Tuesday 26 June 2007

Safe in the hotel safe

Knowing me again

In what must be looking like a rarity, I must say I was quite content with my hotel accommodation in Berlin this time.

The staff could not help but fall over themselves with every kind of complimentary offer one could think of, free champagne at the bar, fruits in large dish in the room, chocolates that I worried about the aphrodisiac qualities they might excite, service personnel at the door almost before you complained.

I had stayed at this hotel some 4 years before, but this time I was given a room on the 7th floor overlooking the forest that makes up the Zoo in Berlin - I was surprised when I found an envelop in my room acknowledging my return visit.

It is nice to know that one is remembered and treated even better as a return guest; however, one is concerned about the data retention element of this customer service ideal.

One has to give for the other, the recognition factor or the indifferent generality, I would suppose many would prefer to be recognised.

High speed rotten connection

However, I did have issue with two things, the first being the High Speed Internet connection in the room, it was high-speed but rotten performance, I was online but could hardly maintain a decent enough connection to download my email which timed out at every attempt.

There was nothing the hotel could do about it (an external service) that I resorted to remote controlling a box at home which handled all I wanted to do though it seemed the remote session lost connection every minute, it was annoying but for the much improved remote desktop client that does not give up before 20 tries.

At check-out, the hotel offered to reduce the charge by 50%, but I found myself remonstrating as usual, I always prefer the service to the cop-out of compensation.

Safe entry

The most interesting part was really the in-room safe, as you would realise we are celebrating 40 years of the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) which is fine and we are all used to the 4-figure Personal Identification Number (PIN) which came about because the designer's wife reckoned she could only remember 4-digits, the designer - John Shepherd-Barron - having once been in the army had been planning on a 6-digit, just like his army recruitment number. The rest is history.

Now, in resorts in Spain, most hotels provide a room safe for a hiring fee, the safe requiring a keyed lock, in other countries, some allow for a PIN from 4 to 6 figures with instructions varying on complexity.

Card swipe manic frenzy

This safe required that you swipe your credit card down a slot to activate/lock or unlock the safe. So I put our valuables in it and swiped the card, the safe engages the lock. An afterthought gets me back at the safe and swipe all I could, the safe would not budge.

The service man comes over swipes once and the safe opens, I look like a fool, but he then tries the whole process himself - first swipe locks the safe, seven swipes later, the safe responds.

It would appear, it is the speed of the swipe that determines if this thing works, it could be annoying, but two things come to mind.

The first being the possibility that the card reader can store information, at least it stores enough to know that a swipe-lock with one card cannot be swipe-unlocked with another card.

The second is, one of the reasons one would want a safe is to store the credit cards along with other valuables - in tourist places, it is sometimes better to pay cash than have some unscrupulous staff fleece your card not too long after your dinner, only to get home and notice large sums of money have gone walkies.

If you then have to lock the safe with what you initially intended to store in the safe, this seemingly safe idea is probably highly risk averse on the side of the hotel because the credit card would always be on your person or outside the safe but seriously inconvenient and risky on your part.

I say no to credit card swipe safes, the PIN method should be better though there might be possibilities of losing the contents to a determined thief anyhow by gently checking which keys have the newest prints and doing the permutation, even that would be a bit far-fetched, after a few tries the safe would go into a locked mode that would require service personnel, anyhow.

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