Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Internet banking in Cyprus

After only 18 month or so of Cypriot [or maybe EU] bureaucracy we have our office bank accounts open... We are a UK registered organization wanting accounts in Cyprus. It is the EU after all. All we now needed was internet banking. Of course, that would mean more forms, I was expecting that. They haven't heard about the decimation of the rain forests for wood pulp from trees here, it's more like if you can create a form with one side as important, we'll make it 5 sides, and print it on 5 separate sheets of paper.

OK, so I fill in the form, which has to be co-signed by my co-director in the UK. I take the form away, send it to my co-director, he signs and sends it back. The form is a template company resolutions saying 'We'd like to use Internet banking'. Simple.

I take the form back, and was told, 'Where's the company stamp?' Next followed a 15 minute discussion where I explained that we didn't use company stamps in the UK. I remember using a company seal approximately 25 years ago, but not seen one since. [long phone call to aged mother in Athens, stockbroker or baby-minder... I suppose it could have even been her supervisor...] Eventually they decide that they will accept the form without a rubber stamp that I could have forged for one pound down town.

'OK, now we'll add this to your Internet bank login'. I don't have an Internet bank, my wife does, but I don't. 'Ahhh, because your wife applied we automatically added you'. But, I don't want it added, I want it separate and I don't want to have internet banking for my personal accounts, my wife deals with that and... phone call to her supervisor [well, someone else anyhow, since I don't speak Greek, it could have been her son, a priest or the prime minister for all I knew]. 'Yes, we can accept the form without the rubber stamp and I will create a new account/login for your business internet banking'. Guess what? More trees die, another 5 pages of forms to sign. 'The new login will be here in 2 or 3 days'.

A week or so later I collect the account details and my secret pin/password [and a cheque book for a bank account that I had already closed... another tree dies...] I am told 'Before you can use it you have to phone this number and they will activate it'

Back to the office [too easy to phone from the bank] and I phone the number written on a scrap of paper. 'I just want to ask you a few personal questions as a security procedure... what is your passport number?' Nothing as simple as your mother's maiden name... we all remember our passport numbers don't we... having found my passport I recite the number 'Sorry sir, that is not your passport number' It is... I have it right in front of me. 'Do you have your old passport, maybe it is that one...' Great idea using a passport number that changes every few years as an identifier...

'OK, let's try this as alternative, please tell me the bank account number attached to this login...' I tell her. 'No, sir, that is not the number...' Am I me? Have I transmogrified into someone else? I am failing the security questions badly... 'What is your date of birth?' I pass that one. I then find that in fact they have attached my personal accounts to this login not [as specifically requested] only the business ones. I politely ask them to connect the correct accounts. 'I cannot do that sir, you have to go to the bank to do that'. Bank to the bank.

Firmly [and frustrated] I say: Please can you connect the correct accounts to this login? 'Ah... I was going to contact you...' [she fumbles though a 10 cm pile of papers and finds a complement slip clipped to the form I had brought in 10 days earlier] '... there was a problem with your application' Apparently, since they had provided us with a draft resolution and they had printed in the names and we had decided to add an extra name in handwriting [it is after all our company resolution] this was causing a problem. We would have to start all over again.

Just a minute... I have my login, all I want it the accounts attached to it changed to the ones I specifically requested. [Another phone call with her cousin, primary school teacher or landlady's daughter.] 'This login is for your personal accounts' No, I never requested that, or filled in any forms for that, and specifically requested not to have that facility. So it must be for the one that I filled in the forms for, which is for my business accounts...

'Sorry, you'll have to start again... I will print the forms and you can fill them in again for this additional login...' Another tree dies. Just a minute, these forms are totally different from the forms you gave me last week. 'Yes, those must have been for your personal accounts...' But I didn't want, I specifically didn't want internet banking for my personal accounts... we spent time with you phoning [your aunt in Australia, your garage mechanic or whoever] to clarify this and that is why you gave me those forms.

I complete the new forms. I need this quickly, can I have this sent down today so that I can use it today... my book-keeper is in today and I need to use it. 'If we FAX it to Nicosia, you can have it tomorrow...' Just one problem... where we had written in the directors handwriting on the resolution we had passed as a company...

[another phone call with brother-in-law, hairdresser or local coffee shop owner... no... another bank employer comes over summoned, it was a phone call 5 metres across the office]

'Ah, Mr Richard, so nice to see you... how are you?' Discussion in Greek. Further discussion in Greek. Elongated discussion in Greek. They take out the 'white out' and paint out one place on their form that we had injudiciously written on... oops sorry, I mean our company resolution that we as directors had written on. Now they can FAX it to Nicosia and Nicosia will never know...

OK, now just one thing, it all has to be done on the computer. I peer over watching to check they do it correctly. Well... maybe. Excuse me why have you left unchecked the box for doing transfers to third parties. 'Oh... do you want this?' Yes, of course.

'You will have to buy a Digipass if you want to do that...' What is a Digipass? They explained. Its what I know as a SecureID from RSA Security, and I probably know more about them than they do as we are thinking of implementing this at the office ourselves and have spent time talking to the technical people about the implications of this system. Yes please, I'll have one of those for each director. 'Please can you fill in these two forms...' Two more trees die.

'The new login and Digipass will be here tomorrow...'

We'll see.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thoughts from the airport

I'm sitting writing this blog entry in the airport on my way to a meeting in another country. The meeting is to introduce one friend of mine to another friend of mine... with mutual interests. Sounds like a long way to take a flight to make an introduction? In this part of the world relationships are very important and making introductions can make all the difference in the world. So this sort of meeting is actually very important, and a critical part of my work here.

I have completed the multi-language DVD project at last working in Arabic, Farsi and English subtitles. I haven't solved the dual layer problem, that's for another day, but I did fix all the language/subtitle/multiple video problems. I was really pleased with that. We have now send it out to a number of people for checking.

DVD Studio Pro is a very good product and one that I am very pleased we now have. To do this project I had to use 'scripting' which is a more advanced feature than any of the other DVD authoring packages we have had in the past. We tread a difficult line: Final Cut Studio is a very expensive package indeed, but we have spent so much time fiddling about with other packages and hardware that having this really saves a lot of time.

Pete was back in the office and seeing all the things we have done over the summer... but we still have problems with infrastructure... by that I mean water! Our offices are in the top floor flat and we have been having very high water bills. Over the summer we found that the two flats were connected together. The day a friend came to sort that out was the first day of the official holiday period here... so all the plumbers merchants are shut for two weeks. They are open again this week so hopefully that will be sorted.

Also the toilet is having problems... a leak on the water inlet. We have had this fixed 3 times in the last year, but to no avail. Its just too old so we will have to replace it. In theory this is the landlord's responsibility, but because he wants to sell the property at some stage he will not do any expensive maintenance, so Pete and I decided we just have to get it done.

Second day back Pete discovered we are playing a cat and mouse game with the email spammers. Earlier in the year we had introduced a 'gleylisting' system for email which had radically reduced our email. 'greylisting' is a system which says to a new incoming sender of email 'please come back later we are busy right now' and if they do so more than 7 minutes later we accept it. The reason this worked was that legitimate email senders did come back later and spammers did not, because their aim was to dump millions of emails as quickly and possible and if they couldn't be delivered at once they didn't bother.

But... now the spammers are coming back later. Peter discovered they were coming back 10 minutes and 15 seconds or 10 minutes and 30 seconds later - presumeably because most greylisters have set their time-out at 10 minutes. So we have advanced our timeout to 11 minutes. Cat and mouse... I have no doubt they will change their timeouts too and we will be playing this game again and again.

We also started a new short term worker this week who is writing country profiles for one of out websites. So the office feels busy again with four of us in the office every day and two others in on other days.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

One month... feels like one week!

Nearly a month since I last posted. Seems like only a week. Peter is back this week, so will be sharing the workload again till I leave in September and he is left all alone!

Yes, we do now have bank accounts open in the name of the organisation! We have also changed the accounting package we use to SQL-Ledger. SQL-Ledger is a very good multi-currency and multi-user accounting package that runs on most systems [we are running it on a Linux server] and... its free!

I installed SQL-Ledger and then created the 'chart of accounts' to make it work and then got it printing... sounds easy? I have to have so many different skills to do this work. Actually creating the chart of accounts was tedious but relatively easy, whereas getting the system to print was frustrating and relatively difficult. But now it is working and David and I have had two Wednesdays [he comes in every Wednesday] working on the new system. I shall the whole of each Wednesday with him before we left in September so that he is comfortable with the new system...

Phyo, our trainee designer/programmer has been working on two things: 1) a new administration menu system for all our admin systems [we will use if for administration of web-sites too later on] and 2) designing logo/business cards etc for the organisation. Both have taken some of my time supervising.

Also been frustratedly trying to make dual-layer DVDs on Final Cut Studio. So far not succeeded. I have read and read online about it and some people seem to have no problems at all, others immense problems. I am one of those with immense problems. I am still working on that.

Dual-layer DVDs are like the sort that you normally get when you get a feature film, in that you can store theoretically about 120 minutes at most on a single layer DVD and up to 240 minutes on a dual layer. So a feature film with with all the extras usually needs a dual layer. But... I say theoretically get 120 minutes, this depends on the quality you want on the DVD, the higher the quality the less minutes. So for some projects I need to be able to reliably create dual layer DVDs. So far I have not succeeded.

One of our partner organisations had problems streaming video again, so we took over, again... but its Windows Media. Horrid. So unreliable. Microsoft have admitted a problem with the system and sent a patch out with a 'hack' to the registry as well... which is documented 'at you own risk'. Our partner says they will move all the streaming to Scandinavia in September... good luck to the new people...

In between that all I have been doing all the 'duty engineer' roles as Peter is away. An example: Email comes in from partner tech support to say that they have seen on one of the sites having an 'invalid security certificate'. I gently write back to say something along the lines of 'we warned you about this and told you to notify your users'. Response from tech support guy: 'Yes I told my users but forgot about it myself'. [My paraphrase] If I was a lawyer I would bill them for an hour or my time!

Paula, our new 'administrator' [part of the job is to work out a job description, ie work out what we need administrating and how to do it], has been in a few days and we have been going through things together. She starts regularly some time in September.