Few days ago I got an email from one of the companies I deal with saying my credit card was declined. I reached home and tried again my NBK Master Card, it failed. Logging in to my NBK Online account I was not able to find my card there. But that’s OK I thought, NBK have such bugs every now and then. Calling the bank I was shocked they guy said “Your credit card is canceled”! What how and why? He said you owe us 17.5 KD, which even drove me more crazy. How on earth could you care about 17 KD when you have just canceled my credit card? Eventually he told me that all accounts with no salary must have their credit cards canceled as per new decision made by card issuing department! (I will get to my list of replies at the bottom of this post). I asked the guy to open official complain, and he was kind of shocked to hear me say it for some reason.

Anyways, next early morning a lady calls asking about the complain, and then she went on to explain that the Central Bank of Kuwait have issued that order and all banks must comply. I asked about what’s the time period to apply it, and why there wasn’t any prior notification. She simply said it’s a huge over head on us to call each customer to tell him about it, and we will be responsible during that period for any abuse of non-canceled cards. So the bank simply decided to throw the matter here on the customer, to let him figure it out him self (the hard way). I told her do you have any idea what would happen if I was outside, checking out of a hotel with a bill of 1000 KD when I found out about it? Ofcourse she replied with the usual “NO Sorry Mr we don’t mean to” kind of stuff they do best.

So today I went to showtime to pay cash after my credit card was canceled, and they confirmed they received large number of similar cases just this month. So if you are in a similar position, be ware. Since this is the Central Bank decision, why is it the bank that I hold guilty here? Well, in addition to not giving me any sort of notification, no phone call, no SMS, or not even a simple email, which can be automated if they heard of such technology, I have the following list of items as to why the bank could’ve been more considerate before canceling my card:

  1. I have been a regular client of the bank since I started working. Only when I joined a KIPCO company I was forced to move to Burgan Bank (talk about some Anti-Trust here, but it’s not the U.S. alas) and they know it. Even at that time, my social and rental allowance used to go to NBK all the time. And all the time, my balance was smooth, no salary deduction, no loans, nothing.
  2. I always clear my credit card before end of month, and it rarely touched 100 KD.
  3. When they canceled my card, it had 17.5 KD on it, while my balance was going on steady 4 digits number for months. So they could’ve easily locked certain amount, lowered credit card limit temporarily, or call me to do something about it.
  4. I have already joined new job and tied my salary to NBK. It’s just that the first salary takes time to come in.
  5. I called the lady after to request a refund for my credit card, as it was canceled and I already paid for 1 year. 3 months left on the expiry date. I mainly called to see how they react not to bother for few KDs. Guess what? She never called back it’s been more than 24 hours and we are going into the weekend now.
  6. A friend of mine who never had salary before still has his NBK credit card running! So it’s not immediate cut of all accounts, they could’ve tried to be more careful how they do it then.
  7. They claim they are contacting their clients gradually regarding the matter. It’s been more than a week since my card was canceled and I am still waiting for this SMS message to come. Guess they used local mail instead. I will make sure my grand children read it.

So have you had any similar issue? If so, what was your bank reaction? I am hoping some banks took it on their responsibility to be a bit more proactive.

UPDATE: You can read this older post from K.TheKuwaiti with load of useful comments, don’t waste them. In summary, NBK employee got in defending his bank that they can’t call or notify each and every customer (not even by SMS), and others noted that Al-Ahli had a good customer service, they and KFH have both notified their customers by phone and/or SMS. I have to say, I am shocked by the two banks. As I know, Al-Ahli is pretty bad, and KFH usually are bad as well in those procedures. I was naive thinking they all should learn from NBK.

UPDATE 2: A friend of mine told me something that makes the matter worse. He said this law was made by Central Bank of Kuwait last year, and was supposed to be enforced this Jan or Feb. I am waiting for link from him, but he seems pretty sure, and if that’s true, it means banks had several months to prepare and notify customers, but they preferred to make the most out of it and then cut us off. I tried to search Q8Ba7th and this is the closest I could get. A news back in March 2007 where Central Bank ordered banks to treat credit cards like ordinary loans, and thus ofcourse, you need salary to have loans. The story also raises the point about non-salary income. Why would the government assume all people’s income is through salary? They want to encourage free open business and then they do this. So stock owners, real estate business owners, free lancers which sometime make loads of money are all cut off? So what should I do if I am doing free open business?

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If there is one ministry in Kuwait that is working hard, that would be the ministry of communication (MOC). And man I hope they never did. In a strong massive campaign it seems, several popular sites have been blocked by Kuwait ISPs after orders from the MOC. DailyMotion.com, CollegeHumor.com have been found blocked in the past few days. Why they block it you ask? According to them, those sites offer offensive content against our beliefs and religion. I only visited CollegeHumor once and the main page didn’t have offensive content, DailyMotion is a video streaming service just like YouTube. Soccer fans love it for what it has to deliver in that area, ofcourse the site has sexual content as any other video site, but the general theme of the site, visiting main page, you don’t normally find offensive content.

On a different scale, Ali from Deera Chat podcast has been reporting that 3 action movie clean DVDs are held by customs for clearance. I have seen the tracking record, it’s been standing there for over 20 days! 20 days to clear 3 DVDs? What age are we living in? I bet that’s a trick from government to help local business owners make more money, as the difference in price between Kuwait and outside is becoming more obvious to many people. I get my stuff from outside for literally half the price or more. Few hundreds is saved on one order. Business dealers here don’t want to lower their prices, and yet they still want everyone to buy from them.

What if the government is really interested in protecting people from offensive harmful content that will affect our beliefs and manners, and that we are only looking at it from our short angle? Well in that case I suggest the government simply takes a look at our subscription channels like Showtime. Over there I’ve seen things I never saw anywhere else. Things disgusting. Things unbearable. You see sex scenes, offensive scenes, Passions of the Christ movie which was banned from Kuwait Cinema, Da Vinci Code as well. Movies that mock the Holy prophets and accusing Saint Meriam (Mary) of adulteress, God forgive me for just passing it. I never heard anything against those channels. No censoring, no banning, no auditing. Why? Because it’s difficult or even impossible for those channel owners to censor the movies as they come from outside, and banning them would cost those business owners a lot of money.

So in summary, after much study (or actually just little short one), I was able to formalize the two conditions the government follows in their ban and censoring of content and services:

  1. Does it cost us money? Block it!
  2. Is it against our tradition, beliefs, interests, moods, and blocking will not cost us money? Block it!

Why my blog is still not blocked then you ask? They just don’t care enough… yet!

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Some of the most fascinating stories in your life happen at your work place. The more critical the job, the more weird and fascinating it gets. Some memories and stories are just too good to leave forgotten in history, so I decided to share some of them on my blog.

It was back in 2003, while I was working in a bank switching company, that we received a call from a leading local bank telling us they are receiving from our public ATM machine VISA card they did not issue. Normally our ATM machine would send the VISA to the bank that issued them, but this one had the Bank prefix but was not their card. It was the start of fraud criminal chase that went on for days. What that basically means is that someone is using the switching company’s public ATM to try and fake some cards. He must be issuing fake cards, and using the public ATMs of ours as they don’t have security cameras. Soon after, the bank called and said they are receiving enormous amount of invalid cards now and this thing must be stopped. The criminal must be brought to justice. The user was doing it at random intervals, but from the same machine, sometimes at middle of the night as well.

Our efforts to install cameras on the ATM were going to take time for legal and contractual matters. The solution was to swallow the card when next incident happen. At least that way we can take a look at the card. Is it white blank card, or official issued card. We can hopefully also get the finger prints of the criminal of it, and catching him would be a piece of cake then. Couple of days took the developer to implement and apply the fix. I was at the edge of my seat. “Did they catch him?” I kept asking. Until one call came, and the manager was jumping literally “We got him!. Send the card over” she screamed.

A sealed envelop came then. The manager with excitement not exceeding mine quickly opens it, and down felt credit card with a picture on it. You should’ve seen the look at her face when she saw it. Without saying a word she picked up the phone and called the lady at the bank.

Manager: We got the card! Are you standing? If so be seated and be strong.

Bank Lady: What?

Manager: It’s your sister’s card and her photo on it as well!

Bank Lady: …

Bank lady called her sister to verify. She naively said YES I was at the center last night and the ATM swallowed my card. Apparently she didn’t tell her “every word you say will be taken against you”. This is Kuwait!. I really couldn’t hold the laugh inside at that time. She was chasing unaware her own sister. More and more investigations went on from both ends. It turns out the number on the card was not the same as the number sent to our system. There were few differences. More and more cases were checked, and there were no 7s on any card sent from that ATM.

Turns out the ATM card reader was a bit dusty and was reading all 7s as 0s! Thus, VISA cards were sent to the bank. The bank freaked it was a fraud. Issue investigation request, a card was randomly captured, and that card belonged to the sister of the bank lady who was requesting the chase. Just think, how ironic, and how improbable. Think on the other hand if it was a scary looking guy, or poor one whose card was swallowed. He naturally who’ve been arrested and interrogated before the mistake is found out! We blastered in laughs really that day. Nice to have such incidents to break the boring routine isn’t it?

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During the building of Q8Ba7th direcotory of Kuwaiti sites, I have noticed an enormous number of sites using Flash as their intro page, with or without a real good reason. Flash is just used because it looks cool. People don’t take in mind what message they want to convey to their users, or what their users really want from visiting the site. Many government sites have even some long and heavy flashy intro pages, and the misery rise when there is no link to bypass it. Flash is a real cool technology to insert animation and present demos online. But intro pages were just cool the old days, and no one will visit your site back for some fancy flash you made (or taken from somewhere else). When designing a site, there are many things to keep into consideration, and Flash intro pages should be avoided in most cases for the following reasons:

  • Load time: Flash sites take long to load, wasting user time and bandwidth.
  • Bad Experience: The faster and easier I can make use of site visit, the more I am likely to visit it again.
  • SEO Effect: Flash components are non-indexable by search engines. A front page is the first page a search engine usually sees, and if that page has no indexable content, then the search engine may not bother (or be able) to index the rest of the site. It’s kind of locking the front door from visitors. Ofcourse, search results are one of the great free ways to generate huge amount of traffic, and leaving that portion of traffic means you have to rely on ads and word of mouth mostly.
  • Flash Support: This is a very low rate I know, but still some browsers and users don’t have Flash running, and you would be denying them access to your site.
  • Meaningless: Very often, the Flash is simply a moving animation of site name and some text, not sending any message to the visitor. A government does not need promotion it self at all. It’s an official site. One of a kind in each country. Zero competition. Just deliver the content and services the user want. He will come back trust me on that one.

Some may argue they really really need a Flash intro site, or their whole site is Flash based. What to do in that case?

  • Have some meaningful title and meta content on the intro page.
  • Always always have a text based Skip Intro link. Leave it outside the Flash. That way, you are giving the customer a quick way to skip the Flash and go inside the site, not having to wait for any Flash load. And, you are also giving search engines an entrance point to the rest of your site, making it indexable.
  • Try to deliver some side content around the Flash as well. See Snap for instance.
  • Provide Flash  Alternative: If Flash is not supported, provide text based version of the site.
  • Flash size: Be considerant to the Flash size as this is the first page the visitor sees, and if it takes long, it may be his last. If you can’t avoid large Flash size, then be sure to have progressive loading. Give something to the user as long as it’s ready. This makes the loading transient for him.
  • Modifiable: Many Flash are just designed or one time and no thought of future modification was ever made. If there is a slight chance this would need to change in the future, try to accommodate for it ahead of time.

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I came across this piece of news today about the White House being ordered by the Federal Judge to preserve all emails disallowing the deletion of any email “The Federal Records Act details strict standards prohibiting the destruction of government documents including electronic messages, unless first approved by the archivist of the United States.” . Hmm… interesting. Did you read that last underlined part? Even the White House is not allowed to destroy government documents, referring to all emails that are exchanged inside the White House.

Where are we from this? We want e-Government. We want everything online. Yet, for every single transaction you want to do, yo have to see at least 4 or 5 people who will blindly sign and stamp it, and then you have to find a 1 KD bill to buy a physical stamp from those ministry machines. Nothing can go or happen without piles and piles of signed-up papers which later get archived in a place where no human can find. I used to work in the banking sector, and we had to fax and print everything as a proof. If there is a technical problem with another company, we would have to fax a piece of paper officially informing them of the situation. Otherwise, we might get the fire back! This was banking sector and we still had to do those things, so I don’t wanna fill up paragraphs about government nightmares.

Only one law right now is in place regarding the electronic crime. A very vague law with no specific penalties assigned shall such crimes occur. Years and years of demand did not move the government a bit. Not until the recent incident that they immediately pushed for new law that treats internet content as publication, and a person is responsible even for other people’s contributions to his site.

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I was surprised to read this story about Google running black page for a day for San Francisco users. The idea is to increase awareness among people for power high consumption. But why? Is San Francisco, home the Silicon Valley of technology at power crisis just like Kuwait is? Are they gonna run multi-million dollar campaigns asking people to go easy on power consumption, and suggest PSP instead of PS3? The dazzle was gone few moments later. Google’s efforts are part of the Lights Out San Francisco campaign that invites all San Franciscans to use one fluorescent light bulb and turn off all unnecessary lights at the night of March 29, 2008. But why? This is a call by San Francisco that should be heard by the whole world to protect the planet from the on going increasing effect of the climate crisis. An issue that’s been raised and discussed frequently those days.

I guess the guys at the ministry would be happy to add this fact to their campaign. Instead of finding solutions to their short-comings. But over there, it’s quite the opposite. They are finding a solution to a rising problem as opposed to our awkward way of enforcing less consumption to avoid the shortage of power generation caused by year and years of lack of planning and improvement.

Anyways, having the search engine giants join in this simple black background and one extra page most have had a great effect and delivered the message to most San Francisco by now. Smart move!

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During the gather and build of my Q8Ba7th index, and the new Phone Search that was recently added to it, I stumbled upon very different, funny, weird, and amazing stuff. One of them was this site. Now at a first glance you may say this is just an ordinary tour operator called Caribbean Dream. Now look at the url clearly: http://www.idb31kuwait.gov.kw/index.html.

Caribbean Dream Tour Operator under .gov.kw domain

Going through the site, it has not relation to Kuwait at all. Yet, it has the word Kuwait in it’s domain name. But that’s alright. Anyone can register just that domain name by it self. What I really can’t understand is how it has the domain under Gov.KW??? .KW domains are only given to Kuwait sites, and you have to contact them and provide some form details and physical documents to get it. On top of that, .GOV it self is supposed to be reserved to Government domains only as far as I know. Any person can register a domain with word Kuwait in it. With some links, or being inside Kuwait, he probably can get around the .KW thing. But reaching the .GOV! :).

Further searching have revealed it was listed by Kuwait-Info previously as Annual Meeting of IDB Group in Kuwait. Which made some sense. But somehow the domain was directed to non-related site and this is the net result.

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