Tuesday, July 03, 2007

ATM - Automatic Turn-off by Microsoft

OK. This is my first blog. I thought I'd write the first article that goes with the blog name. You have been warned, it does no justice to 'Misplaced Soul'. Maybe that's how blogs are supposed to be (anyone agree with me?). However, my friend agrees that mine is a misplaced soul indeed. (I bet he expected me to be a squirrel, for reasons I shall not disclose. Sorry about that!). Even otherwise I do think my soul is misplaced, trapped in 'this prison of flesh' as Stephen Schwartz put it in Thiruvasagam by Ilaiyaraaja.

Cool, so what is this blog about? People who know me won't be surprised to find its content to be a bit Anti-Microsoft-Windows. Let me make it clear here, there's more to it than it meets the eye. Yet more people seem to run into problems with Windows than other OSes. And I don't think its because of the Windows-OtherOS ratio. :)

Yes. Now to the subject. I joined Photon Infotech as a Trainee Software Engineer recently. 13th June to be precise. And as promised during one of our company meetings, we were taken to Sivaji (the BOSS, yes) on the last day of the month. It was a wonderful experience, with people cheering for Rajini's English dialogues and things like '..very clever algorithm...'. Yeah we're IT!! The movie ends, with some slides how India will be, in Shankar's dreams. "May dreams materialize" he hopes, I do too. Just when I join the queue leading out of the hall, my phone buzzes. An SMS. It was my brother. He had checked my new bank account online and had found that my 'first salary has been credited'. Great timing I should say. And I pass my cellphone among friends ahead, behind and beside me in the queue. Everyone is happy to note that. "Congrats!", "Super macha!!", "Oh..." "I was expecting it on Monday", "Ha! What did I tell you!" were some of the reactions.

I came home had something to eat, checked my balance online for self-satisfaction and forgot about it. The next day my father asked me to take 500 from the ATM and put 100 at the temple hundiyal. An auspicious beginning to a spending spree, perhaps. So after Ravukalam (1630 to 1800hrs IST) I started for the HDFC ATM in Besant Nagar. The one opposite SBI. Oh yes, my company got us an account at HDFC. Many a times I had used this very ATM machine so I wasn't at all excited or anything. It even felt boring to be in queue which seemed longer than usual. After some edgy waiting for my turn, the machine seemed to be tired. It wouldn't take my card. I didn't want to break my card, but I did try putting it at an angle. Time for metaphors, the machine swallowed my card like a snake swallowing its prey. Apologies, that was a simile. Anyway, what I was trying to say is the card didn't go in smoothly. Seemed like it was on a choking conveyor belt (chug chug chug chug).

As advised by the bank, I tried to change my PIN. Well, changing PIN was new to me. I was asked for the old PIN. Which, when I entered, was shown as XXXX. Then I was asked to enter the new PIN twice, which was again XXXX. Er...if you're wondering why I haven't taken any Microsoft product's name, here's its entry. The screen went blank, then I get a small window saying "Windows XP Professional. Logging off...". Then .."Shutting Down...". Eeeks! My card is still inside! It did come out eventually, just before restarting.(guhc guhc guhc guhc). Then came the all-too-familiar POST, memory test, Press F2 for SETUP etc. Then the often-seen-on-PCs Windows XP start-up screen. Had to wait 5-6 mins before the screen went blank again. Maybe I was getting a bit nostalgic, but the 'blank screen' looked remarkably like the Windows 98 desktop, just before the icons/background were loaded. Then, a flash of black. The screen is divided into 4 frames (am I over-doing HTML during training?). Not good. I decided to call the security. "Anna...one nimit inga vangalen...ATM work agale..". By that time some programs were starting. I could make out several 'C:\Documents and Settings\ 'something inside a DOS prompt. "Varum sir...wait pannunga...Ahn ippo podunga card'a"(Please wait sir, it'll load). The screen was reading "Please insert your card now". Another person, who was behind me in line, peeped in. "Adhu appadithaan sir ulla izhukum, methuva thaan pogum.." (That's how it sucks in the card).

Grrr! I've had enough with Windows. People support the OS saying "Its great if you really bought it. You're having a version which needs to be Service Pack-ed". Agreed, all software need to be patched. But I don't feel 'Patch Tuesday' is a catchy marketing phrase. However, WinXP is known to break once and recover beautifully. No. The same
chug chug chug chug. This time I deemed it better to get the cash out first in case M$ had written code to lock my card in when I try to change the PIN. No again. Double no. First it hadn't changed my PIN and next, when I said I want a receipt for the transaction the same 'Logging off..' etc.
Fortunately, I got to hear the guhc guhc guhc guhc. Well, goodbye ATM and security. "Complain pannunga na..machine seri illa"(Raise a complaint. ATM not working) "OK saar"(Okay sir).

My banker told me I have 10 free transactions a month in other bank ATMs. But I wanted to try at another HDFC ATM. To see if the problems were caused by some time bomb or something. Things went smooth there. No problems. My friends wouldn't believe me when I said HDFC ATM ran on XP. Well, I myself didn't believe it when I saw this. Now I do. Atleast my bank uses a properly licensed version. (Innocent until proven guilty). Anyone heard of any GNU/Linux for ATMs? Author's Note: Or, as I later learnt, what about Windows Mobile or something? I think it'll be a lot cheaper and efficient for banks this way. Don't you think? And oh I almost forgot. The software on the ATM makes sure transactions are atomic. It did a 500 withdrawal and -500 withdrawal when the system had restarted ;)

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