If activation of your gift card lasts more than four hours, consult a physician immediately


I received a gift card. The instructions which accompany the gift card include the following:

To activate, sign the back of the card. In some cases, activation may take up to four hours.

What, you think I write that slowly?

Bonus chatter: Yes, I know that the reason is that it may take up to four hours for the purchase to propagate through the system, and if you sign the card immediately after purchasing it, you may still need to wait up to four hours. That didn't apply in my case because I received the gift card in the mail.

Comments (5)
  1. lesession says:

    So how does signing the back of the card transmit activation back to the server?

    There’s some deep communication protocol going on there which I can’t get my head round. I’m impressed that the ink/plastic interface detection (which presumably then sends some data packets containing a unique card ID back to base via what? RFID? Some sort of public WiFi?) works at all, let alone within four hours.

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    1. Clearly it’s using some kind of piezoelectric effect to generate electrical power from the signing action itself. From there you’d want to use some kind of low power/wide area transmission technology (just because of your low energy budget).

      What I can’t work out is how it knows you’re done signing. Not everyone uses signatures composed of a single connected sequence of strokes. So maybe the four hours is a “worst possible case” – if they haven’t added any further strokes to the signature area for four hours, we consider the signature to be complete.

      Maybe that’s the worst case based on people being at remote locations and their only pen running out of ink? Of course, the ink isn’t required for the electronic part of this process but if we also want ink-based signature verification to work, we want the inking process to be complete before we activate the card.

      Some people have alleged in the past that sometimes I over-think things.

  2. smf- says:

    activate and activation are two different things, someone should be them a thesaurus.

    1. Also, “activate” is a transitive verb, and needs a direct object. Whoever wrote that text left out the object. I could be activating anything by signing the card!

  3. smf- says:

    A more relevant question for a software based blog is why it takes four hours to activate.

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