New book chapter: Playing with Traffic: An Emerging Methodology for Developing Gamified Mobility Applications

Our chapter Playing with Traffic: An Emerging Methodology for Developing Gamified Mobility Applications by M Kracheel,  R McCall and V. Koenig is now available in the book: Emerging Perspectives on the Design, Use, and Evaluation of Mobile and Handheld Devices edited by Joanna Lumsden and published by IGI Global.


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Financial Paranoia? RT, Max Keiser and Zerohedge

Why don’t you pop on over the for a spot of financial paranoia? If you believe what you read then the dollar is worth nothing, gold is worth something and Bitcoin is the future. What’s more if you also watch the Keiser Report on  the “impartial” RT you will have noticed Zerohedge as being a major source of information. If you read or watch these sources you will quickly find that they promote gold, bitcoin, alternative investment funds and other approaches outside the financial norm. You will often also find that the same people who promote these alternatives are offering financial advice or in some cases are even connected to the ventures which offer surprise, surprise, similar services.  This is for me is a clear conflict of interest and should mean that anyone watching or reading such sources should do so with some considerable care.

On a more positive  note, if like me you studied economics or financial related topics (I did so as part of a joint degree) the chances are that you may have had some nagging doubts about what you were being told – especially about the massive over simplifications relating to markets and human behaviour. Not forgetting the complete lack of empirical evidence to back up a large number of the economic theories. You may also have thought that rising house prices and with it mortgage costs and rental prices which were not matched by salary increases(especially in the UK) would only lead to trouble. Despite these reservations you most likely thought like me that well, “I didn’t study it in enough detail to really understand any of it” and hence left it to the economists and governments only to find that when we experienced the fun of 2008 t that actually a lot of it was theoretical academic nonsense. If you do hold that view then please do check out the sources above. While all the facts presented are probably correct, do keep an eye out for propaganda, overly selective facts and conflicts of interest – a quick Google search is usually enough.

Despite reservations  Zerohedge and “Mad” Max Keiser are relevant sources of information which make you question the prevailing economic views of our time. They for example frequently point out how debt is ignored in predictions (economists do not usually take it into account except if it is sovereign debt) or how we have seen massive increases in public and private debt with little or no  meaningful return in terms of GDP (China and the West being good examples). They also regularly accuse bankers of fraud or misconduct – something which has been alleged against some former HBOS staff, not forgetting the blackmail charges in the same case. So in that sense he is right (which may also explain why Bank of American banned it’s staff from accessing Zerohedge). From then on it is up to you to formulate your own opinion… but do take it all with a pinch of salt.


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Quick Review: Acer Liquid Jade Z S57

The rather oddly named Liquid Jade Z S57 is one of the budget smart phone offerings from Acer. At around €180 it is good value for money and while it has a good screen it just feels cheap in comparison to the Moto G. Anyway here are a few good and bad points:


  • Nice big screen with 1280×720 resolution which is good for the price. In my view better than my old Moto G.
  • Expandable, you can drop in extra storage space without any problems.
  • Thin and relatively light weight.
  • Good value for money.
  • Quad core. so pretty fast (when first bought, see later).
  • Reasonably decent audio for the money, they even include some OK headphones.
  • 13mp built-in camera, on paper at least this is fine.


  • The casing feels cheap in comparison to my old Moto G.
  • There are two clocks, the central one on the main screen and one on the top right. They crash frequently so you end up with two different times. Recently the difference was about 12-14 hours.  I have never had this kind of severe problem with previous Android phones. This crash often can bring down the entire phone, Whatsapp for example has severe problems when it suspects you are tampering with time.
  • The display is almost unusable under bright sunlight (not a problem unique to Acer).
  • Lots of pre-installed apps which you cannot easily get rid of.
  • Prone to crashing, it reboots so you find out hours later that your phone has been off all afternoon.
  • Gets slower and slower and slower, so now it takes ages to even start up.
  • 1GB memory is a limiting factor, Acer do though provide a memory optimiser.
  • Rather ugly UI.
  • Built-in speakers are very tinny.
  • Slow camera and not the best in terms of quality.

Would I buy it again? Probably not. It is acceptable enough for every day use although the increasing slowness is driving me mad. If that problem could be resolved then  I would recommend the phone.



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Is the tech cloud about to rain?

Cloud computing has arguably revolutionised swathes of IT services, with Google Drive and Dropbox both being excellent examples of good services which just work as they say. However, as yet it is very difficult to know how much money “upstart” services which don’t rely on advertising actually generate in terms of profits (if any). The ubiquitous Dropbox for example has seen its valuation cut according to Zerohedge. Dropbox unlike Google or Amazon, does not actually have its own server base instead it rents capacity of all places from Amazon. Apparently Dropbox was valued at $10bn by it’s own investors recently and it is them who have now said that it will not fetch anywhere near this value in any IPO. This overall value masks the true level of investment which was closer to $600m (January 2014). Given the large user based that Dropbox has it would be very alarming if they had not been able to convert a reasonable percentage of free users to paid accounts. In the tech bubble of the late 90s many services were free (to a point); many of these services also failed or had to be bailed out.

The underlying economic issues aside cloud computing also faces serious issues when it comes to security and privacy or in the case of the US Government just plain snooping. So it remains to be seen if the rapid growth will continue or if overtime more and more people will switch to home-based local clouds. This would of course also effect the business model of services such as Dropbox. That said so far I know very few people who have fully dropped commercial cloud providers – although many are just using free rather than paid accounts.

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Alternative Taxation

Over recent years we have seen an increasing erosion of state “welfare” while at the same time being asked to pay more sales or personal income taxes – they are rarely ever called income tax rises. In the UK they’ve gone one step further by proposing to cut tax credits from the poorest workers in society while pledging to cut income taxes for the high rate payers.  However, is all the debate about income tax and tax credit the wrong one? Noam Chomsky and others debate alternative approaches to taxation, including a land value tax and taxes on landlords or natural resources. Therefore removing the need for as much tax on income. In the UK that would never be allowed as the very people who decide such things are the owners of the very land.


The video may seem a little strange to many but such an approach would all but remove the tax haven problem as assets in their place of existence would be taxed. It would also benefit those who actually work in society rather than those who have been lucky enough to inherit property.

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False Economics – Low Interests are always a good thing.

Low Interest Rates may help you buy your house or car on the cheap but are just storing up problems for long-term savings like pensions. Warning this is not an article to be used as a basis for dinner table chat..

The basic theory goes that lower interest rates will lead to more private borrowing which will in turn fuel growth. But what few people realise is that since 2008 private (and public debt) in the so-called developed economies have risen significantly without the usual match in GDP growth (just look at the chart below). The reality is that a large part of this cheap money has gone to buying up property at hugely inflated prices – does this sound familiar? So rather than growth in productivity (physical products or services) we have growth in property bubbles and debt. Low interest rates disguise the true risks associated with inflating asset price bubbles, as the risk premium which should be associated with asset fueled growth does not reflect the actual inherent risk in the project. It should be said through that assessing risk in terms of financial markets is  somewhat of a black art.

Relationship between GDP and Debt (Source: Keiser Report, RT)

Relationship between Global GDP and Debt (Source: Keiser Report, RT)


As can be seen from 1995 to 2008 (approx) there was a relatively strong relationship but since then private debt has risen at a far higher rate than GDP. So have we reached the point where debt has a diminishing marginal return on GDP? If so then eventually the GDP level will be far too low to support the level of debt. Much like if you return to the UK in around 2003-2008 when the cost of property and mortgage payments rose far higher than the rate of salaries… We all know what the end game there was.

So you still don’t care? Yes it’s pretty boring.

Private debt is often ignored as the cause of economic problems by governments and the self appointed group of leading economists. So instead lets look at what the  Tory government will tell you is toxic, public (government debt). It is worth noting that despite the UK government saying that they are cutting debt in reality since coming to power in 2010 it has almost doubled. However it is worth noting that relatively speaking Government debt in the UK is at a far lower percentage of GDP than it was from the 1920s through 1960s. But that is not the whole picture.

Percentage of debt to GDP in 2012 (Wikipedia Jirka.h23, creative commons licence)

As we know with Greece once you go beyond a certain point of debt it becomes impossible for the state to repay it; even  with relatively low rates of interest. The UK for example enjoys two major advantages low rates and the ability to print its way out of the mess; it has been printing more and more pounds since 2008. While the cost of borrowing is low and the UK tends to borrow for long periods of time, eventually it has to be paid off! Therefore as the debt rises relative to GDP it becomes in the longer term harder and harder to service. However, if inflation is left to run a little higher then over time the cost of paying it back becomes less in real terms. Furthermore, as tax rates are politically difficult to raise the only impact can be on public spending, which is why we see billions being removed from welfare. The other alternative is to sell off state assets at at discount, which in turn erodes the future ability to repay debt or maintain future expenditure. Right now in the UK, state-owned French, German and Chinese companies collect the dividends from what were state-owned British utilities.

The debt bomb has a mild benefit for normal people as the Government needs to sell this debt to borrow money. In reality this means financial institutions and funds are buying up this debt, even at it’s low rate. This in effect provides some safe (well for now) haven for your savings, even if the return sucks. It does however mean there are other problems in the pipeline.

And for you?

Low interest rates also erode the value of cash as the effective rate of return on savings is lower than the rate of inflation. This has the twin effect of lowering the value of your money (in future) but also means that pension funds etc cannot obtain the returns on cash and bonds to maintain their returns in the future. This forces them into ever riskier investments including property  which is now clearly in a bubble phase again. The effect is that your pension is now even riskier and will most likely fail to return anything which is sufficient to provide you with a decent retirement. Indeed since 1995 the amount of money invested in other assets in pensions (property and derivatives etc) has increased from 5% to 25% according to Towers Watson. With falls across the stocks, cash and bond categories.

Ok so lets put up rates… This will almost certainly immediately lower the market value of existing bonds (public and private) as the rate of return on these bonds relative to cash  and any newly issued bonds will fall.  The only way this may not happen is if for some reason other countries are in a far worse situation than the UK, so relatively speaking UK Government debt is perceived as safer. Low rates have created an asset bubble into which pension funds have jumped. Rising rates will puncture this bubble, depressing, the stock markets, property and bond values thus lowering further pension fund values. For now the returns look great, even excellent but it is little more than a bubble (see article on defined benefit pension fund returns). The last economic shock in 2008 saw values that year alone fall by 13.4% in the UK (see Penions World Article Below).

Now the dual financial bomb strikes. Companies can offset their debt interest against tax payments, so if their profits are increasingly swamped by interest payments the government tax take will fall. So not only will Governments have to cut spending even more but at the same time the the debt repayments relative to GDP will start to rise again; further compounding the budget problems that they encounter. So any meaningful rate rise which would benefit savers would have real negative impacts on powerful wealthy individuals and governments.

Finally keep in mind that while average living standards have only now started to approach or slightly increase above 2008 levels, the top 1000 families in the UK have doubled their wealth. This in effect means that your negative rates of return are being used to finance the speculation and asset purchases of the super rich.

End Note

No doubt may “properly” trained financiers and economists will disagree with much or everything in this article. But then again these are the same people who used over simplified models until 2008 which totally ignored private debt or the other then elephant in the room short-term inter-bank lending. The author did however briefly study economics as part of a four year honours degree in accountancy and computer science.

Why do I care about all this? Pensions are hardly the most exciting dinner table chat but yet we do have to think about them. What worries is me is that we are all being asked to save into private or state funds but that in the end they will not be able to pay for our futures. Instead as usual a few at the top will draw out the profits gained from low rates leaving us (again) to pay for their greed.


Keiser Report, Episode 827, RT

 Recession Rich, The Guardian

Debt to GDP Ratio, Wikipedia

Why Do Interest Rates tend to have n Inverse Relationship to Bond Prices? Investopedia

UK Defined Benefit Pension funds return 11% – State Street, Investments and Pensions Europe

Global Pension Assets Survey 2015, Towers Watson. February 2015.

UK Pension Funds Post an Average Return of of 4.3%.  Pensions Word 2012.

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