December 4th, 2011

Another Glorious Failure of Technology

shsilver has one of the ISFiC credit card machines at his house so that he can process mail orders for ISFiC Press, a company whose books you should be buying so that Steven and gundo's houses don't sink into the swamp. Unfortunately, the credit card machine that Steven had in his possession wasn't behaving well (not dialing out correctly, waking up and trying to submit charges at 5 AM with loud modem noises, and other annoying activities or lack thereof), so Steven drove out to Crystal Lake or thereabouts to visit ramchip and pick up a different credit card machine to use.

Which promptly failed to dial out this morning. Steven called me after a fruitless session with the credit card processor's technical support department. I said (roughly), "Duh!" and passed the phone off to daisy_knotwise who said a slightly longer-winded version of "Duh!" (Ok, she was actually a lot better than that, but unfortunately had no ideas that easily translated themselves into action.)

Later in the morning, I realized that these machines had been working a few weeks ago at Windycon. This meant that there could only be three possible answers to the question, "What the heck is going wrong here?"

  • Both machines had broken. (Seemed unlikely.)
  • There was something wrong with the software load that was allowing swiped cards to work while mail-order transactions would fail. (Possible, but the machine that Steven had used to work and we hadn't updated the software.)
  • There was something wrong with Steven's phone line.

    Now, I had been over at Steven's a few weeks before as we sorted out the ISFiC Press taxes and while I was later helping sort out some problems they were having with their new router, Steven mentioned that their phone lines were handled by Vonage. So I called Steven back and suggested that he swing by my place this afternoon as he made his rounds, bring the machines, and we'd try them from here on our AT&T service.

    He did. Everything worked fine.

    A quick round of Googling explained that the credit card machine has an analog modem which gets really, really picky when you drop a packet, an activity that Vonage will engage in with fair frequency. Ok, but the machine used to work from Steven's place, so...

    Well, it worked from his place right up until his old Vonage equipment was ruined by water in his crawl space (along with the router, which is why I was fixing up the configuration on the new one). And the new Vonage equipment doesn't work at all with the credit card machine.

    Just as well. Apparently, the credit card machine doesn't encrypt data on the phone line, which means that you don't want to use it on a VOIP line anyway, because it's much less secure than POTS.

    And, as it turns out, now we can't.


    (Yes, solutions exist. We're looking into them.)