Start up: bitcoin for Greece?, news apps’ key problem, when hamburger menus are good, and more


Coming to the UK on 14 July? Apple Pay photo by DopiesLife.com on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why it’s totally okay to use a hamburger icon » UXmatters

Steven Hoober:

Not too long ago, I was observing a test in which the subject was a mechanic in a truck repair shop. He didn’t have a computer at home, had no access to a smartphone, so had no base of knowledge. But we gave him a smartphone and an app to try out. He did fine with the big, obvious bits on the screen and performed every task. Then, we got to the tricky part. We asked him to reconnect the phone to the IoT (Internet of Things) device we were testing, then refresh the display on the screen.

“Hmm… I don’t see it. Maybe in here?” he said, tapping Menu, where he found the Refresh button. He said, “Ah, there it is,” as he tapped it.

I’ve experienced this sort of observation over and over again. Why? Well, first because of a fundamental behavior of mobile-device users, who do not scan a page top to bottom and left to right, but always gravitate toward the center. In Figure 3, you can see a chart showing where users tapped when presented with a scrolling list of selectable items.

user tapping

The same preference for the center applies to tap accuracy, speed, and comprehension. When designing, I assume users view and read the center, then move outward if they do not find the information they need.

This is actually starting to become a design principle of mine. Assume that users focus on and interact with things at the center of a page, and make sure that you can live with their missing or ignoring things at the top and bottom edges.

Some pushback in the comments: how do you get back from the hamburger?


The problem every news aggregation app faces » Medium

Simon Owens:

The chief problem I have with many news apps is they don’t deliver the level of customization that I can get on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. I launched my Twitter account in late 2008. In the intervening years I’ve accumulated a list of over 700 people whom I follow, and for a significant portion of those people I wouldn’t be able to remember my reasoning for following them. In some cases they’re colleagues I’ve worked with. In others they’re writers and journalists I admire. But there are still plenty more I followed because something in their profile caught my eye or they authored an article I enjoyed but have long since forgotten.

But despite not having a complete understanding of all my follow choices, my Twitter feed is a well-oiled machine, one that produces a rich tapestry of news and commentary (and plenty of jokes) every time I open it.

True, but it’s taken him six years to reach that level of aggregation on Twitter. News apps don’t get that. But his key point is that

“The problem is that news tastes go beyond mere categories and keywords.”

And that’s the crux of it.


Some miners generating invalid blocks » bitcoin.org

For several months, an increasing amount of mining hash rate has been signaling its intent to begin enforcing BIP66 strict DER signatures. As part of the BIP66 rules, once 950 of the last 1,000 blocks were version 3 (v3) blocks, all upgraded miners would reject version 2 (v2) blocks.

Early morning UTC on 4 July 2015, the 950/1000 (95%) threshold was reached. Shortly thereafter, a small miner (part of the non-upgraded 5%) mined an invalid block – as was an expected occurrence. Unfortunately, it turned out that roughly half the network hash rate was mining without fully validating blocks (called SPV mining), and built new blocks on top of that invalid block.

Note that the roughly 50% of the network that was SPV mining had explicitly indicated that they would enforce the BIP66 rules. By not doing so, several large miners have lost over $50,000 dollars worth of mining income so far.

All software that assumes blocks are valid (because invalid blocks cost miners money) is at risk of showing transactions as confirmed when they really aren’t. This particularly affects lightweight (SPV) wallets and software such as old versions of Bitcoin Core which have been downgraded to SPV-level security by the new BIP66 consensus rules.

Now bitcoin is getting the inertia problems of widespread use and software updates.


Leak suggests iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will be able to capture 4K video » MobileSyrup.com

Igor Bonifacic:

If a new leak is to be believed, the next iPhone will feature a 12 megapixel rear-facing camera that is able to capture 4K video.

The leak comes courtesy of anonymous poster on China’s Sina Weibo website.

If true, that will mean that the 6s and 6s Plus will boast cameras that are a significant upgrade from the already excellent shooters that are found on their predecessors.

While 4K TVs and computer displays still have a long way to go before they’re ubiquitous, there’s a case to be made that consumers could still get use out all those extra pixels. Current smartphones, TVs and computers might not be able to display 4K content at its native resolution, but consumers will still see an improvement in visual quality through downsampling.

A couple of things. (1) “If a new leak is to be believed”? This takes arms-length writing to an extreme. Later in the piece he says “Of course, it’s impossible to verify a rumour like this one”, which is patently untrue. You just need much, much, much better connections. (2) It can’t be surprising that the next iPhones will have better cameras. The only question will be how much better. (3) I’d like a clearer explanation of how it’s useful to shoot video at that resolution.


Apple Pay expected to go live in the U.K. on July 14th, £20+ transactions starting this fall » 9to5Mac

Mark Gurman:

Apple appears to be planning to enable its Apple Pay iPhone mobile payments service in the United Kingdom on July 14th, according to sources at multiple retailers. Apple has informed some Apple Retail employees in the U.K. that Apple Pay support will go live on that Tuesday, while an internal memos for supermarket Waitrose plus an additional retail partner indicate the same date…

Apple will also begin training its U.K staff on supporting Apple Pay on July 12th.

Given that the UK has widespread availability of NFC terminals, the UK could quickly become the largest location for Apple Pay payments – the penetration of iOS devices is high (32% or so of smartphones).

Vaguely related: it’s 20 years since Mondex tried to create cashless shopping in Swindon. I was there.


Huawei says Honor brand on track to sell 40 million smartphones » Chinadaily.com.cn

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s Honor brand has sold 20m smartphones in the first half of 2015 and by should reach its goal of 40m shipments by the year end, double the 2014 figure.

Honor’s sales amounted to $2.6bn of revenue during the first half of the year, Honor President George Zhao said at the launch of the Honor 7 phone in Beijing.

Huawei, the world’s No. 4 handset maker, has invested heavily in the past two years to establish Honor as a stand-alone brand to compete against Beijing-based Xiaomi Inc to win over young, fashion-conscious customers.

Zhao said that he expected 15%, or 6m, of the unit’s total sales this year to come from overseas, with the majority coming from China.

Since you’re wondering, that gives the Honor an average selling price (ASP) of $130 – which puts it some way below the top-end Android price, and lower even than Lenovo.


Fearing return to drachma, some Greeks use bitcoin to dodge capital controls » Reuters

Jemima Kelly:

Although absolute figures are hard to come by, Greek interest has surged in the online “cryptocurrency”, which is out of the reach of monetary authorities and can be transferred at the touch of a smartphone screen.

New customers depositing at least 50 euros with BTCGreece, the only Greece-based bitcoin exchange, open only to Greeks, rose by 400% [translation: tripled – CA] between May and June, according to its founder Thanos Marinos, who put the number at “a few thousand”. The average deposit quadrupled to around 700 euros.

Using bitcoin could allow Greeks to do one of the things that capital controls were put in place this week to prevent: transfer money out of their bank accounts and, if they wish, out of the country.

“When people are trying to move money out of the country and the state is stopping that from taking place, bitcoin is the only way to move any value,” said Adam Vaziri, a board member of the UK Digital Currency Association.

The problem is that in order to translate your euros into bitcoin, you have to find someone willing to take your euros – and you also have to have the euros available. It’s getting money out of the Greek banks that has been the problem lately. And this remains a minority sport.


Start up: Apple Music’s likely effects, no Paypal in Greece, how Bitstamp was hacked, and more


Of 58 aboard, only 15 survived. But was the crash due to machine or human error?

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why the next few months of Apple Music will throw up a few surprises » Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan:

As we revealed on our MIDiA Research report on Apple Music back in March 28% of iOS users stated they were likely to pay for the service. Among downloaders the rate is 39% and for existing subscribers that rate rises to 62%. Consumer surveys of course always over-report so we shouldn’t expect those rates of paid adoption but the relative values are interesting nonetheless.

Given that 50% of existing subscribers are iOS users the implications are that a big chunk of Spotify et al’s subscribers will at the very least try out Apple’s 3 month trial, which is plenty enough time to get build a comprehensive library of playlists and to get hooked. But there is also going to be a big wave of downloaders that do not currently subscribe that will try it out.

As the iOS 8.4 update virtually pushes iTunes Music users into starting the trial on updating, expect pretty widespread uptake of the trial. Apple reached 11 million users for iTunes radio within 5 days of launch, 21 million within 3 months. Apple Music has had a far bigger build up and is much more deeply integrated into iOS so a fairly safe bet is that those numbers will at the very least be matched.

It’s getting people to pony up that’s hard. Adding Android users (with Apple Music for Android in autumn) might just be the icing on the cake; iOS is where the numbers and easy money will be.

Mulligan points to other surprises too – read on there.


Reddit’s AMA subreddit down after Victoria Taylor departure » Business Insider

Biz Carson:

The iAMA and Science subreddits both were set to private today after Reddit’s director of Communications, Victoria Taylor was allegedly dismissed. In a Reddit thread about her departure, she replied that she was “dazed” and “hopefully” plans to stay in the PR field.

Reddit and Taylor have not yet responded to request for comment.

One of Taylor’s job duties was coordinating the site’s popular AMAs.  Two of the site’s most popular posts ever are AMAs: the one with Barack Obama and a conversation with a man with two penises. The AMA subreddit became such a popular section of the site that Reddit eventually spun it out into its own app.

Something’s up at Reddit; it’s either going to come through this much stronger, or run into the sand.


40 states line up with Mississippi in Google Adwords pharma scrap » The Register

Andrew Orlowski:

Attorneys General representing 40 US states have filed an amicus brief backing Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood’s investigation into Google.

In December, the giant multinational sued the state of Mississippi after it had opened an investigation into Google’s business practices (claiming Hood’s complaints did not come under state law jurisdiction), and earlier this year a District Court froze this investigation.

The attorneys say if the freeze is upheld, it will have a chilling effect on investigative subpoenas across the US.

Hood’s 79-page subpoena inquires mainly into Google’s advertising practices, focussing on the sale of illegal and controlled substances.

Four pages consist of inquiries into how Google deals with IP enforcement. It follows from a 2011 non-prosecution agreement (NPA) between Google and the FBI, the FDA and Rhode Island into rogue drug traffickers, who used Google Adwords to move their wares. Google agreed to a $500m fine, $230m of which was funnelled to Rhode Island.

The NPA lapsed in 2013, three months early, with no indication from Federal authorities that Google had actually complied. That’s when the states got serious.

This is an odd case. Hood comes across as a little obsessed (but is that bad in a lawman?), but Google comes across as vindictive – and not a little defensive.


Bitstamp Incident Report (PDF) » Bitstamp

The bitcoin exchange had 18,000 BTC, worth (then) about $5m, stolen:

On 9 December 2014, Bitstamp’s Systems Administrator, Luka Kodric, received a phishing email to his Gmail account. Unlike some of the others targets, Kordic did have access to Bitstamp’s hot wallet. The email header had been spoofed to appear as if it had been sent from konidas@acm[.]org, although it was actually received from a Tor exit node [the email chain and header details can be seen in full at Appendix A].

ACM is the Association for Computing Machinery, which describes itself as the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society. The sender was offering Mr. Kodric the opportunity to join Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE), the International Honour Society for the Computing and Information Disciplines.

The UPE site is hosted within the acm.org domain. On 11 December, as part of this offer, the attacker sent a number of attachments. One of these, UPE_application_form.doc, contained obfuscated malicious VBA script. When opened, this script ran automatically and pulled down a malicious file from IP address 185.31.209.145, thereby compromising the machine.

As the security researcher The Grugq observed, “Computer security is such an unsolved problem that Bitstamp lost $5m because someone had macros enabled in Microsoft Word.”


The (slight) rise of _nomap » OpenSignal blog

Samuel Johnson, on OpenSignal’s checking of how many Wi-Fi networks added the suffix “_nomap” to stop Google mapping their location:

Wifi networks with nomap

This graph also shows a rise beginning at the end of 2013 and continuing into 2014. Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s privacy incursions occurred during the summer of 2013 – and so it is possible that the heightened awareness about privacy issues could have led to more people taking care that Google was not recording their Wi-Fi hotspot. However, compared to the number of global Wi-Fi networks detected by OpenSignal, it is clear that the number that adopted Google’s solution is very small.

So why is this? Obviously it was deeply concerning that Google were tracking payload data – but it is not in itself concerning that they are collecting Wi-Fi SSIDs (after all, this is what we at OpenSignal do). Those technologically savvy enough to have followed the story (and continued to do so months after the initial outburst of outrage) will know that Google had publicly pledged to stop tracking Wi-Fi payload data, and so any appending _nomap to their Wi-Fi hotspots would not make any difference to that.


We’ve finally hit the breaking point for the original Internet » The Washington Post

Brian Fung:

It’s finally happened. The North American organization responsible for handing out new IP addresses says its banks have run dry.

That’s right: ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, has had to turn down a request for the unique numbers that we assign to each and every smartphone, tablet and PC so they can talk to the Internet. For the first time, ARIN didn’t have enough IP addresses left in its stock to satisfy an entire order — and now, it’s activated the end-times protocol that will see the few remaining addresses out into the night.

The end of IPv4 has been forecast for a few years now. Looks like it’s actually going to happen, and we’ll move to IPv6.


PayPal no longer works in Greece—and why that matters » Quartz

Shelly Banjo:

Adding to their list of woes, Greeks can no longer use their PayPal accounts.

Limits on how much money Greeks can take out of banks put in place by their debt-stricken government as it negotiates with lenders have effectively crippled the online payment service, which relies on traditional banks and credit cards to transfer money.

According to a PayPal spokesman:

Due to the recent decisions of the Greek authorities on capital controls, funding of PayPal wallet from Greek bank accounts, as well as cross-border transactions, funded by any cards or bank accounts are currently not available. We aim to continue serving our valued customers in Greece in full, as we have for over a decade.

Except that they can’t serve their valued customers. So, why does it matter?

PayPal’s shutdown in Greece reminds us how difficult it is to disintermediate banks from the flow of money.

Well duh. Did you think it was all going to bitcoin? As the Bitstamp link above shows, good luck with that.


Faulty credit card-sized connector led to crash of 20-tonne plane » Bloomberg Business

Tim Culpan:

A faulty connector about the size of a credit card helped trigger a series of mechanical and human failures that led to the crash of a 20-ton aircraft in February, killing 43 people, investigators in Taiwan found.

Microscopic tests of a soldered connector joint on the TransAsia Airways Corp. plane engine showed potential cracking, and the connector failed post-crash tests, the Aviation Safety Council said in a report today.

That failure is at the heart of why the ATR72 twin-propeller plane incorrectly sounded a cockpit warning and an engine adjustment known as autofeather. That set in motion a series of pilot errors that eventually crashed the aircraft into a downtown Taipei river Feb. 4.

The autofeather made the engine ineffective. Pilot error then played a big part: they shut down the other engine, wrongly thinking it was the affected one.

How do you design faults like those out of a system? First the machines screw up, then the humans.