Magnetic Interaction with Mobile Devices

A short video of the work undertaken by my colleague  Saeed Afshari mainly as part of his MSc thesis and was presented at NordiCHI 2014. The work was supervised by myself, Andrei Popleteev and Thomas Engel. The video contains some work that was carried out after the thesis  (in particular the use of two mobile phones).

For more information you can download the paper.

Posted in HCI, IGNITE, Mobile Tech | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Review: Bitcoin.de

Image

Overview

Bitcoin gets a somewhat bad reputation in the press with it being described as dirty money for criminals and Russian tax-dodging billionaires (who used it to get their money out of the Cypriot banks). Therefore if you are looking to give it a go and don’t want to be tarnished with this kind of dodgy reputation it is important to find a more legitimate way to trade in it. With that in mind companies such as German based Bitcoin.de may offer a way forward. It also claims to have more than 220,000 users, although I have yet to see anywhere near this number of active participants.

Why use bitcoin.de?

Bitcoin.de appears on the face of it to be a cleaner market place than some of the others which are around. Indeed it’s main advantages are that it is registered in Germany and works with Fidor Bank which is also based there. This means that it is at least partially regulated by the German authorities. Other advantages include that they do not hold your money as all trades are conducted “over the counter” (or peer-to-peer). As a result payments are made directly between market participants (bank to bank) meaning that Bitcoin.de does not hold your cash. However, they hold your Bitcoins in an escrow account; meaning that the seller must actually hold them in order to sell them.

Bitcoin.de uses a third party auditing firm to check of the coins it holds on behalf of customers are in its possession. Once you are fully identified as a user you can download this report and check it yourself. It was last undertaken in 2014.

Features

Bitcoin.de only offers simple buying and selling, there are no derivatives or other complex instruments. You either place a buy or sell order or respond directly to an advert. If you purchase via an advert you pick the one you want, indicate how many coins you wish to buy then within a set period of time you must mark the transaction as paid. Once the seller receives the money they acknowledge this and the coins are released. You must mark a purchase as paid within a set number of hours or you risk getting black marks. Selling is also straight forward you can either sell directly to a person who already has an advert or list your coins for sale. In both cases the other party (buyer) must respond within a set number of hours, issue payment then you release the coins on receipt of the cash. The  minimum purchase or sale is just 0.1 Bitcoins which makes it very easy to dip your feet in the water.

The only downside of the system is that it can take several days for a buyer to receive funds, this increases over weekends and bank holidays. Therefore if you are an active trader this delay can mean you lose some opportunities. There is one option round this and that is Fidor Bank in Germany who offer a so-called “express trade” system where if both parties use them then payment is cleared and the coins are released instantly. For now this option is only available to German residents but it would certainly improve the experience.

Trusting Others

All participants in the market are rated bronze, silver or gold. Their status depends on the number of trades and positive responses from others. In addition after a certain volume of trades traders must go through an identification procedure in order to be able to continue to use Bitcoin.de. For this you need to provide identity papers and get them witnessed by a lawyer or financial institution. You must  pay a small fee for doing so. It remains to be seen how effective this process is but it should mean that the participants can be easily traced in the event of anything going wrong.

You can also specify your minimum trust levels when trading with others this can include being gold, silver or bronze, which country their bank is registered in or even if you will only accept transfers from within the same banking group. To date I have undertaken quite a lot of transactions and had no problems with trust.

Security

From a security point of view you can add on two factor authentication for example by using Google Authenticate on your phone. There is also a fifteen minute auto logout in case you do nothing and a list of previous login attempts (successful or otherwise).

Like any exchanges which store some coins online there is a risk that a hacker could make off with them. However, Bitcoin.de promise that your coins are stored away from the Internet’s prying eyes. Also it is very quick and easy to transfer your bitcoins either to your own local wallet or to another online place.

Costs

The overall cost is 1% which is absorbed equally by the buyer and seller (0.5% each so it is reasonably cheap). Other costs to be aware of are those of your bank who may charge for transferring money. There are no fees for joining Bitcoin.de and the only fixed fee comes when you have to complete the identification process. This helps make the barrier to entry small.

Summary

Trading or investing in bitcoins is not something you should probably do to make a profit. The price is so volatile that you would have to be mad to gamble your fortune on it. However, if you are aiming to take the plunge Bitcoin.de makes buying and selling bitcoins quick and simple. The trust system also improves confidence plus it has links to a registered German bank.

Should you try it? I’d say yes, so far it has been the easiest and quickest way I have found to get into the world of Bitcoin.

A note about Bitcoin

As for Bitcoin itself, I am not sure if this is anything more than hype and indeed it has more than it’s fair share of eccentric followers. That aside though it represents a very good way to get funds to people in countries where banks and governments are corrupt (Zimbabwe for example). Also the underlying technology (blockchain) is an excellent way of allowing fast, low cost transfers of small amounts of money between friends and family members across countries with different currencies. In essence it could become the “friends and family” currency. More on this in a future article.

In the longer term I am hoping that there is more oversight of Bitcoin exchanges in particular to prevent the kind of dirty money image that it currently has. However, such regulation should not be put in place to simply prop up the current financial services sector. After all UK banks have paid billions in fines for drug money laundering, mis-selling insurance products, fixing interest rates and manipulating currency markets it would therefore seem strange to hand over Bitcoin to them! Just keep in mind that the UN itself said that during the 2008 banking crash $350bn in dirty money made it’s way into the banking system in London, New York and other major financial centres. I am sure that to date Bitcoin has come  nowhere near to this amount in such a comparatively short space of time…

Posted in Bitcoin, Geekville, Internet, IT Discussions, Reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

Streaming Music Services in Luxembourg

If you are in Luxembourg or indeed thinking of moving here, then here is a list of music services that are currently available. If you are aware of others please let me know.

  • Tidal (CD quality hifi streaming and videos)
  • Qobuz (offering MP3 and CD quality – high res purchase options too)
  • Napster (relatively low quality)
  • Spotify (average quality)
  • Google Music (average quality)

You should check out if your device supports the above services. While IOS and Android devices tend to work without any problems hifi equipment is a bit more tricky. For example Raumfeld and Sonos may have country-by-county licencing agreements. This can mean that while the nice app may run on your phone you may not actually be able to stream any music to your hifi (now that is annoying). If you have Raumfeld system there is an imperfect way round this.

For something a little different, if you are into ultra high-end audio that you would rather own (and store them yourself) than stream then check out HDTracks.com. It is possible to buy tracks as a Luxembourg resident although overall the range can be a bit limited. In general you get CD quality and up… just make sure your hifi can handle it! As I mentioned Qobuz also lets you buy tracks at CD (16-bit) and higher. Again though not all high quality tracks are available in Luxembourg.

Looking for something a little more visual? Then to answer your questions, yes Netflix does work in Luxembourg.

Posted in Internet, Luxembourg | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ethics in Serious Games

I was recently involved in co-authoring a book chapter which looked at the often difficult subject of ethics in serious games. What’s more when you add applications that seek to change behaviour to the  equation such as persuasive games or gamified applications the whole area becomes a whole lot worse.

In addition to the more obvious areas such as potential for harm, consent and privacy, persuasive and gamified applications often run the risk of serious conflicts of interest. For example, what exactly will companies do with the data obtained from gamified applications that try to improve workplace efficiency? Is it simply a spying application? Also if we look at issues such as who really benefits from such apps, again ethically it should be the end-user but in reality is this really the case?

If you are interested in the ethics of such things, look out for our (hopefully to be published) chapter on this topic but do check out the American Psychological Association Code. While I am sure many psychologists and even us HCI people may be aware of it I am somewhat concerned that many game developers may not be! The code is not specifically for serious games but covers a whole raft of highly relevant areas.

For now many people I have come across only really start to actively think about ethics in serious games when confronted with an ethics committee from which they have to get approval. In reality ethics must be embedded in serious games right from the start of the design process.

More on this topic soon I suspect.

 

 

Posted in HCI, human rights, Serious Gaming | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Talk @ UL: Deanonymisation of Clients in Bitcoin P2P Network

On Monday 27-October at 10:30 in E112 (campus Kirchberg) Ivan Pustogarov will give a talk on:

Bitcoin is a digital currency which relies on a distributed set of miners
to mint coins and on a peer-to-peer network to broadcast transactions. The
identities of Bitcoin users are hidden behind pseudonyms (public keys)
which are recommended to be changed frequently in order to increase
transaction unlinkability.

We present an efficient method to deanonymize Bitcoin users, which allows
to link user pseudonyms to the IP addresses where the transactions are
generated. Our techniques work for the most common and the most
challenging scenario when users are behind NATs or firewalls of their ISPs.
They allow to link transactions of a user behind a NAT and to distinguish
connections and transactions of different users behind the same NAT. We
also show that a natural countermeasure of using Tor or other anonymity
services can be cut-off by abusing anti-DoS countermeasures of the Bitcoin
network. Our attacks require only a few machines and have been
experimentally verified. The estimated success rate is between 11% and 60%
depending on how stealthy the attacker wants to be. We propose several
countermeasures to mitigate these new attacks.

Joint work with Alex Biryukov and Dmitry Khovratovich, to be presented at ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS) in November this year.

Posted in Academia, Events, IT Discussions, Luxembourg, Privacy, security | Tagged | Leave a comment

Presentation at Stanford

For those who happen to be in the area I will be presenting a talk on “Gamifying the Daily Commute” at the Precourt Energy Efficiency Centre (PEEC) at Stanford University on the 14th of November at 2.30pm.  My thanks to the staff at PEEC for inviting me to present at their regular departmental seminar. The event is open to all those with an interest in the topic, so please check out their website if you would like to come along.

The seminar is part of a series of their 2014 Sustainable Transportation Seminars.

Posted in Events, I-GEAR | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

NordiCHI 2014

I will be attending NordiCHI 2014 in Helsinki this year along with colleagues from the UK and here in Luxembourg to present  work. First up will be work undertaken by Saeed Afshari an MSc student here at The University of Luxembourg who has been exploring different interaction paradigms (including using a magnetic device) across different mobile game genres.  Saeed is supervised by Andrei Popleteev, Thomas Engel and myself and I am delighted to say we believe that he is the first MSc student to travel to a conference with an accepted publication in our research group (perhaps even the whole centre). I am also involved in paper which explores auditory aspects of autonomous vehicles, this work is being undertaken by David Beattie who is a PhD student at Glasgow Caledonian University. I am one of his co-supervisors. Pre-prints of the papers will be available shortly both here and via my official university publications page.

 

Posted in Conference and Workshops, eGlasses, HCI, IGNITE, In-Car | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Spotify Connect, Raumfeld and Luxembourg

After a discussion  some months ago with Teufel who make the Raumfeld streaming systems they have finally made all devices in this range Spotify compatible. What’s more it even works in Luxembourg. This was previously a problem with other services which were on their Connector 2 such as WIMP, Napster and Simfy which while available on other devices remained inaccesible in Luxembourg. Annoyingly, many of the streaming providers only licence their platforms to the hardware vendors on a per territory basis. Sadly though Qobuz which provides CD quality streaming as I believe WIMP does too is still not available in Luxembourg on Raumfeld devices- although there is a rather inconvenient way round this.

 

Posted in Luxembourg | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Evernote not working under WINE

Sadly if you want Evernote to work on Linux you may have to stick with the web version. After updating Evernote to the latest version on Linux (Mint 13) it has ceased to work which is very frustrating.

You can find my earlier article with a version which works here.

Posted in IT Discussions | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Scotland: Will it get Nasty after Independence?

With Scotland edging towards independence and the far right parties gaining in popularity in England, what would any independence settlement look like? The answer is we hope it will be peaceful but in reality we don’t know. Britain’s Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage for one (a man with a disproportionate level of influence in UK politics) has already indicated he wants a very tough settlement. The sad thing is post 2015 when David Cameron will most likely be forced into some for of coalition (if he is not kicked out by his own party) Scotland will face a tough settlement and if UKIP holds the balance of power (along with some more insane Conservatives) it will get very nasty. Short of switching off the gas and oil supplies Scotland has almost almost no bargaining power. I only hope that if the vote does become a “Yes”  that Mr Salmond and his friends have a few tricks up their sleeves.

 

 

Posted in news, politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment