

Linus reached over and offered his MasterCard. Perhaps there was a VISA problem with the device but “Sorry sir, it doesn’t work” came back. We’re now at farce level. Björn joins the fun and offers a 4th card, another MasterCard.

By this time we’ve eaten most of the sandwiches and were enjoying the beers.

The lady continued to struggle and it still didn’t work. She was starting to act a bit troubled about this and I asked her if she really insisted that all our cards are broken and she admitted that she suspected the machine wasn’t working quite as it should. Then she leaned towards the male steward who was serving drinks a couple of steps away. They fiddled a bit more and then she came back to us.

“That worked, I swiped it” she said without much further explanation and returned with Björn’s card and the receipt for the purchase. I felt quite done with this by now so I didn’t ask nor pushed her why she didn’t do that earlier. I was glad it finally was fixed. So much for me paying, now Björn did it instead. Oh well, truly fascinating that they would do like this on an airline where people have to do purchases with credit cards all the time.

Then Björn looked at the receipt he got back:

Pringles and a bottle of water, 5 Euro.

It made all three of us burst out in uncontrolled laughter. It was then followed by some contemplation what it actually meant. What exactly did Björn pay for? Did he only get the wrong receipt or did he pay for it? If so, who paid for our food and drinks?

It is 2014 and we haven’t come further than this.

(Update: Björn reminded me that we did verify the last 4 digits of the card number on the receipt and it didn’t match any of our cards…)

Swedish FOSS-magasin

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

foss-magasinClaes, our friend from foss-sthlm and several Open Source adventures, has just fired off a new initiative: FOSS-Magasin. The site launched for real on the evening November 19th.

Where there’s no real content on the site yet, Claes has set out a mission for himself and future contributors to create a site with technical content in Swedish that we geeks miss. This would be within areas such as FOSS, *nix, networking and more.

Tired of the poor state of technical and IT related media in Sweden that always seem to try to capture the really large audience and therefore always dumb down everything to a silly level, this is meant to be directed on more competent and interested readers.

The site is free and Claes is looking around for contributors to help hem get content to publish. I can only urge my Swedish friends to join up and help it get going, as I think it would be nice to get a proper Swedish tech site. For me, it will be especially interesting for things that actually happen in or otherwise is related to Sweden, as for all the rest I personally have no problems accessing English sites to get the info.

I like a good firmware bump

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

So I have this TV that I got for Xmas 2009. As it happens the guys at Philips clearly kept fixing the software and removed bugs after that moment. No surprise there really. I’ve been an embedded software developer for some twenty years by now. I know that software never gets “done” and that what ships in products is only what seems to be “good enough” at some point in time. Sometimes of course not even that good.

So the other day I took a photo of my TV firmware version. It shows how the firmware was made in April 2009. I did it during a discussion with a friend who happens to have the exact same TV as I do, and it then of course turns out he has a different (newer) firmware.

Oh right, I wonder if I can upgrade to a newer one? Once I’ve mastered the maze of the Philips web site I eventually found a download link and PDFs that told me how to. The list of fixes since my version was extensive and I noticed a few flaws mentioned that I have actually experienced!

The TV firmware download was a whopping 43MB. I realize this is because it is a full-fledged Linux system with kernel and God knows what else they’ve crammed in there. I decided to give it a closer check! The result of that was a little disappointing. It is quite clearly encrypted after some basic initial header.

hexdump -C firmware image

The data that starts on offset 0×220 is not x86 instructions and in fact nothing in the beginning of the file looks like x86 code (I just ran a quick “objdump -D –target binary -m i386″ on the file). Of course, I don’t know what architecture my TV runs so perhaps even checking for x86 is wrong. I know MIPS is popular in DVDs, settop-boxes and related graphics stuff but…. Nah, I decided it really wasn’t worth the effort so I stopped investigating. I have no real intention of hacking on it anyway.

So I instead proceeded to the actual procedure of upgrading the thing.

Unzip the zip file and put the file in the root dir of a FAT32-formatted usb-stick. The instructions of course didn’t say it needs to be FAT32 but I used that and it worked, and I just smug in the dark to how a manufacturer like this just assumes that we would have FAT32 on our usb-sticks…

But I digress. When I inserted the upgrade USB, the TV switched itself off, was dark for a short while and then turned itself on again and showed the firmware upgrade screen.

The process was very fast, just like 30-40 seconds or something like that and then it was done and asked me to remove the “media” and restart. Of course we know that a usb stick is “media” so I removed it from the TV set.

The instructions were very clear that to “restart” the TV I must only press the ON/OFF button on the remote once and only once. So I was careful to do just that… ;-)

Nothing strange happened, but after a brief moment of black screen the regular and familiar interface.

I jumped into the firmware version menu to check it out and yes, it shows an updated version now:

I did a quick check to see if I could detect my previous quirks now, but they may really be gone. They’ve been related to sound through HDMI and some graphical “glitches” when feeding the TV with full HD from a laptop.

So, with this firmware that was shipped many months after I got my TV, I seem to have gotten a better product.

I haven’t yet tested this new version to a significant degree so I don’t know yet if I’ve gotten some new nasty side-effects from it, as sometimes these kinds of firmware upgrades really cause you pain when something that formerly used to work so good suddenly turns out to not work that good any longer.

The web shop timeout mystery

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Another one of the things in the modern world I’ve not yet understood:

why on earth do some web-based shops timeout your shopping and automatically clear you “shopping cart” if you just leave it around for a few hours/days? Why why why? What harm does it do them if I don’t hurry on to purchase?

I love being able to press ‘buy’ on lots of stuff (that then are added to the “cart”) and then ponder a few days if I want more stuff, if I selected the right models, alter a few things and similar. So when they time-out on me like this, it’s like a blow in the face and I need to start over again. It’s simply crazy that I have to backup my list of things to buy just in case they’ll flush me before I’m done!

Yes, I’m aware that some sites offer “save lists” etc if you’re registered and logged in and all, but I don’t want to have to do that.

I can imagine that at times things run out of stock or they even change the prices of merchandise that’s in my cart, but they could still solve that in other ways than just clearing everything.

USB converter woes

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

USB to rs232 converters are just never sold properly advertising what chip’s inside and right now I want to know if this one UART I’m working with perhaps is not playing fine with my existing converter cable.

I have this XScale PXA270 on a toradex-colibriboard, and it has only one full featured RS232 (FFUART) and I’m about to move things over to the lesser featured BTUART.

A theory is that my current USB converter that is based on a “Prolific PL2303″ doesn’t play nicely on the serial port that isn’t a full RS232.

So I ran off and bought a new cable. I grabbed the only model I found in my local Kjell & Company store – it’s quite different looking than my existing but there’s no hint anywhere on the package or inside of it that says what chipset that empowers it.

A quick drive back home (I’m working from home in this assignment), I plugged it in and I got to see this depressingly familiar dmesg output:

usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial
usbserial: USB Serial support registered for generic
usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial_generic
usbserial: USB Serial Driver core
usbserial: USB Serial support registered for pl2303
pl2303 2-2.4:1.0: pl2303 converter detected
usb 2-2.4: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0
usbcore: registered new interface driver pl2303
pl2303: Prolific PL2303 USB to serial adaptor driver

So what now? I hate how (my) computers these days don’t have serial ports while the entire embedded world still very much uses them. I think I’ll go searching in my closet to see if I can find an old crap computer with a serial port to try.

Another theory is that the port simply is broken hw-wise on the dev board but that’s harder to check for me right now.

Update: it was (as usual) only my stupidity that prevented this from working. If I switch it over to the correct baudrate the usb converter does fine. But before I found that out, I did find a computer with a serial port and I did see it working on that too…

A113

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

I have two kids, aged two and five. In our home I get to see a fair amount of animated movies, and yes most of them are run over and over again as the kids for some reason like to see the same movie endless number of times.

Anyway, what does a man like me do when he sees the same movies many times? He spots inconsistencies and patterns. My wife can get annoyed at times when I for example remark on how Nemo can get back to the main tank when the only way back is a pipe stuffed with a plant, in Finding Nemo.

Or the fact that Dinoco is both the name of a gas station in Toy Story I and the name of the racing team in Cars.

More recently I detected a bigger pattern that collides a bit with myself:

A113 is on the license plate of Andy’s mother’s car as visible towards the end of Toy Story I.

A113 in The Incredibles it is the conference room number where our main hero Bob is supposed to meet someone at that special island, only to get end up getting in fight with the big spider robot thing.

A113 shows up on a screen in Wall-e as some kind of instruction from the huge Axiom ship’s computer.

A113 is marked on the “electricity cabinet” outside my house! (see picture below)

Yeah, and once I had all this tracked down and it felt a bit strange I typed A113 into that search engine thing and of course I got to learn everything about A113

Cure coming for Wrap Rage?

Monday, November 17th, 2008

This phenomena you thought you were alone to experience, the rage and anger you feel when you’ve bought some new toy and you get it packaged in tight and nearly un-enforceable plastic that demands a decent amount of violence and persistence to crack. It’s called Wrap Rage.

I’ve been told the packages (called blister packs or clam shells) are designed to be this way to be able to show off the merchandise while at the same time prevent thefts: it is hard for a customer to just extract something out of those things in your typical physical store.

Amazon’s initiative Frustration-Free packaging is indeed a refreshing take on this and apparently an attempt to reverse this development. Online stores really cannot have any good reasons to use this kind of armor around products since there’s no risk of stealing. I wish others will follow to make the manufacturers realize that there is a market for this. This needs to be done by manufacturers of stuff, the stores cannot be made to repackage stuff due to warranties and what not.

It wouldn’t surprise me if you could even find cheaper ways to package products once you let go of some of the requirements that no longer apply for online stores. Visibility of the products once packaged is another thing that is pointless for online stores but I would expect is very important to sales in physical stores. I’ve always thought it is pretty pointless and expensive that every single package is made to be able to be a display model. To be able to attract customers to buy it. When you buy the thing online it’s no longer just pointless, it’s plain stupid.

Imagine a future when you can just open your new toy without getting bruises or scratch marks!