Publications page updated

I’ve added some new publications to the relevant page.

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Off to The Human System Interaction 2015 in Warsaw

Along with other colleagues from the eGlasses project I will attending the Human-System Interaction Conference in Warsaw. There are quite a few eGlasses related publications there and we will be presenting some work from our team. Also look out for the keynote talk from Michael Haller.

We will be championing the eGlasses alternative to Google Glass, really it’s designed for use in research labs but has many more features than the commercially available platforms.

 

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Review Localbitcoins.com

If Bitcoin.de is the paragon of simplicity be prepared for the altogether more confusing world of Localbitcoins.com. But it’s only confusing as you have so many options!

Localbitcoins does exactly what it says, it lets you trade Bitcoins both locally (i.e. cash face to face if you like) and also like other exchanges with people located elsewhere. It lets you buy and sell your Bitcoins via anything such a cash all the way through credit cards and finally  to bank transfer (including SEPA). You can also trade in a variety of currencies, indeed whatever the other trader is offering. In common with Bitcoin.de this is an over the counter exchange which means payments are conducted between parties directly while the trade is held in escrow until the seller releases the bitcoins. This of course has its inherent risks.

As a buyer or seller you set up an advert with a floating price, i.e. at a fixed percentage above or below the Bitfinex market rate. This means unlike Bitcoin.de the price reflects the going rate more accurately however it does mean you need to constantly check any listings you make sure you don’t lose money on a sale. Also important to note is that you define your own terms of sale (including payment method and dates). Other features worth noting are that you can define levels of trust and also the ID requirements of your fellow traders. Adverts can also have an opening time, much like a physical shop. Note however that  if you place an advert you are responsible for 1% fee, whereas if you respond to an advert or use the quick sell feature you pay nothing. Quick sell is nice in that it finds the best price from all available adverts given the criteria you specify.

Trust is is important in such markets and you can leave a variety of ratings and even comments relating to other people you have traded with. You can even block or mark them as trusted – with trusted traders being given access to specific adverts you have listed for them only. In general this is a much more important feature than on bicoin.de. For example I have had far more problems with others cancelling trades or not abiding by trade terms that I have specified. There is a forum attached to the site where you can find lively discussions about potential scammers and common problems others have encountered.

Other features worth noting are the live chat assistance from members of their customer support team. Which can be reached in the darkest hours of the night. You can also mark trades as in dispute and their team will normally respond to the request and resolve the situation within 1 working day. My experience of this was that they were thoroughly professional and quick.

In general I find Localbitcoins requires much more active involvement that Bicoins.de also the number of scammers and untrustworthy people on it seems to be much higher. This not the fault of Localbitcoins but it is something you should take into account if you are planning on using the site. It is also a problem which has been noted on in other reviews and forum posts.

Would I recommend the site? Yes in short but only if you are prepared for the ride. Their customer service is very good and the range of options you can set up for trades is impressive. However, for the newbie I’d stick to bitcoin.de.

 

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Review: Bitdefender Total Security 2015

Image copyright Bitdefender

Image copyright Bitdefender

A good solid tool which is  worth buying.

Bitdefender is certainly one of the better known anti-virus solutions out there and the Total Security package brings together a whole range of features including:

  • Virus scanning and removal.
  • Firewall.
  • Safepay.
  • Website screening

Current retail price: €69.95

From: www.bitdefender.com

Installing

I tried installing Bitdefender twice, first on a system which was infected  and secondly on a clean machine. To put it bluntly only install this software on a clean machine (i.e. no malware etc) otherwise whatever was on there before will simply block Bitdefender from working effectively and your computer will become incredibly slow and unusable.

Effectiveness – Viruses and Malware

You can select a number of different scanning options, including a quick scan which does at it says on the tin. You can also set up scanning for particular folders or do a full system scan. The latter can take a while though! You can also set the level of aggression that Bitdefender has against threats although this will increase the risk of false positives. This along with setting folder and programme exclusions can be done easily.

If the computer becomes infected overall performance is similar to  my old tool Panda Cloud anti-virus, however what was strange was that it failed to detect a number of issues until a full scan was run (again like Panda). Also I tried downloading the Eicar test virus and only when this was in its original form (i.e. not zipped or double zipped) was it detected. Again though detection only occurred when I specifically scanned the system. This led me to question the effectiveness of the real-time scanning features but other more scientific reviews have rated the product highly in this regard.

In general I found that Bitdefender is good at detecting more obvious threats however, it still falls short of detecting as many bits of malware as say Malwarebytes.  It’s main weakness seems to be real-time scanning which could be better.

Although not strictly for viruses and malware the useful vulnerability scan lets you check your system to make sure everything is up to date and not open to attack.  It also checks for weak passwords which is useful. Given the number of issues with out of date software and passwords these are good features.

Good for Online Banking Websites

Bitdefender protects you when you visit your bank or credit card company website as it can be set to only show that particular webpage  – all other software and even the Windows environment are hidden. Additionally it gets round problems with keys being logged while visiting these websites by encouraging you to type in the details via an onscreen keyboard. This feature is very good but can be very slow on low end machines.

Website Screening

This is the biggest problem area; especially on low spec hardware. While I am sure it works it slows down web surfing so much that you end up turning it off. Also such anti-fishing and anti-fraud systems mean that in theory Bitdefender (or any other company which offers something similar) can easily collect information on your browsing habits.

Firewall 

I ended up using the firewall in mainly permissive mode which is probably not a good thing, however on higher settings it can get infuriating with it ending up blocking too many things. That said altering the settings is quick and simple so I have increased the settings again. You can also set up exclusions for particular applications, use this with caution as saying yes could invite in some nasty software.

Long-Term Use

It’s easy to review something over an afternoon but really virus scanners are a long-term tool which should just sit in the background and work. I have now been running this for about six months and with the exception of the issues noted it has been stable, reliable and reasonably effective. Certainly on a par with and often more effective than Panda Anti-virus.

So far I have had no viruses which can perhaps speak of me either being security aware or just lucky. However, some Malware and unwanted programmes got through. As usual the Ask toolbar managed to install itself – neither Malwarebytes or Bitdefender spotted this until the files had made their way onto the computer. To be fair though I suspect a recent Java installation was responsible for this as Oracle are/were bundling the dreaded Ask toolbar. I probably pressed agree by mistake during some late night work session. That said though I would expect Bitdefender to atleast alert me to the fact that this rubbish is running on the computer.

Summary

This is overall a good piece of software and ignoring the website scanning functionality it has minimal overhead when run on a comparatively low-spec system. Like nearly all virus scanners I have used on it’s own it is not 100% effective and it is best partnered with Malwarebytes if you really want to clean up your system after an infection.

Good points

  • Lots of good protection features.
  • Range of scanning options.
  • Minimal system overhead for standard real-time scanning.
  • Easy to use.
  • Has good detection reputation.

Bad Points

  • The website protection feature is slow on low end hardware.
  • Malware protection and removal not always the best.
  • Let the Ask toolbar slip through.

Overall I would give this product a try its reputation and so far my experience has been positive.

Note: Panda Cloud anti-virus has now been discontinued and replaced with another product. Also the author while offered a free review copy of Bitdefender refused to accept it as he had already purchased a full licence.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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