That 2.5% “transaction fee” in stores and supermarkets.

Ever noticed in large chain stores (Tescos, Marks & Spencers, etc) that little sign at the checkout that says "By agreeing to purchase from XXX you agree that XXX Financial Services Ltd will charge a 2.5% transaction fee. The amount you pay is the same".

Well, today, I worked out what it is all about.  It’s a V.A.T. loophole.

Basically, on pretty much everything you purchase the store has to pay Customs & Excise the relevant amount of V.A.T. on that purchase.  However, financial services are zero vat rated, so for the store these small percentages really add up to a large sum of money that they don’t have to pay any VAT on. Nice scam if you’re big enough to work the system, eh?

PHP: Number base conversion in PHP.

I thought I might “publicise” some of the code buried within this site.  There are some useful things in here (even if I do say so myself) ;). And it would be a shame not to ‘blog’ from the rooftops.  Some of the code isn’t much use in the real world, but it serves its purpose of teaching both programming methods and how to do funky things in PHP.

For first up, is arbitrary number base conversion in PHP.  I know PHP has a built in base_convert() function, plus several other specific base conversion functions, e.g. decbin(), but I wanted to a) show how to do it, and b) implement one which could do bases 2-62 (default PHP ones does 2-36).

http://www.pgregg.com/projects/php/base_conversion/base_conversion.php

Skype founder from a distant planet.

Skype is panicing about being forced to offer 999 or 911 emergency telephony services. Skype responded to a demand in Norway by turning off links to the PSTN networks and their founder Niklas Zennstr�m said "When there is a burglar in my house, I don�t want to call the police; I want to email or IM them. The burglar may hear my voice!"

Utter tosh… if there’s a burglar in my house while I’m in it, I want to hit them with a baseball bat and then call the police.  Or other medical/fire emergency I’ll also want to SPEAK with the operator. The conversation is most definately going to be a two way thing – hopefully with the operator giving useful advice on the situation to manage it until the qualified people arrive.  Doing this while sitting and typing it out on a computer is just silly.

Source: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/05/26/skype_911/

Reminds me of, back in 1993ish, in an online "room" a girl asked people to call 911 because her violent ex-boyfriend was banging on her door. She couldn’t do it herself because her internet connection was using the phone line.   Well d’uh – you deserve a beating.

Edit Amazon / Laithwaites / Tesco sales declared illegal in the UK

… well not quite, however, if the story at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4573507.stm is anything to go by, then the Law Lords clearly seem to say they are illegal.

Online sales of Age-Restricted material is thereby completely illegal in the UK.

If sales of R18 porn is illegal via online outlets because the retailer has to see the purchaser in-person to assess the purchasers age: Lord Justice Kay said: "We have no doubt that one of the main reasons for the restriction is to ensure that the customer comes face-to-face with the supplier so that there is an opportunity for the supplier to assess the age of the customer.", then surely there is an onus on companies such as Amazon and SendIt to ensure a face-to-face assessment of the purchasers age prior to purchase.

Also for that matter, in the UK it is illegal to sell alcohol to under 18s, so should the likes of Laithwaites or Tesco withdraw all online alcohol sales because they cannot have a face-to-face meeting?

Back to the specifics of this case, I know it isn’t purely age-related – there is specific law relating to adult/sex material: The relevant law Video Recordings Act, 1984 Section 12 deals with these Restricted R18 rated adult films, so the arguments in the case should come down to "licensed sex shops" and "supply" – the Judges stated age restrictions, intent and face-to-face reasons seem irrelevant to the law at hand.

In particular, I am surprised that if:

(2) It is a defence to a charge of committing an offence under subsection (1) above to prove


(b) that the accused believed on reasonable grounds that the concerned was a sex shop for which a licence was in force under the relevant enactment, or


could a licensed sex shop on "reasonable grounds" believe that the online sale was legal? I would imagine so.

On the face of it – this is an absurd ruling by the law lords and one which should be quickly overturned.   If the judges arguments about age and face-to-face hold true, then by the same nature Section 11 of the law holds true for non-restricted but classified age material 12/15/18 classifications which would apply to the likes of Amazon.

Discretion, Salesmen and Currys

So ever since I neglected buying the wife a birthday present this year and she said "Buy me a big American Style Fridge" I’ve been on the lookout for a quality model at a decent price.

Anyone that knows me will know that, prior to making such a life changing purchse, I will thoroughly research the available models, every possible feature and narrow the choice down to two or three models.  I will then spend hours googling for suppliers to find the best rate.  To cut a long story short I had narrowed my choice down to the Samsung range, and specifically the RS21DCNS model.  Many people were selling it priced from �650 up to �1,100, so I found the cheapest online retailer and placed an order.

Two weeks later I phone up said retailer to find they don’t deliver to Northern Ireland (hello Appliance City), that someone should have called me to tell me this, profuse apologies that no-one did, but that they could deliver to the nearest port. Like a 1 tonne Fridge at a UK mainland port is going to do me any good. So they thoughtfully cancelled my order.  Back to the drawing board.

More searching revealed that my local Currys were having a easter sale and that they had this model at �799, but with �100 off making it �699.  Well, not much difference between that and the failed online supplier, so off I trotted to Currys with credit card in hand.

Currys sales droid began the order process and somehow managed to place the order with shipping as a separate item at �999. After some quick assistance from someone more experienced got the right delivery code and announced delivery would be �49. What? �49 ? You have to be kidding right?  You are only dropping it 10 miles up the road. Last year I bought a normal fridge, cooker and washing machine with total delivery cost of �15.  I told said droid this and offered "If you can do delivery for �30, I’ll buy this right now".  Hmmm, he thought, and went off to ask his manager.  �Sorry no, we used t have discretion but we don’t any more�. Noted my disappointment, and after another failed managerial trip I said thanks, but no and left the store.

Now the missus being her normal self decided we weren’t going to get it any easier, and it was the last day of the �100 off deal so, under orders, went back to the Currys website and proceeded to place the order.  At the checkout with �699 fridge + �49 delivery Currys offered me a Promotion Code box.  Whato! Bit more googling and I have two promotion codes valid for the Easter weekend. One for free delivery (haha) and an added bonus of another code for 10% off all purchases over �199.

I now have said fridge, bought from Currys, delivered from Currys all for the grand sum of �629.  Currys your lack of droid discretion cost you �100 guaranteed sale.

Net result: Missus is happy. I’m �100 better of. Cheers to Currys and zero negotiation tolerance. :)