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Gas Station POS terminals (expand the acronym as you like) 
18th-Feb-2010 10:17 am
slanty, martha
The fact that you can buy gas by credit card as quickly as you can, with no human intervention, is pretty cool. And if you have one of those "speed pass" thingies, it's exactly like the way people buy things in the future in SF; "Joe waved his credit chit, and...".

But even though it's "fast enough", I still spend 30 seconds every time I get gas wondering what's going on in those 30 seconds. So now you can wonder with me.

I put the credit card in. It waits 10-15 seconds, evaluating billions of machine instructions, and then finally computes that it needs to ask me the question "Credit or Debit?". Ten or fifteen seconds later, after evaluating a few billion more instructions, authorization is complete and I can start pumping gas.

One of these delays can be explained by the time it takes to establish a network connection with some busy server somewhere, and wait while that server executes a slow database transaction. But what is the second wait for? Why can't it ask me "Debit or Credit" immediately, without doing any computation at all, and then initiate whatever network transaction is required afterwards?

A second wait after I'm finished pumping makes sense. Interaction with the remote transaction system is required twice, once to say "authorize charges of up to $40" and once to say "Charge this card $18.34". But I can't figure out why there are two long waits before I start to pump.
18th-Feb-2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
I've wondered about that "debit or credit" wait myself, and the only theory I have is that some debit cards are credit cards, but not all credit cards are debit cards. The pause could be the system verifying that you have a card that can be used for debit or credit transactions, as opposed to a card that can only be used for credit transactions.
18th-Feb-2010 11:52 pm (UTC)
Debit card purchases usually involve entering a PIN.
19th-Feb-2010 12:00 am (UTC)
Right, but that happens after the debit or credit question is asked, or the system wouldn't know to ask for the PIN in the first place.
18th-Feb-2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
It's even better here in Chicago......

I guess they have a ton of fraud going on, so the procedure includes an extra step (with another long pause), where you enter the billing zip for the card.

18th-Feb-2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
They do this all over the west coast also.
18th-Feb-2010 10:42 pm (UTC)
The final wait, at least, is usually for the attendant over yonder to push the flashing button on the terminal to activate your pump.
18th-Feb-2010 10:51 pm (UTC)
Really! I assumed that when I paid by credit card, the human attendant was not involved at all. I'll have to pay attention next time, and see if he pushes a button at the time my pump activates.

Why is the attendant in the loop? Under what circumstances is the attendant not supposed to activate the pump, even though my credit card has been authorized? Is this a safety rule, so that what the attendant is doing is making sure my car isn't on fire?

18th-Feb-2010 11:22 pm (UTC)
I think the real question here is where can you fill up for $18.34?
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