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Wed, 01 Nov 2006

Halloween Week

MasterCard's Positive Financial Picture

I'm now back at my regular work location; it took a week to complete all the system testing in Kansas City. Unfortunately, I'll be working again on Saturday, and then I'm on-call Monday through Sunday. That usually means at least four hours one night during the week and another seveal hours over the weekend on troubleshooting. Unpleasant.

You may have heard that MasterCard is a public company, now. We announced our first quarterly result as a public company this week; double-digit profit growth for the tenth straight quarter. The stock price is up 15% on the news. We've now doubled our company's worth in the market since our IPO. It reminds me a little too much of the stock bubble at the end of 1999...

Still, I like knowing I'm part of that success. On the other hand, I haven't been seeing my family nearly enough.

Halloween was busy. Bryan is 13 now; so this was his last trick-or-treat Halloween. He went out as Robin Hood and got loads of compliments on his costume. Melody is nine, and as sweet as ever. She always goes ethnic: last year she wore traditional Mexican garb, and this year she was Chinese. And Thomas... Thomas was adorable as a seven-year-old Greek philosopher.

We live across the street from the local Alderman, who always pulls some strings for special events. As a result, we had a police cruiser and a ladder truck from the fire department in front of the house, distributing junior badges and glowsticks to all the kids. The parade of costumed kids was much larger than it had been in Shingle Springs - suburbia is different than country living. The cutest costumes were a trio of tween girls who were rock, paper, and scissors.

Jan is doing well, although she's a little frazzled. She's been taking prerequisite courses at the local community college in preparation to enter their RN program. She finds them easy, but is annoyed at having to take them at all, given her B.S. in biology.

The program doesn't appear to be very well administered. After all prerequisites have been taken, students are then required to pass a test on dosages, including things like converting drams to CCs, etc. But to take this exam, you have to register for it. It's only offered to a few students at a time. Only eighty students are admitted to the program each year. So, students want to register for the exam early and choose an early test date, so they can be one of the first eighty to pass. However, the program only permits registration on specific dates, beginning on a Monday. Complicated, eh? To make matters worse, you have to register in person. As a result, students began lining up to register on the Sunday morning prior to the opening of registration.

With tents.

The weather forecast was for a low in the 20s with snow flurries possible. So, around eight p.m., the campus director of security intervened and told all the students to go home. He handed out numbered tickets to everyone in line had a security officer stand there and give tickets to anyone who showed up afterward. More than three hundred tickets were issued. Jan was 37.

On Monday morning, when told where they stood in the rankings, there was much anger on the part of students who had driven by, seen no line, and gone home.

Can you believe that kind of poor planning exists in a professionally-run institution?

As part of my duties in Kansas City, I was installing some software in our Trust Center. The Trust Center is, essentially, a bank vault where MasterCard stores encryption keys that permit our data to be securely transfered across connections that might be compromised.

To get into the Trust Center, the system is complicated. It's supposed to work like this: After entering the data center (which is surrounded by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire) by using an electronic key, negotiating a boulder barrier, using an electronic key and a PIN to enter the windowless building, one checks in with the security office and is issued a second electronic badge and PIN. Then, one is escorted to the hallway leading to the Trust Center. There, the visitor is badged in again. At the entrance to the Trust Center, The visitor badges in with the new key and PIN. That brings the visitor inside the outer wall of the vault. Inside the Trust Center, the visitor's fingerprint is scanned, the visitor is issued another PIN for the scanner, and the visitor signs in. After that, the visitor enters the "beer can". It's really more like a human-sized test tube. The two glass walls operate like an airlock (only one can be open at a time), and the floor is a scale. Inside the beer can is another fingerprint scanner. This one is keyed to the visitor's new badge, and it has a separate database from the first. After the door to the beer can closes, the visitor uses the new badge to tell the scanner who one claims to be, and then it scans the fingerprint to verify. If the credentials are accepted, the inner door opens and the visitor requests access to the inner vault. Two "trusted" staff members must be present at all times, and even they are not permitted access individually. These two come out of the Trust Center through another airlock. This one really *is* an airlock... the doors are pressure sealed. All three individuals then seal themselves in the airlock and then open the inner door. The visitor now enters the Trust Center proper. There are cameras throughout this procedure, of course, and in the Trust Center itself several more. The two "trusted" staffers spend much of their time while a visitor is present looking over the visitor's shoulder to be sure nothing illicit is taking place. Very disconcerting for a privacy nutcase like me.

Imagine undergoing this procedure twelve times over four days. And doing it in reverse to get out. And being trapped in the "beer can" with an electronic voice repeating, "Access denied. Please repeat the procedure," over and over. When trying to get *out*.

That's what my week was like.

posted at: 13:31 |


Marc Elliot Hall St. Peters, Missouri 

Page created: 21 January 2002
Page modified: 14 November 2006

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