Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems

BASICS Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems

By PAUL BOUTIN February 19, 2009

BEHIND the cash register at Smoke Shop No. 2 in downtown San Francisco, Sam Azar swipes a customer's credit card to ring up Turkish cigarettes. The store's card reader fails to scan the card's magnetic strip. Azar swipes again, and again. No luck.

As customers begin to queue, he reaches beneath the counter for a black plastic bag. He wraps one layer of the plastic around the card and swipes it again. Success. The sale is rung up.

"I don't know how it works, it just does," says Mr. Azar, who learned the trick years ago from another clerk. Verifone, the company that makes the store's card reader, would not confirm or deny that the plastic bag trick works. But it's one of many low-tech fixes for high-tech failures that people without engineering degrees have discovered, often out of desperation, and shared.

Today's shaky economy is likely to produce many more such tricks. "In postwar Japan, the economy wasn't doing so great, so you couldn't get everyday-use items like household cleaners," says Lisa Katayama, author of "Urawaza," a book named after the Japanese term for clever lifestyle tips and tricks. "So people looked for ways to do with what they had."

Popular urawaza include picking up broken glass from the kitchen floor with a slice of bread, or placing houseplants on a water-soaked diaper to keep them watered during a vacation trip. Today, Americans are finding their own tips and tricks for fixing misbehaving gadgets with supplies as simple as paper and adhesive tape. Some, like Mr. Azar's plastic bag, are open to argument as to how they work, or whether they really work at all. But many tech home remedies can be explained by a little science.

Cellphone Losing Charge

If your cellphone loses its battery charge too quickly while idle in your pocket, part of the problem may be that your pocket is too warm.

"Cellphone batteries do indeed last a bit longer if kept cool," says Isidor Buchanan, editor of the Battery University Web site. The

98.6-degree body heat of a human, transmitted through a cloth pocket to a cellphone inside, is enough to speed up chemical processes inside the phone's battery. That makes it run down faster. To keep the phone cooler, carry it in your purse or on your belt.

This same method can be used to preserve your battery should you find yourself away from home without your charger. Turn off the phone and put it in the hotel refrigerator overnight to slow the battery's natural tendency to lose its charge.


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Reply to
Monty Solomon
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And if you keep "normal" batteries at home as spares, keep them in the freezer to slow the natural discharge/aging process. They may not work correctly until they have thawed out, but they will be there for you with more capacity left in them than those stored at room temperature for the same time.

Reply to
David Clayton

It'a because the plastic creates drag so that the card reader actually has a chance to interpret the data on the card.

I know some time back Citizens Bank switched from the black magstripe to this silver colored strip that 40% of the readers wouldn't read without resorting to that trick.

Reply to

More likely the thickness of the plastic keeps the card more centered in the slot so the "signal" is more consistent during the swipe and the detection/decoding process has a greater chance of achieving a good read versus a naked card which may simply move about too much inside the slot during a human hand swipe.

Reply to
David Clayton

Would simply sliding it more slowly do the same thing? I seem to recall that some card readers want the card to be slid fairly slowly.

Reply to

I have never used the bag trick, but have used the slide the card backwards trick with very good success.

As I understand it the data is on the strip twice and running the card backwards reads the other data set.

Backwards being defined as swiping the card through the POS terminal bottom to top.


Reply to
Hudson Leighton

Yes, most credit cards (ATM and Debit included) have two tracks of information.

Reply to

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