Taking over a postal address, An Post edition

As I announced a few months ago, I’m moving to London. One of the tasks before the move is setting up postal address redirection, so that the services unable to mail me across the Irish Sea can still reach me. Luckily I know for a fact that An Post (the Irish postal service) has a redirection service, if not a cheap one.

A couple of weeks ago, I went on to sign up for the services, and I found that I had two choices: I could go to the post office (which is inside the EuroSpar next door), show a photo ID and a proof of address, and pay cash or with a debit card1; or I could fill in the form online, pay with a credit card, and then post out a physical signed piece of paper. I chose the latter.

There are many laughable things that I could complain about, in the process of setting up the redirection, but I want to focus on what I think is the big, and most important problem. After you choose the addresses (original and new destination), it will ask you where you want your confirmation PIN sent.

There is a reason why they do that. I set up the redirect well before I moved, and in particular I chose to redirect mail from my apartment to my local office — this way I can either batch together the mail, or simply ask for an inter-office forwarding. This meant I had access to both the original and the new address at the same time — but for many people, particularly moving out of the country, by the time they know where to forward the mail, they might only have access to the new address.

The issue is that if you decide to get the PIN at the new address, the only notification sent to the old address is one letter, confirming the activation of the redirection, sent to the old address. This is likely meant so you can call An Post and have them cancel the redirection if that was done against your will.

While this stops a possible long-term takeover of a mail address, it still allows a wide window of opportunity for a takeover. Also, it has one significant drawback: the letter does not tell you where the mail will be redirected!

Let’s say you want to take over someone’s address (let’s look later what for). First you need to know their address; this is the simplest part of course. Now you can fill in the request on An Post’s website for the redirection — the original address is not given any indication that a request was filled – and get the PIN at the new address. Once the PIN is received, there is some time to enable the redirection.

Until activation is completed, and the redirection time is selected, no communication is given to the original address.

If your target happens to be travelling or otherwise unable to get to their mail for a few weeks, then you have an opportunity. You can take over the address, get some documents at the given address, and get your hands on them. Of course the target will become suspicious when coming back, finding a note about redirection and no mail. But finding a way to recover the mail without being tied to an identity is left as an exercise to the reader.

So what would you accomplish, beside annoying your target, and possibly get some of their unsolicited mail? Well, there are a significant amount of interesting targets in the postal mail you receive in Ireland.

For instance, take credit card statements. Tesco Bank does not allow you to receive them electronic, and Ulster Bank will send you the paper copy even though you opt-in to all the possible electronic communications. And a credit card statement in Ireland include a lot more information than other countries, including just enough to take over the credit card. Tesco Bank for instance will authenticate you with the 16 digits PAN (on the statement), your full address (on the statement), the credit limit (you guessed it, on the statement), and your date of birth (okay, this one is not on the statement, but you can probably find my date of birth pretty easily).

And even if you don’t want to take over the full credit card, having the PAN is extremely useful in and by itself, to take over other accounts. And since you have the statement, it wouldn’t be difficult to figure out what the card is used for — take over an Amazon account, you can take over a lot more things.

But there are more concrete problems too — for instance I do receive a significant amount of pseudo-cash2 in form of Tesco vouchers — having physical control of the vouchers effectively means having the cash in your hand. Or say you want to get a frequent guest or frequent flyer card, because a card is often just enough to get the benefits, and have access to the information on the account. Or just get enough of a proof of address to register on any other service that will require one.

Because let’s remember: an authentication system is just as weak as its weakest link. So all those systems requiring a proof of address? You can skip over all of them by just having one recent enough proof of address, by hijacking someone’s physical mail. And that’s just a matter of paying for it.


  1. An Post is well known for only accepting VISA Debit cards, and refuses both MasterCard Debit and VISA Credit cards. Funnily enough, they issue MasterCard cards, but that’s a story for another time.
    [return]
  2. I should at some point write a post about pseudo-cash and the value of a euro when it’s not a coin.
    [return]

My horrible experience with Three Ireland

I have not ranted about the ineptitude of companies for a while, but this time I have to go back to it. Most of the people who follow me on Twitter are probably already fully aware of what’s going on, so if you want to skip on reading this, feel free.

When I moved to Ireland in 2013, I evaluated quickly the mobile providers available and decided to become a customer of Three Ireland. I was already a customer of Three back in Italy, and they had the same offer here than they had there, which involved the ability to be “Three like at home”, roaming on foreign Three networks for free, using the same allowance of calls and data that you have on your own country. Since my expectation was to go home more often than I actually did, roaming to Three Italy sounded like a good deal.

Fast forward four years, and I ended up having to give up and moved to a new provider altogether. This all precipitated since Three Ireland took effectively four months to fix up my account so I could actually use it, but let’s take one step at a time.

Back in January this year, my Tesco credit card got used fraudulently. Given I have been using Revolut for most of my later trips to the States, I can narrow down where my card was skimmed as one of three places, but it looks like the MIT Coop store is the most likely culprit. This is a different story, and luckily Tesco Bank managed to catch the activity right away, cancelled my card and issued me a new one. This is something I talked about previously.

The main problem was migrating whatever was still attached to that card onto a different one. I managed to convert most of my automated debits onto my Ulster Bank MasterCard (except Vodafone Italy, that’s a longer story), but then I hit a snag. My Three Ireland account was set up to auto-top-up from my Tesco Bank card €20 every month. This was enough to enable the “All you can eat data” offer, which gave me virtually unlimited data in Ireland, UK, Italy, and a few other countries. Unfortunately when I went to try editing my card, their management webapp (My3) started throwing errors at me.

Or rather, not even throwing errors. Whenever I would go to list my payment cards to remove the now-cancelled card, it would send me back to the service’s homepage. So I called them, and I’ll remind you this is January, to ask if they could look into it, and advised I won’t be able to take call because I was about to leave for the USA.

The problem was clearly not solved when I got back to Ireland, and I called them again, told me I would be contacted back from their tech support and they will give me an update. They called me, of course always at awkward times, and the first thing they asked me was for a screenshot of the error I was shown, except I was shown no error. So they had to go back and forth a couple of times with them, both on the phone and over Twitter (both publicly and over direct messages).

At some point during this exchange they asked me for my password. Now, I use LastPass so the password is not actually sensitive information by itself, but you would expect that they would have built something in place where they can act as one of their customers, for debugging purposes, or at least be able to override the password, and just ask me to change it afterwards. Since the second auto-top-up failed and required me to make a manual payment, I decided to give up, and send them screenshot of both the loading page and the following landing page, and send it to them as requested.

Aside note here: the reason why these auto-top-up are important, is that without these, you get charged for every megabyte you use. And you don’t get any notification that your all-you-can-eat expired, you only get a notification after you spent between €5 and €10 in data, as that’s what law requires. So if the auto-top-up failed, you end up just using your credit. Since I used to spend the credit on Google Play instead (particularly to pay for Google Play Music All Access — my, what a mouthful!), this was not cool.

By end of March, when the third auto-top-up failed, and I ended up wasting €15 for not noticing it. I called them again, and I managed to speak to the only person in this whole ordeal who actually treated me decently. She found the ticket closed because they did not receive my screenshot, so she asked me to send them directly to her address and she attached them to the ticket herself. This reopened the ticket, but turned out not to help.

At this point I’ve also topped up the €130 that were required to request an unlock code for my Sony Xperia XA phone, so I decide to request that in parallel while I fight with trying to be able to configure my payment cards. Since the phone is Sony, the unlock code comes directly from them and Three advises is going to take up to 21 working days. When I send the request, I get an email back telling me the unlock request was not successful, and to contact the customer support. Since I was already bothering them on Twitter, I do so there, and they reassure me that they took care of it and sent the request through.

Also, this time I give up and give them my password, too. Which became even funnier, because as I was dictating it to them I go to “ampersand” and they reply “No that’s impossible, it’s not a valid character for the password!” — as it happens it is indeed not a valid character, now. When I set my password it was valid, but now it is not. I found out after they fixed the problem, because of course by then I wanted to change my password, and LastPass generated another one with the & character.

It took another month for them to finally figure out the problem, and another three or four requests for screenshots, despite them knowing my password. And a couple of times asking me to confirm my email address, despite it already being in the system and all. But at least that part got fixed.

Now remember the unlock code request above? 21 working days in most cases mean around a month. So a month after my unlock code request I call them, and they inform me that the 21 working days would expire the next day, a Friday. The reason is to be found in Easter and bank holidays being present, reducing the number of working days in the month. Fair enough, I still ask them what’s going to happen if the 21 days promise is breached, and the guy on the phone denies it is even possible. Of course the day after I got to chat with them again, and they realize that there was no update whatsoever and there should have been at least one.

They decide to request an urgent unlock, since on the Thursday I would be leaving for China, and they promise me the unlock code would be there by Monday. Goes without saying it didn’t work. When I called on Monday they told me that only Sony can provide the unlock, and since it was a long weekend they were not going to answer until at least the day after (May 1st was bank holiday, too). At this point I was pissed and asked to speak with a manager.

Unfortunately the person at the phone was not actually human, but rather was replaced by one of those call center scripts kind of drone and not only kept telling me that they had nothing personal against me, which I did not care if they did, to be honest, but refused to redirect me to a manager when I pointed out that this was ludicrous after fighting four months to get the other problem solved. They kept saying that since the ticket is closed, there was nothing they could talk to me about. They also insisted that since the unlock code hasn’t arrived they couldn’t even offer me a trade-in with an unlocked phone, as that is only available if the unlock code fails to work.

I ended up having to buy myself a new phone, because I could not risk going to China with a locked phone again. Which turned out to be an interesting experience as it looks like in Ireland, the only places to buy unlocked phones are either corner shops selling Chinese phones, or Argos. I ended up buying an Xperia X from Argos, and I’m very happy of the result, although I did not intend to spend that money. But that’s a story for another day, too. Of course the unlock code arrived the day after I bought my new phone, or should I say the day after I gave up on Three Ireland, and moved to Tesco Mobile.

Because at that point, the drone got me so angry that I decided to just spend all of my credit (minus €20 because I hit the usage limit) buying movies and books on Google Play, and when I picked up the phone on Tuesday, I also picked up a SIM for Tesco Mobile. I found out that MNP in Ireland takes less than an hour and just involves a couple of confirmation codes, rather than having to speak with people and fill in forms. And I’m indeed happy on Tesco Mobile right now.

Why am I so riled up? Because I think Three Ireland lost a big opportunity to keep a customer, the moment when I expressed my dissatisfaction with the service and with the lack of unlock code. They could have offered me a trade-in of the current phone. They could have given me the credit I spent because of their issue back. They could have even offered me a new, any new phone, locked to their network, to make it harder for me to leave them. Instead they went the road of saying that since the problem has been solved at all, there was never any problem.

I found this particularly stupid particularly compared to the way Virgin Media and Sky Ireland seem to have it down to practice: when I called Sky to ask them if they had any better offer than Virgin, back when I used TV service, they told me they couldn’t do better broadband, but they would offer me a lower price on the TV package so that I could unbundle it from Virgin. When I called Virgin to remove the TV package (because at the time they were going to increase the monthly fee), they offered to lower their price for a year to make it still more convenient for me.

Debit and credit cards in the USA

Credit Cards
Photo credit: Sean MacEntee

I know it’s a long time now, maybe an year or two, but I still remember clearly that after one of the many card data breaches in the US – maybe Target’s – I ended up exchanging comments with some Americans on the difference between debit cards and credit cards. Turns out that for people who never had to face that choice before, it’s not obvious why would anybody pay with a debit card at a store such as Target, rather than a credit one. So it might be worth writing it here, given that I talked about credit cards before. But be warned that this is pretty much limited to the United States, so if you’re not interested, feel free to skip.

So first of all, what’s the rokus about credit versus debit? The main difference between the two, on an user point of view, is the protection: in the case of fraudulent transactions on a credit card, most issuers will revert the charge and block the card without costing money to the consumer — who’s going to eat that loss depends on a number of different factors including, as of recently, whether the bank issued an EMV card, and whether the point-of-sale used the chip to execute the transaction. On the other hand, fraudulent charges on a debit card are usually a loss for the cardholder.

So generally speaking, if you have a choice, you should pay with a credit card. Which is generally not what vendors want, as they would prefer you pay with a debit card (it costs them less in fees). As much as I feel for the vendors – I had my own company, remember? – the inherent risk of breaches and the amount of PoS malware makes it sadly a consumer protection choice.

But the relative ease to get debit and credit cards is also a factor. Getting a debit card is trivial: you walk into a branch, ask them to open a new account, give them enough information about yourself, and they will mail you a debit card. They won’t look into your financial data – including your credit score – because they are not giving you credit, they are just giving you a mean to access the funds you deposited at their bank.

This, among other things, means that you can get a card number in the US without being a resident: if you’re a non-resident in the US, but you have a permanent address of some kind, such as an office or a friend’s, you can just enter a branch and open an account with a US bank. They’ll need your documents (passport, and another credit/debit card with your name, or another non-photo ID), and a proof of address in your country of residence, but otherwise it’s usually a quite pleasant experience.

To provide more information on the topic: since you’re not a resident and you’re not working illegally in the US, you’re not receiving a fixed paycheck on your US account, which means that most fee-waiving programs that count on you receiving a given direct credit per month won’t apply to you. Instead you should look into fee-waiving by the deposited amount — Bank of the West has a minimum deposit of $1000, which is the lowest I have seen, but when I asked them they tried to send me from Sunnyvale to San Francisco to open an account; the Chase next door was happy to have me as a client, even though their minimum deposit is $1500.

If you plan on transferring money often between the two accounts, you probably want to use a service like Transferwise, that converts currencies and transfer funds between USD, EUR, GBP and other currencies at a much cheaper rate than most banks, and definitely much cheaper than the banks that I have.

But things get complicated if you want a credit card, even more so if you want a rewards credit card, such as Amazon’s, or any airline or hotel chain — which generally wouldn’t be very useful to foreigners as most countries with the except of Ireland have some card that you can get, American Express being the worst case.

To get the most common credit cards in the US you need to be in the credit system somehow; you probably want to have some credit history and a rating too. If you’re resident in the US, they will find you up through the Social Security Number (SSN), but it’s more complicated for non-residents (unless they were at some point residents of course).

In either case, the simplest form of credit card you can request is a secured credit card — which is essentially a glorified debit card: you pay the bank an amount, and then then make that amount available to you as a credit line. The main difference between this and a debit card is that it does have the protections of a credit card. It also allows you to build up credit score, which is why it’s usually the choice of card for immigrants and young people who don’t have a history at all. They generally don’t come with any kind of rewards system.

Immigrants here include techies, by the way. Even when working for big companies in the Silicon Valley, the lack of a credit history means you have to build it up from scratch. I know some of my American acquaintances were surprised that it’s not as easy as showing your employment information to get credit.

Not all banks provide secured credit cards though. In particular when I asked Chase just the other day, they told me to try with the nearby US Bank or Wells Fargo – both walking distance – and I seem to recall that Bank of America does it as well. The idea is that you’ll use a secured card for at least an year to build up positive history, and then get a proper, better credit card after that. And that’s why you need a SSN to correlate them.

What I said up to now would imply that you have no option to get a credit card if you, like me, are just a visitor who happens to be in the States every few months. That is not strictly true: the requirement for the SSN is a requirement for an identifier that can be reported across multiple banks and with the IRS; there is another identifier you can use for that, and it’s the ITIN. This non-resident identification number has some requirements attached, and it’s not exactly trivial to get — I have unfortunately no experience with getting one to retell yet. It is usually assigned by filing a US tax return, which is not something you want (or need) to do if you’re a foreigner. Especially because it usually requires a good reason, such as having an ebook published and having Amazon withhold 30% of the royalties for US taxes, when a treaty exists between the US and your country of residence.

I do indeed plan to look into how to declare my royalties properly next year to Ireland, and file a US tax return to get the (cents) back — if nothing else to request an ITIN, and with it a rewards credit card. After all, a lot of the money I spend ends up being spent in the US, so why not?

Well, to be honest there are a bunch of reasons why not. You risk getting audited by either or both of your country of residence and the USA — and for the USA there is no way to escape the IRS, or they wouldn’t consider only two things certain. You have paperwork to file, again for both countries, which might be unwieldy or complex (I have yet to look at the paperwork to file with Irish authorities, they are usually straightforward). And you end up on the currency market; right now between EUR and USD it’s pretty stable and doable, but if you don’t keep an eye out it’s easy to screw it up and ending up wasting money just on the exchange. So it’s still an investment in time.

Myself, I still think it’s likely it’s going to be a good idea to try to get an ITIN and a proper credit card, since I come to the States every few months between conferences and work travel. But I won’t make any suggestions to anybody else. Your money, your choice.

I finally have my first Irish credit card, here’s why

Living on Credit Cards
Photo credit: Images_of_Money

Almost exactly 18 months after moving to Ireland I’m finally bound to receive my first Irish credit card. This took longer than I was expecting but at least it should cover a few of the needs I have, although it’s not exactly my perfect plan either. But I guess it’s better start from the top.

First of all, I have already credit cards, Italian ones that as I wrote before, they are not chip’n’pin which causes a major headache in countries such as Ireland (but UK too), where non-chip’n’pin capable cards are not really well supported or understood. This means that they are not viable, even though I have been using them for years and I have enough credit history with them that they have a higher limit than the norm, which is especially handy when dealing with things like expensive hotels if I’m on vacation.

But the question becomes why do I need a credit card? The answer lies in the mess that the Irish banking system is: since there is no “good” bank over here, I’ve been using the same bank I was signed up with when I arrived, AIB. Unfortunately their default account, which is advertised as “free”, is only really free if for the whole quarter your bank account never goes below €2.5k. This is not the “usual” style I’ve seen from American banks where they expect that your average does not go below a certain amount, it does not matter if one day you have no money and the next you have €10k on it: if for one day in the quarter you dip below the threshold, you have to pay for the account, and dearly. At that point every single operation becomes a €.20 charge. Including PayPal’s debit/credit verification, AdSense EFT account verification, Amazon KDP monthly credits. And including every single use of your debit card — for a while, NFC payments were excluded, so I tried to use it more, but very few merchants allowed that, and the €15 limit on its use made it quite impractical to pay most things. In the past year and a half, I paid an average of €50/quarter for a so-called free account.

Operations on most credit cards are on the other hand free; there are sometimes charges for “oversea usage” (foreign transactions), and you are charged interests if you don’t pay the full amount of the debt at the end of the month, but you don’t pay a fixed charge per operation. What you do pay here in Ireland is stamp duty, which is €30/year. A whole lot more than Italy where it was €1.81 until they dropped it on the floor. So my requirements on a credit card are to essentially hide as much as possible these costs. Which essentially mean that just getting a standard AIB card is not going to be very useful: yes I would be saving money after the first 150 operations, but I would be saving more to save enough to keep those €2.5k in the bank.

My planned end games were two: a Tesco credit card and an American Express Platinum, for very different reasons. I was finally able to get the former, but the latter is definitely out of my reach, as I’ll explain later.

The Tesco credit card is a very simple option: you get 0.5% “pointback”, as you get 1 Clubcard point every €2 spent. Since for each point you get a €.01 discount at end of quarter, it’s almost like a cashback, as long as you buy your groceries from Tesco (that I do, because it’s handy to have the delivery rather than having to go out for that, especially for things that are frozen or that weight a bit). Given that it starts with (I’m told) a puny limit of €750, maxing it out every month is enough to get back the stamp duty price with just the cashback, but it becomes even easier by using it for all the small operations such as dinner, Tesco orders, online charges, mobile phone, …

Getting the Tesco credit card has not been straightforward either. I tried applying a few months after arriving in Ireland, and I was rejected, as I did not have any credit history at all. I tried again earlier this year, adding a raise at work, and the results have been positive. Unfortunately that’s only step one: the following steps require you to provide them with three pieces of documentation: something that ensures you’re in control of the bank account, a proof of address, and a proof of identity.

The first is kinda obvious: a recent enough bank statement is good, and so is the second, a phone or utility bill — the problem starts when you notice that they ask you for an original and not a copy “from the Internet”. This does not work easily given that I explicitly made sure all my services are paperless, so neither the bank nor the phone company sends me paper any more — the bank was the hardest to convince, for over an year they kept sending me a paper letter for every single wire I received with the exception of my pay, which included money coming from colleagues when I acted as a payment hub, PayPal transfer for verification purposes and Amazon KDP revenue, one per country! Luckily, they accepted a color printed copy of both.

Getting a proper ID certified was, though, much more complex. The only document I could use was my passport, as I don’t have a driving license or any other Irish ID. I made a proper copy of it, in color, and brought it to my doctor for certification, he stamped and dated and declared, but it was not okay. I brought it to An Post – the Irish postal service – and told them that Tesco wanted a specific declaration on it, and to see the letter they sent me; they refused and just stamped it. I then went to the Garda – the Irish police – and I repeated Tesco’s request; not only they refused to comply, but they told me that they are not allowed to do what Tesco was asking me to make them do, and instead they authenticated a declaration of mine that the passport copy was original and made by me.

What worked, at the end, was to go to a bank branch – didn’t have to be the branch I’m enrolled with – and have them stamp the passport for me. Tesco didn’t care it was a different branch and they didn’t know me, it was still my bank and they accepted it. Of course since it took a few months for me to go through all these tries, by the time they accepted my passport, I needed to send them another proof of address, but that was easy. After that I finally got the full contract to sign and I’m now only awaiting the actual plastic card.

But as I said my aim was also for an American Express Platinum card. This is a more interesting case study: the card is far from free, as it starts with a yearly fee of €550, which is what makes it a bit of a status symbol. On the other hand, it comes with two features: their rewards program, and the perks of Platinum. The perks are not all useful to me, having Hertz Gold is not useful if you don’t drive, and I already have comprehensive travel insurance. I also have (almost) platinum status with IHG so I don’t need a card to get the usual free upgrades if available. The good part about them, though, is that you can bless a second Platinum card that gets the same advantages, to “friends or family” — in my case, the target would have been my brother in law, as he and my sister love to travel and do rent cars.

It also gives you the option of sending four more cards also to friends and family, and in particular I wanted to have one sent to my mother, so that she can have a way to pay for things and debit them to me so I can help her out. Of course as I said it has a cost, and a hefty one. Ont he other hand, it allows you one more trick: you can pay for the membership fee through the same rewards program they sign you up for. I don’t remember how much you have to spend in an year to pay for it, but I’m sure I could have managed to get most of the fee waived.

Unfortunately what happens is that American Express requires, in Ireland, a “bank guarantee” — which according to colleagues means your bank should be taking on the onus of paying for the first €15k debt I would incur and wouldn’t be able to repay. Something like this is not going to fly in Ireland, not only because of the problem with loans after the crisis but also because none of the banks will give you that guarantee today. Essentially American Express is making it impossible for any Irish resident to get a card from them, and this, again according to colleagues, extends to cardholders in other countries moving into Ireland.

The end result is that I’m now stuck with having only one (Visa) credit card in Ireland, which had feeble, laughable rewards program, but at least I have it, and it should be able to repay itself. I’m up to find a MasterCard card I can have to hedge my bets on the acceptance of the card – turns out that Visa is not well received in the Netherlands and in Germany – and that can repay itself for the stamp duty.

The revenge of the loyalty card

I’m interrupting my series about diabetes to take a moment to look into the way Tesco beat EuroSpar’s craziness for what concerns UTF-8 handling in my surname.

So to cut down the time I spend getting my groceries, a couple of months ago I started ordering online from Tesco and get it delivered to my apartment. It’s nice because they have quite a wider selection for some things than the EuroSpars and for some things at least, better quality.

In particular, Italian-style plain tomato sauce costs a third if not less at Tesco compared to EuroSpar — let alone more boutique style places like Fresh or Il Valentino!

When I registered, they asked if I had a Clubcard already (their loyalty card) which I didn’t have, and so they said that one was on its way to me. After a month ordering from them without receiving the card, and with the delivery receipts not listing any points at all. I called them and they apologized and said they would re-send me the card, fine. I received it the past week: I’m surprised An Post was able to actually deliver it, as it was addressed to R P Ego Elio Etten Di — I think the UTF-8 messed hard with their text processing. The card itself, got sent at name Mr D Petten.

I tried registering on the website with all possible combinations of name and address (yes the address was misspelled on the letter as well, Partment rather than Apartment), but no dice. Today I called them. And I think both me and the operator sweated heavily: first he asked me for my Clubcard number, I start giving it to him, and he tells me it’s wrong “It has to start with 634” “But mine starts with 400!”. Then he started asking me what’s the surname on the letter, and as you can guess above, I had no clue of what they recorded as surname. Then after some more repeating that what my name is does not match what’s on the card, I got them to actually set up me up with the correct name and address.

But I wanted to actually get to the website, so they said they would send me a link reset password. Instead, what I receive is my old password, in clear-text. I tell the operator “That’s not what should happens” “That’s what I got here”. I find “We take security very seriously” in the body of the email that contained the password laughingly. It’s interesting that this was reported over two years ago and is still not fixed. Lovely. I thank my colleague Brice for having shown me SuperGenPass so I can at least make sure not to compromise my usual safe passwords anymore.

Okay so I log in on the home delivery website for which I was obviously already registered, I connect, and I try to get the clubcard details, once again it asks me to enroll the card in my account. So the guy asks me if he should give me the number now… and I stay silent for a couple of beats. The number impressed on my card does not match the number the card should have! something messed it up and it was shifted a few digits left, with some extra digits added at the end. That’s why it did not start with the right digits. A new card is on its way to me, hopefully.

So the mere use of my real surname in their system was able to mess up their Cardclub handling so bad, that they ended up imprinting the wrong number on a card (not printed the way Decathlon does in Italy, this is actually creditcard-style embossing!), and sending it out.

On a different note to close the post, I published my glucometer tool and if you’ve got a different model or brand and want to write a driver for it, it’ll be very welcome.

My time abroad: loyalty cards part II — EuroSpar

My original post about loyalty cards missed the supermarkets that I’m actually using nowadays, because they are conveniently located just behind my building (for one) and right on the way back home from my office (for the other). Both of them are part of the EuroSpar chain and have the added convenience of being open respectively 247 and 7-22.

Mangled bill from EuroSpar

So, when I originally asked the store if they had any loyalty card, I was told they didn’t. I checked the website anyway and found the name of their loyalty program, which is “SuperEasy”, and the next time, I asked about it explicitly, and they gave me the card and a form to fill in; after filling almost all of it, I found that I could also do it online, so I trashed the paper form. They can’t get my name right anywhere here when I spell it.

On the website, strangely enough they even accept my surname as it should be, wow that’s a miracle, I thought… until I went to use the card at the shop and got back the bill that you see on the left. Yes that’s UTF-8 converted to some other 8-bit codepage which is not Latin-1. Indeed it reminds me of CP850 at the time of MS-DOS. Okay I give up, but the funniest part was getting the bill tonight, the one on the right.

The other mangled bill from EuroSpar

But beside them mangling my name in many different possible ways, is there anything that makes EuroSpar special enough for me to write a follow-up post on a topic that I don’t really care about or, honestly, have experience in? Yes of course. Compared with the various rewards I have been talking about last time, this seems to be mostly the same: one point per euro spent, and one cent per point redeemed.

The big difference here is that the points are accrued to the cent, rather than to the lower euro threshold! Not too shabby, considering that unlike Dunnes they do not round their prices to full euros most of the time. And the other one is that even though they have a single loyalty scheme for all the stores.. the cards are per-store, or so they proclaim. The two here are probably owned by the same person so they are actually linked and they work on each.

Another interesting point is that while both EuroSpar host an Insomnia café, neither accept Insomnia’s own loyalty card (ZapaTag) — instead they offer something similar in the sense that you get the 10th drink free. A similar offer is present at the regular Insomnia shops, but there, while you can combine the 10th drink offer with the ZapaTag points, you cannot combine it with other offers such as my usual coffee and brownie for €3,75 (the coffee alone is €3,25 while the brownie is €2,25)… at EuroSpar instead this is actually combinable, but of course if I use the free coffee while getting a brownie, I still have to pay almost as much as the coffee.. but sometimes I can skip on the pastry.

So yes, I think it was worth noting the differences about EuroSpar. And as a final note I’ll just say that even the pharmacy on the way to work has a loyalty card… and it’s the usual discount one, or as they call it “PayBack Card”. I have to see what Tesco does, but they somehow blacklisted my apartment in their delivery service.

My time abroad: loyalty cards

Compared to most people around me now, and probably most of the people who read my blog, my life is not that extraordinary, in the terms of travel and moving around. I’ve been, after all, scared of planes for years, and it wasn’t until last year that I got out of the continent — in an year, though, I more than doubled the number of flights I’ve been on, with 18 last year, and more than doubled the number of countries I’ve been to, counting Luxembourg even though I only landed there and got on a bus to get back to Brussels after Alitalia screwed up.

On the other hand, compared to most of the people I know in Italy, I’ve been going around quite a bit, as I spent a considerable amount of time last year in Los Angeles, and I’ve now moved to Dublin, Ireland. And there are quite a few differences between these places and Italy. I’ve already written a bit about the differences I found during my time in the USA but this time I want to focus on something which is quite a triviality, but still is a remarkable difference between the three countries I got to know up to now. As the title suggest I’m referring to stores’ loyalty cards.

Interestingly enough, there was just this week an article on the Irish Times about the “privacy invasion” of loyalty cards.. I honestly don’t see it as big a deal as many others. Yes, they do profile your shopping habits. Yes, if you do not keep private the kind of offers they sent you, they might tell others something about you as well — the newspaper actually brought up the example of a father who discovered the pregnancy of the daughter because of the kind of coupons the supermarket was sending, based on her change of spending habits; I’m sorry but I cannot really feel bad about it. After all, absolute privacy and relevant offers are kinda at the opposite sides of a range.. and I’m usually happy enough when companies are relevant to me.

So of course stores want to know the habits of a single person, or of a single household, and for that they give you loyalty cards… but for you to use them, they have to give you something in return, don’t they? This is where the big difference on this topic appears clearly, if you look at the three countries:

  • in both Italy and Ireland, you get “points” with your shopping; in the USA, instead, the card gives you immediate discounts; I’m pretty sure that this gives not-really-regular-shoppers a good reason to get the card as well: you can easily save a few dollars on a single grocery run by getting the loyalty card at the till;
  • in Italy you redeem the points to get prizes – this works not so differently than with airlines after all – sometimes by adding a contribution, sometimes for free; in my experience the contribution is never worth it, so either you get something for free or just forget about it;
  • in Ireland I still haven’t seen a single prize system; instead they work with coupons: you get a certain amount of points each euro you spend (usually, one point per euro), and then when you get to a certain amount of points, they get a value (usually, one cent per point), and a coupon redeemable for the value is sent you.

Of course, the “European” method (only by contrast with American, since I don’t know what other countries do), is a real loyalty scheme: you need a critical mass of points for them to be useful, which means that you’ll try to get on the same store as much as you can. This is true for airlines as well, after all. On the other hand, people who shop occasionally are less likely to request the card at all, so even if there is some kind of data to be found in their shopping trends, they will be completely ignored by this kind of scheme.

I’m honestly not sure which method I prefer, at this point I still have one or two loyalty cards from my time in Los Angeles, and I’m now collecting a number of loyalty cards here in Dublin. Some are definitely a good choice for me, like the Insomnia card (I love getting coffee at a decent place where I can spend time to read, in the weekends), others, like Dunnes, make me wonder.. the distance from the supermarket to where I’m going to live is most likely offsetting the usefulness of their coupons compared to the (otherwise quite more expensive) Spar at the corner.

At any rate, I just want to write my take on the topic, which is definitely not of interest to most of you…

So it starts my time in Ireland

With today it makes a full week I survived my move to Dublin. Word’s out on who my new employer is (but as usual, since this blog is personal and should not be tied to my employer, I’m not even going to name it), and I started the introductory courses. One thing I can be sure of: I will be eating healthily and compatibly with my taste — thankfully, chicken, especially spicy chicken, seems to be available everywhere in Ireland, yai!

I have spent almost all my life in Venice, never stayed for long periods of time away from it, with the exception of last year, which I spent for the most time, as you probably know, in Los Angeles — 2012 was a funny year like that: I never partied for the new year, but at 31st December 2011 I was at a friend’s place with friends, after which some of us ended up leaving at around 3am… for the first time in my life I ended up sleeping on a friend’s couch. Then it was time for my first week-long vacation since ever with the same group of friends in the Venetian Alps.

With this premise, it’s obvious that Dublin is looking a bit alien to me. It helps I’ve spent a few weeks over the past years in London, so that at least a few customs that are shared between the British and the Irish I already was used to — they probably don’t like to be remembered that they share some customs with the British, but there it goes. But it’s definitely more similar to Italy than Los Angeles.

Funny episode of the day was me going to Boots, and after searching the aisle for a while asking one of the workers if they kept hydrogen peroxide, which I used almost daily both in Italy and the US as a disinfectant – I cut or scrape very easily – and after being looked at in a very strange way I was informed that is not possible to sell it anymore in Ireland…. I’d guess it has something to do with the use of it in the London bombings of ‘05. Luckily they didn’t call the police.

I have to confess though that I like the restaurants better on the touristy, commercial areas than those in the upscale modern new districts — I love Nando’s for instance, which is nowhere Irish, but I love its spiciness (and this time around I could buy the freaking salt!). But also most pubs have very good chicken.

I still don’t have a permanent place though. I need to look into one soonish I suppose, but the job introduction took the priority for the moment. Even though, if the guests in the next apartment are going to throw another party at 4.30am I might decide to find something sooner, rather than later.

So there, I’m in Ireland

Just wanted to let everybody know that I’m in Ireland, as I landed at Dublin Airport on Saturday, and been roaming around the city for a few days now. Time looks like it’s running faster than usual, so I haven’t had much time to work on Gentoo stuff.

My current plan is to work, by the end of the week, on a testing VM as there’s an LVM2 bug that I owe Enrico to fix, and possibly work on the Autotools Mythbuster guide as well, there’s work to do there.

But today, I’m a bit too tired to keep going, it’s 11pm… I’ll doze off!

I’m moving!

Okay so last time I wrote about my personal status I noted that I had something on the balance, as a new job. Now that I signed the contract I can say that I do have a new job.

This means among other things that I’ll finally be leaving Italy. My new home is going to be Dublin, Ireland. At the time of writing I’m still fretting about stuff I need to finish in Italy, in particular digitizing as many documents as possible so that my mother can search through them easily, and I can reach them if needed, contacting my doctor for a whole blood panel, and the accountant to get all the taxes straightened up.

What does this mean for my Gentoo involvement? Probably quite a bit. My new job does not involve Gentoo, which means I won’t be maintaining it any longer on paid time like I used to before. You can also probably guess that with the stress of actually having a house to take care of, I’ll end up with much less time than I have now. Which means I’ll have to scale down my involvement considerably. My GSoC project might very well be the height of my involvement from now till the end of the year.

On the personal side of things, while I’m elated to leave Italy, especially with the current political climate, I’m also quite a bit scared. I know next to nobody (Enrico excluded) in Dublin, and I know very little of Irish traditions as well. I’ve spent the past week or so reading the Irish Times just to be able to catch a glimpse of what is being discussed up there, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to be enough.

I’m scared also because this would be the first time I actually leave alone and have to cater for everything by myself, even though with the situation it feels like I might be quite a lot more lucky than most of my peers here in Clownland Italy. I have no idea of what will actually sap away my time, although I’m pretty sure that if it turns out to be cleaning, I’ll just pay somebody to do that for me.

We’ll see what the future brings, I suppose!