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Hiccups in a Cashless Society 65

jchaw sent us a story thats running over on CNN and talks about hiccups with Singapore's Cashless System which apparently messed up 4500 transactions and caused a quarter of a million dollars to be lost in the system. Kinda creapy- as we become more and more reliant on credit cards, debit cards, and ATM cards, the chances of bugs popping up increases.
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Hiccups in a Cashless Society

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  • Those feds are trying to track down the "Un"! god damn, betta protect yo self..
  • wow, I don't know of many nice guns you could get for $20 ether, fortunetly gold is $250 per troy oz....
    "Subtle mind control? Why do all these HTML buttons say 'Submit' ?"
  • Definitely high. With M$ offering lots of money to places in SE Asia (Hong Kong also signed a deal with M$, and I believe Singapore did, too), it's quite likely that those computers also ran NT [and basically, everything was done using some M$ product or another].

    Something to consider.

  • There was a article [] earlier yesterday about (more) computer problems. If someone made a purchase under $5,'s computers would continually deduct $40 from the customer's credit card every half-hour!!

    I've plenty of articles about's terrible customer service and experienced it first hand. I ordered some books from them because they were a few bucks cheaper than The problem? Maybe books didn't arrive for another month !! Their customer service reps gave me the run-around. I'll never buy from again.
  • The typical "do it all" automatic system. It is pretty interesting that the thing debts accounts *before* transaction is Okyed. And yes "it's not a bug, it's a feature..."

    Such features are the most hillarious thing I ever seen. Well we have all these credit card, robberies, electronic frauds and so on. But is pretty funny to see algorithms based on the idea that things are bug, *oops*, feature free.

    This is a sad side of such things. The good side is seeing ATM's working like jackpots. One friend of mine got once 5 times more cash than he had required. But the best was that ATM _didn't_ debt him on it!
  • the reason we use gold, an have for thousands of years, is beacuse it's rare, but not to rare.
    gold is $250 an ounce right now, compared to $5 for silver.
    in order to store $160,000 in gold, you would need about 40 pounds. you would need over one ton of silver.
    there are other elements that are worth more, platum and paladium come to mind, but they arn't worth much more. and golds already been around
    some elements used as indsutryal Catalysts can be worth millions of dolars per oz... but those arn't practial beacuse they are so rare.
    "Subtle mind control? Why do all these HTML buttons say 'Submit' ?"
  • Reading stories like this makes me sad that technologies such as eCash [] -- the convenience of electronic exchange with the anonymity of hard currency -- seem to be having a hard time catching on. I regret not buying any eCash while there was still a U.S.-based bank working with it.
  • Actually, that is not the case either. Gold, being a widely traded commodity, trades quite independantly of any currency. It's fluctuations is not linked to inflation, or changes in consumer purchasing power.

    Why? Because gold has no intrinsic value. As one other poster recognized, gold is just a lump of metal with no real purpose (at least not $250/oz worth of purpose!). Its value is linked to what people are willing to pay for it on the spot market, regardless of any other factors.

    There really is nothing in the world that has no fluctuations the way you speak of gold.

  • I'm sure they care. A lot! When 'big brother' finds out you've been eating potato chips, there will be trouble!

    I was caught drinking an entire liter of pepsi once. The feds rushed in my house, pinned me against the wall, and tore out my tongue. Now I can no longer enjoy pepsi like I used to! Damn credit cards!

  • In the last four years the price of gold has dropped nearly 40%. If our currency had done the same thing, a lot of us would be having significant trouble accessing the net while standing in breadlines.
  • The problem is that gold doesn't retain its value. The price of gold in the last ten years or so has dropped by more than 30%, largely due to countries selling off millions of tons of gold from their (now unnecessary) reserves. The resulting huge increase in supply causes the prices to go down. The same thing would happen if a huge new gold deposit was found, but the chances of that are less than the chances of another country selling off a lot of its reserves (like Britain is doing right now).
  • History is full of much more dramatic collapses of unbacked money. Arguably, if gold were the standard, it would actually be *more* stable than it currently is.

    However, your point about the recent movement between gold and dollars pales in comparison to the historic, and opposite, trend.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Here's coverage of the story from Singapore's one and only Straitstimes: /sin43_0710.html [] archive/st/5/sin/sin28_0709.html []

    Highlights include:

    The bank offering a paltry S$1 (about US$0.60) compensation for every false deduction made - which as some victims point out, is hardly enough to cover the time and transport cost spent recouping the money.


    The Minister of State exhorting citizens not to 'shun' cashless payments; it's not as if, he points out, that 'people's money was wrongly taken away.'
  • OK guys, some basics

    The properties of a unit of current are related to its functions.
    1) long-term store of value
    2) convenient medium of exchange
    3) measure of economic goods and services

    Gold has some nice properties
    1) extremely stable and durable
    2) divisible into smaller subunits
    3) considered a luxury item and thus independent of goods and services.

    The history of money is rather intriguing as historically, people have used different mediums for exchange (eg. roman solders used salt from which we've derived salary). The reason why gold has traditionally been used is that it is very hard for governments to dilute it's value. However, relying on it has rather negative consequences when everybody is using it as there are physical costs and circulation (ie liquidity) problems. Oh, plus the rather inconvient fact that the world's largest suppluers are in South Africa and Russia so whether you are leftist or rightist, you're sure to alienate half your population by depending on it as the sole measure of your economic future.

    The modern fiat money system is based on trust (e.g. social security) backed by the laws of the host country. That is why the feds get rather irritated with things like counterfeiting and trying to escape the tax system as it dilutes the trust and ultimate value of the currency. Of course, they're also hoping that nobody points out the clothesless emporor in by inflating the currency through increasing the M3 supply, they automatically devalue the currency. Considering the US owes nearly 6 trillion to the rest of the world and, as a global reserve currency, is not on the gold standard, they can theoretically inflate away the entire debt through accounting tricks. (one reason why the Euro has appeared and indebted countries are so pissed off).

    Governments and banks would dearly like to move people into an electronic currency (consider it as the pure economic laws without the paper or cheque bits fiddly bits) as it eliminates the horded value locked up in circulating paper (one reason why Russia is so bad is that all the rubles have been tranformed into illiquid assets and horded, thus denying their use as a circulating unit of exchange) and allows financial firms to cut handling costs (not to mention lend on the stock exchange for the hours in the day you're not using it).

    Modern capitalistic countries are already seeing this with the move towards a credit-based society. Of course, if the system screws up (as the Singapore case shows), the population gets rather annoyed as nothing brings out the fear of mob hysteria than losing your shirt. However, no matter what currency you use, it still has to satisfy the functions of a universal store of value, common medium of exchange and independent unit of pricing.


    PS As an interesting academic exercise, you can figure out the instrinsic value of software by creating synthetic measures of its value, much like you can trade Hollywood futures on the future value of stars and films.
  • not wall st.
  • > I guess stealing and counterfeiting are problems that could be eliminated,

    Never heard of credit card or wire fraud then, have you?
  • The interesting part was how one operation in the transaction (the debit) could be done even though the other operation failed. In the world of online transaction processing (OLTP), a transaction has to be atomic no matter how many operations it covers, even if they are on different systems (using two-phase commit or similar). In other words, if one operation completes and the other fails, the whole transaction is reversed out, undoing the one that completed.

    Examples of systems that do this are IBM's CICS (works on *nix and mainframes) and Bea Tuxedo (

    If the people doing this system had used a transaction based approach, this would never have happened.
  • What looks like changes in the price of gold are actually changes in the gold purchasing power of paper money.

  • I've heard others on Slashdot complain about, but I've always had great service with them. I've never had to deal with their customer support though. I guess I should consider myself lucky

  • Run a greenhouse? The feds have broken in and searched people's homes, causing damage and distress, merely on the basis of them buying an inordinate number of grow lamps and fertilizer. Not that cash helps here, because they're known for using IR cameras to look for hotspots anyway.
  • I went to a local Chinese restaurant a couple nights ago and my bank card was denied. This was odd, given I had plenty to cover the bill. So I went to one of my bank's ATMs. It didn't work either because it said the bank network was down. Luckily, I was a somewhat regular customer, so the owner took a check.

    It was an eyeopener to how dependent I had become on a bank debit card. The owner of the restaurant said that all Chinese (or at least the Chinese he knows) do not trust banks, so they use cash as much as possible. Aparently in his Tiawan there have been some bank failures or mergers where the depositors only get a fraction of their money out of the bank and that is one reason he uses cash (having the IRS tracking your income is another). He said it was not uncommon for some of his wealthy friends in California to have 1/2 a mil in cash hidden away in their homes (a real bummer if there is a wildfire and the house goes up in smoke). That attitude doesn't sound that much different from those who lived through the Great Depression.

    Also note that the Federal Reserve is increasing the amount of cash in circulation because of the demand to have cash for y2k purposes.

  • That's an interesting view. I've heard several y2k 'experts' fear that NYC may become like Beruit if there is a major power grid/communications failure in the NorthEast.

    Whether there is a power failure or not, I wouldn't be surprised if some of 'celebration' of the end of 1999 includes a few riots and looting sprees. Hey, it happens when the Bulls win the NBA finals, why not with Y2K?

  • Similarly, I've seen people use prepaid gas station cards to pay for stuff, and not have the card's balance change in ten trips...
  • I don't really see what happened as a "big deal". Yes, "lots" (relatively...actually that's a paltry sum when distributed over many people), of money was incorrectly debited. But that is exactly it: *incorrectly debited*. Not *vanished*, or *disappeared*. The asynchronous notification just never made it back due to slow communication lines...something which should have been accounted for but wasn't for some reason. This is a lot *less* serious than data being scrambled, records being lost, and money *actually* *disappearing* with no electronic (or otherwise) memory left over. That this problem was immediately found, recognized, and reversed in such a short time *boosts* my confidence in such a system. Now if it really disappeared without a trace that would be a Bad Thing...

    Oh, by the way GOLD and SILVER retain no value whatsoever with me (re: "GOLD and SILVER still retain value"). What the HECK do I really need a lump of metal for??? Money has value because of an implicit TRUST amongst people. That trust, to me, is the same, whether it is paper money, electronic records, or a lump of metal. In fact, I'd rather not keep piles of metal around just so I could buy stuff.

    That an economy and government would be subject to crumbling due to a shift away from solid currency is just evidence that people are stupid and irrational (oh no, this paper is worth nothing!! where are those lumps of metal I can buy stuff with!?!?! Ahh!!)
  • guys,

    do you really think that all of the gold in the world is as valuable as all of the cash in the world? if not, what good is it to gurantee your ability to trade cash in for gold when you can't possibly do it?

    besides, i personally have little use for gold itself--the best i can hope for is that someone else will be willing to trade me for something that i do want--but that's just exactly what i hope for when i earn my little green pieces of paper.

  • This illistrates perfectly why moving away from the gold standard was a Bad Idea(tm). When infrastructure freaks out, get's destroyed, it's government falls, etc. GOLD and SILVER still retain value. This is why it's good to have real gold coins, etc. locked away.

    I use VISA, but that's as far I as trust this plastic crap. I was pissed when my former employer (The US Navy) FORCED me to go to direct deposit to get paid.

    All things considered, this kind of tech is not ready yet. I'd like cash, please.
    "I have no respect for a man who can only spell a word one way." - Mark Twain
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Lack of knowledge on the subject of money cause profound hysteria in the community. I encourage before you say "kinda scary" you look at the ramification and technical details on the evolution of money and their efficiency. We started using cattles and land to do trading. That didn't work too well because the physical size of the trading and the validity of trading if distance is a concern. Then we move to gold, silver, and possibly diamond. Metals are bound by the limit as to how much we can carry. Limited amount of money can be delivered effective using this system -- Along comes paper money -- it has been quite an effective form of exchange for hundred of years until we find a better form of exchange, digital exchange. Most effective and efficient from of monetary exchange is digital exchange. In place are banks that rely on computers to manage the billions and trillions of dollars transact every days, months, and years. Safe keep from prone of errors are log to indicate the time of transaction, and the purpose of transaction. Back tracks are easy to determine versus a paper society when tracing is very difficult.

  • Isn't (paper) cash money only backed by trust, though? Unless you barter every transaction with valuable property, you're going to have to accept some level of immateriality in your money.

    There is a hotel that accepts items in exchange for accomodations. There was a recent story about a man who tried to pay for his stay with an iguana. When they refused, he let it loose. I have not yet heard the report of its capture.
  • of the word "crash". Imagine such a system crash happening on a large scale. 1929, here we come!
  • I disagree with the point about having some gold on hand. If the US dollar isn't worth squat for whatever reason, then presumably, some bad Juju has hit the fan. You'd be better off spending your gold now on canned goods, bottled water and extra ammunition. (To latter to protect the former, eh?)
  • Oh, I beleave it. Not to sound like a survivalist nut or the like, but I also have weapons. What if there was no law either? I'm well trained in thier use, and as I said, I'm not a nut. Gold has been currency for a long long time. Same with silver. In the United States, our money used to be redeamable for silver directly! FWIW, I'm not predicting WW3 here, or Mad Max type stuff. I'm just saying, have some food, water, weapons and gold onhand. You never know.
    "I have no respect for a man who can only spell a word one way." - Mark Twain
  • Hmmm... The planet has been scoured for millenia by people searching, sometimes desperately, for gold. Sure, there might be a big deposit uncovered tomorrow, but I think it's a tad more likely that there will be a big inflating of the bogomoney supply tomorrow. The latter is certainly easier and the controls are guarded by people you probably wouldn't sign your mortgage over to in a trust.
  • Uhh, they'll probably laugh at you when you pull out cash too, unless they need some toilet paper...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    is that an error rate of one in 10,000 transactions is NORMAL? there is no mention of what an "error" is either...
  • I don't necesarily agree with your comment about moving away from the gold standard. However, your main point about owning gold is something to consider. While gold (and silver) prices do fluctuate, it tends to be more stable than some national currency (e.g., the ruble). This I believe is because the value of gold is globally based.

    People in many parts of the world do invest heavily in gold. In the middle east and India, gold jewery is primarily 22 carat (not the pathetic 14 carat here in the US). Why? Because gold jewery is an investment that one can also conveniently wear. The price is also very low. Furthermore, IIRC, in certain cultures one does not wear jewery of a dead person. Instead, one melts it down and makes new jewery.

    As you may know, the IMF, Switzerland, the US, and others are seriously thinking about selling off part of their gold reserve in order to finance some projects. For instance, the Swiss sell off would be used to provide compensation for victims of the Holocaust.

    However, the article that I read listed some interesting numbers. It said that 4000 tons of gold is supplied to the global market each year (the US has 8000 tons). So, 4000 tons per year X 2000 lb per ton X 16 ounces per lb X $260 per ounce = $33 billion per year. By today's economic standards, this is a paltry amount of money.
  • I'm not so sure. 120 years ago you could buy a new hunting rifle for about an ounce of gold. That price has remained pretty constant. However, I don't know of any decent, much less new, hunting rifles going for $20 today. Before claiming the value of gold to be less stable than unbacked currency, I think the long-term value of each should be compared. I believe the value of gold will appear *almost constant* compared to baseless currency.

    You're right, of course, in your first point about governments and gold value. Governments can, through massive coordinated actions, dramatically affect the price of gold.

    I don't think your second point logically follows, however, because a single government, through a simple sustained lapse of discipline, can much more drastically affect the price of your cash. History is full of examples.
  • ...and canned goods, bottled water, and ammo will be worth a lot more if that happens. Barter is far more fundamental than gold/silver/etc. standards, and almost guaranteed to survive any conceivable disaster that leaves anyone around to care about the aftermath.
  • You know, gold wouldn't be so cool to have as a standard if people didn't think it was so pretty, and if, for some reason, people didn't regard it so highly. We could have just as easily decided that lead, tin, etc, etc... was to be the standard for backing up currency. However, due to gold's apparent wide-spread appeal (and it's value in electronics, perhaps?), it appears to have been the unanimous choice (except for when, sometime in America's history, a candidate for president ran on the silver ticket, or something like that) for the standard currency throughout America/the world. What happens if/when we "run out"? (Or, is it possible to "run out" of gold?)
  • So what hotel is that?
  • When the computer screws up and says a code that means "Transaction timed out" but the dumb cashier thinks it means "Pick up card and snip in half" because they haven't seen it before.

    I'm sure we have more than 1/10000 error rate with Credit and Debit cards too.
  • associated with cash ANY DAY OF THE YEAR over something that can be tracked, profiled, pimped, and misused in general. Initiate a transaction with a card (or other device designed to identify you), there's no telling WHO might end up with the information. Make one with cash, and no one knows you from Adam - which, for the most part, is just how it should be.
  • What strange about that comparision is that 120 years ago guns started to become very cheap to manufacture due to industrial technology. Using the price of a gun in terms of dollars or gold isn't a very good measurement of value.

    What has really risen dramatically is the ability of a person to buy an ounce of gold or a rifle. The cost today is about 1% of an average annual salary, while 120 years ago it was probably 10%.

    Maybe the most important feature of gold is that the value of it is largely based on the worldwide market, albeit a market under control of all the rich countries. Currency, on the other hand, is completely controlled by the individual government, albeit most governments have obligations to other government in the form of treaties and agreements. Thus, if if trust your government there is no need for gold. If you don't trust your government and you do trust all the governments together, buy gold. If you don't trust any government, stockpile food, water and weapons. Or perhaps just a lot of weapons. :-) And a few beautiful girls.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard