Friday, 22 December 2006

PayPal helldesk

I like text-only emails. It's a great way to avoid link-jack phishing spam, virii and annoying flashing ads. It's also a great way to get your email through an ssh connection. However, dealing with long URLs can sometimes be annoying. It doesn't seem to matter that I've set all of my settings to *not* use wrap-characters. When a link comes through it will, more-often-than-not, have a '+' sign squidged into it when it breaks onto a newline.

This is not a big problem. I've grown accustomed to copy/pasting (ok, highlight and middle-clicking) into my browser window, searching for the <CR> and a spurious '+' and removing it before hitting "Go".

This does not work for PayPal URLs

PayPal text-based email is that hideous abomination that comes sprinkled with MicoSoft proprietary characters. Lines end in '=' and there is a smattering of '?', "=20" and other random wierdness, just to make life more challenging...

I spent hours yesterday morning trying to get back into an old paypal account of mine. I did the "forgotten password email" thing. I clicked on the URL. I removed the <CR> and the clearly spurious '=' wrap-character - no go. I tried it while leaving in the '=' - no go. I tried copy/pasting the inidividual halves of the URL into my browser - no go.

I then spent an hour or more on the phone with their help-desk trying to be polite while they went through their script:
"Hi there, I'm having trouble with the forgotten-password URL. I have tried copy/pasting it into my browser, I removed the line-wrap symbol and the carriage-return, and it still doesn't work."
"Have you gone to the forgotten password page and clicked the link to send you a reminder email?"
"Yes, I've done that - I've got the email, I've clicked on the link and it doesn't work. I tried to copy the link into my browser, but that doesn't work either."
"Have you tried to copy/paste the URL into your browser?"
<sigh> <<find me somebody that understands linux... or at least somebody that knows how to *listen*!>>.

Finally he agreed that it really wasn't working for me! But their technical desk had gone home by that stage so all they could do was open a trouble-ticket with me and I would need to call them tomorrow.

I played a wild-card and tried creating an account with the email for my old company. I was coming in for some final work this morning. I used Evolution there so I could look at the URL and compare. I wasn't sure if it'd help - but figured it was a better shot than fretting about the next level of helldesk support.

Example URL from Evolution:

Example from mutt:

Note the "3D" after each of the (real) '=' signs. I have no idea what character PayPal's text-email generator thinks they are supposed to represent - or why Evolution seems to gloss over them, but removing them makes it all work.


Anonymous said...

Actual plain text email is rare these days because the world (outside of america) isn't fully described by pure ASCII characters. If you're going to read the source of an email directly you need to know the MIME encoding options. What you're seeing is called 'quoted printable' - look it up, but essentially =XX where XX is a hex value represents the character with code point XX. An = followed by a newline represents a wrapped line. Either read up on the standards so you know what you're looking at, or use an actual email client - for linux command line use I highly recommend nmh.

Taryn said...

Thank you for that!
Such a useful explanation. :)

Sometimes it's hard to know what I need to go looking for when I come across a problem like this. Knowing the proper encoding will make solving these kinds of things much easier in future.

Thanks again!