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March 26 2013

Four short links: 26 March 2013

  1. Patent on Medical Trial Design to Reduce Placebo Effectdrug companies say these failures are happening not because their drugs are ineffective, but because placebos have recently become more effective in clinical trials. [...] The whole idea that placebo effect is getting in the way of producing meaningful results is repugnant, I think, to anyone with scientific training. What’s even more repugnant, however, is that Fava’s group didn’t stop with a mere paper in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. They went on to apply for, and obtain, U.S. patents on SPCD. (via Ben Goldacre)
  2. OpenMalaria (Google Code) — an open source C++ program for simulating malaria epidemiology and the impacts on that epidemiology of interventions against malaria. It is based on microsimulations of Plasmodium falciparum malaria in humans, originally developed for simulating malaria vaccines. (via Victoria Stodden)
  3. Pricing Experiments You Might Not Know But Can Learn From — compendium of ideas and experiments for pricing.
  4. Retrominer — mining Bitcoins on a NES. I’m delighted by the conceit, and noticing that Bitcoin is now sufficiently part of the zeitgeist as to feature in playful hacks.

January 09 2013

Four short links: 9 January 2013

  1. BitCoin in 2012, By The NumbersOver the past year Bitcoin’s value when compared to the US Dollar, and most other currencies, increased steadily, though there was a large spike and subsequent dip in August. Interestingly, the current market cap is actually at a peak for 2012, exceeding the spike in August. This can be attributed to the fact that tens of thousands of Bitcoins have been introduced into the economy since August, though now at the slower rate of 25 per block.
  2. Man-Computer Symbiosis (JCR Licklider) — In short, it seems worthwhile to avoid argument with (other) enthusiasts for artificial intelligence by conceding dominance in the distant future of cerebration to machines alone. There will nevertheless be a fairly long interim during which the main intellectual advances will be made by men and computers working together in intimate association. Fascinating to read this 1960 paper on AI and the software/hardware augmentation of human knowledge work (just as the term “knowledge worker” was coined). (via Jim Stogdill)
  3. Papyrus — simple online editor and publisher for ebooks.
  4. howdoi (github) — commandline tool to search stackoverflow and show the code that best matches your request. This is genius.

December 07 2012

Four short links: 7 December 2012

  1. AR Drone That Infects Other Drones With Virus Wins DroneGames (IEEE) — how awesome is a contest where a group who taught a drone to behave itself on the end of a leash, constantly taking pictures and performing facial recognition, posting the resulting images to Twitter in real-time didn’t win.
  2. BitCoin-Central Becomes Legit BankAfter all this patient work and lobbying we’re finally happy and proud to announce that becomes today the first Bitcoin exchange operating within the framework of European regulations. Covered by FDIC-equivalent, can have debit or credit cards connected to the BitCoin account, can even get your salary auto-deposited into your BitCoin account.
  3. The Antifragility of the Web (Kevin Marks) — By shielding people from the complexities of the web, by removing the fragility of links, we’re actually making things worse. We’re creating a fragility debt. Suddenly, something changes – money runs out, a pivot is declared, an aquihire happens, and the pent-up fragility is resolved in a Black Swan moment.
  4. xcharts (GitHub) — sweet charts in Javascript.

December 04 2012

Four short links: 4 December 2012

  1. James Burke at dConstruct — transcription of his talk. EPIC. I love this man and could listen to him all day long. (via Keith Bolland)
  2. Mechanism Design on Trust Networks (CiteSeerX) — academic paper behind the Ripple Bitcoin-esque open source peer-payment digital currency.
  3. What If Money Was No Object (YouTube) — about finding your way to stuff that matters, and worth it just for the last lines. (via Rowan Simpson)
  4. photobooth-js (GitHub) — BSD-licensed html5 widget that allows users to take their avatar pictures on your site.

October 08 2012

Four short links: 8 October 2012

  1. Beware the Drones (Washington Times) — the temptation to send difficult to detect, unmanned aircraft into foreign airspace with perceived impunity means policymakers will naturally incline towards aggressive use of drones and hyperactive interventionism, leading us to a future that is ultimately plagued by more, not less warfare and conflict. This. Also, what I haven’t seen commented on with the Israeli air force shooting down a (presumably Hezbollah) drone: low cost of drones vs high cost of maintaining an air force to intercept, means this is asymmetric unmanned warfare.
  2. Scanbooth (github) — a collection of software for running a 3D scanning booth. Greg Borenstein said to me, “we need tools to scan and modify before 3D printing can take off.” (via Jeremy Herrman)
  3. Bitcoin’s Value is Decentralization (Paul Bohm) — Bitcoin isn’t just a currency but an elegant universal solution to the Byzantine Generals’ Problem, one of the core problems of reaching consensus in Distributed Systems. Until recently it was thought to not be practically solvable at all, much less on a global scale. Irrespective of its currency aspects, many experts believe Bitcoin is brilliant in that it technically made possible what was previously thought impossible. (via Mike Loukides)
  4. Blue Collar Coder (Anil Dash) — I am proud of, and impressed by, Craigslist’s ability to serve hundreds of millions of users with a few dozen employees. But I want the next Craigslist to optimize for providing dozens of jobs in each of the towns it serves, and I want educators in those cities to prepare young people to step into those jobs. Time for a Massively Multiplayer Online Economy, as opposed to today’s fun economic games of Shave The Have-Nots and Race To The Oligarchy.

September 14 2012

Four short links: 14 September 2012

  1. Post Lingo — automatically transcribe incoming emails from foreign tongues. (via Brian McConnell)
  2. All Briefs Should Now Be in Comic Book Form — does wonders for mass audience acceptance of the arguments. (via Andy Lester)
  3. Magic Carpet Can Detect and Predict Falls (BBC) — Beneath the carpet is a mesh of optical fibres that detect and plot movement as pressure bends them, changing the light detected at the carpet’s edges. These deflected light patterns help electronics “learn” walking patterns and detect if they are deteriorating, for instance in the elderly. Neat use for fibre optics! (via Sara Winge)
  4. Travelling the Silk Road (PDF) — A measurement analysis of a large anonymous online marketplace [...] A relatively small “core” of about 60 sellers has been present throughout our measurement interval, while the majority of sellers leaves (or goes “underground”) within a couple of weeks of their first appearance. We evaluate the total revenue made by all sellers to approximately USD 1.9 million per month; this corresponds to about USD 143,000 per month in commissions perceived by the Silk Road operators. (via Robert O’Brien)

August 20 2012

Four short links: 20 August 2012

  1. Uncertain Rainbow — Chris McDowall’s artistic Twitter experiment. Just how important are people to your social software? Described in this blog post.
  2. 8 Weeks Until BitCoin Debit/Credit Card — with an option to hold the value in BitCoins until it’s used. (Is this the same as denominated in BitCoins?)
  3. LittleBlackBox (Google Code) — a collection of thousands of private SSL and SSH keys extracted from various embedded devices. These private keys are stored in a database where they are correlated with their public certificates as well as the hardware/firmware that are known to use those private keys. (via Pedram Amini)
  4. Internet Safety Talking Points — pro-Internet, pro-safety, pro-teaching, anti-isolationism. Very nice.

January 19 2012

Commerce Weekly: Slow in-app purchasers are worth the wait

Here are a few of the commerce-related items that caught my eye this week.

Report: Don't rush in-app purchases

Mighty Eagle from Angry BirdsIt's no surprise that app developers are betting on in-app purchases to generate revenue in the year ahead. Last summer, Flurry Analytics was already reporting that in-app purchases accounted for 65% of revenue in Apple's App Store and last week IHS Screen Digest said it expects to see the same trend across all platforms by 2015.

Now, developers want to know which users are most likely to make those purchases and who among them are most valuable. Localytics has dug a bit deeper to try to identify successful patterns in the freemium formula, and its findings are interesting and maybe slightly counterintuitive. Long-term engagement is more valuable over time, and it looks like those who engage too quickly are also less likely to stick around. In other words, it's better to let the hook sink in a bit. Localytics found that users who purchased quickly were less likely to stick with the app: of users who made a purchase on their first use of the app, only 16% go on to engage with the app 10 or more times — significantly lower than the 26% average. On average, users had the app at least 12 days before making a purchase, and 44% of all users who made an in-app purchase did so after interacting with the app at least 10 times.

When I think about mobile games, 12 days feels about right. Remember your second day on "Cut the Rope"? Still playing? It's fascinating to compare this to the durability of more complex games: "World of Warcraft" holds players for years, and some of us are known to every so often dust off games that are years older. (I'm looking at you, "Call of Duty II.")

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at

Bankers show interest in Bitcoin

BitcoinBitcoin is becoming increasingly mainstream — at least awareness of it, if not actual use. In addition to last fall's New Yorker profile that attempted to identify the real identity of Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, a recent episode of the CBS drama "The Good Wife" focused on a court case in which the U.S. government was suing to get one of the attorneys to give up the identity of Bitcoin's (fictitious) creator.

Bankers being who they are, all this attention has led them to wonder (as they do with all things), "How can we profit from this?" A recent article in American Banker attempts to help them through their thinking. After explaining that the digital currency "was conceived as a rebellion against the banking system," it then goes on to say "it may also present business opportunities for banks that can get comfortable with the risks." The article does a nice job of laying out the pros (offering exchange services, accepting deposits) and cons (limited growth of the currency by design, slow uptake so far among merchants and consumers).

PayPal expands Home Depot trial

PayPal is expanding its point-of-sale trial at Home Depot. Just a few weeks after announcing a trial at five stores near PayPal's home base in Silicon Valley, the experiment will scale out to 51 Home Depot stores: one in Atlanta, six in Omaha, and 44 in the San Francisco Bay Area. All are expected to be online by March.

Customers can tap their PayPal accounts for all their DIY needs in a couple ways: swipe a PayPal card (available online) or, if you don't have one, you can get a pin to accompany your mobile number and use that to draw funds from whatever source your PayPal account is linked to.

Anuj Nayar, PayPal's chief spokesperson, told American Banker that PayPal needed to ramp up quickly to build momentum — and to meet the company's predicted $7 billion in mobile transactions this year. Early in 2011, PayPal predicted it would move $1.5 billion through its mobile channels. It didn't have any trouble beating that number, eventually overseeing nearly $4 billion in transactions by the end of 2011.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


October 19 2011

Four short links: 19 October 2011

  1. OmniTouch: Wearable Interaction Everywhere -- compact projector + kinect equivalents in shoulder-mounted multitouch glory. (via Slashdot)
  2. Price of Bitcoin Still Dropping -- currency is a confidence game, and there's no confidence in Bitcoins since the massive Mt Gox exchange hack.
  3. vim Text Objects -- I'm an emacs user, so this is like reading Herodotus. "On the far side of the Nile is a tribe who eat their babies and give birth to zebras made of gold. They also define different semantics for motion and text objects."
  4. Hard Drive Shortage Predicted (Infoworld) -- flooding in Thailand has knocked out 25% of the world's hard drive manufacturing capacity. Interested to see the effects this has on cloud providers. (via Slashdot)

October 14 2011

Commerce Weekly: PayPal wants to "one click" across the web

Here's what caught my eye in the commerce space this week.

PayPal enters the single sign-on space

PayPal AccessAt its Innovate developer conference in San Francisco this week, eBay announced PayPal Access, a single sign-on technology that functions like OpenID, Facebook Connect, and other proxy identity mechanisms. But it comes with a twist: PayPal Access enables transactions.

As with other single sign-ons, PayPal holds the master record of the user's identity information, sharing only enough with the third-party sites to guarantee identity. If Facebook Connect makes it easier to share your web activity on your Facebook feed, the main benefits of PayPal Access appear to be simplicity (you don't have to re-enter credit card or even PayPal information at each site) and security (as with PayPal, you're not sharing any payment information with the merchant).

The ambition behind PayPal Access is sweeping: eBay wants to deliver a web-wide experience comparable to Amazon's one-click shopping. PayPal Access attempts to do this by integrating with browser functionality so that customers can see they're already signed on. A PayPal purchase can be made without leaving the site.

There are obviously huge challenges here for eBay. First among those is bringing a critical mass of merchants into the tent so that PayPal's 97 million active users can rely on Access as an acceptable payment choice. Second will be the inevitable spoofing that goes on under PayPal's name. How many emails from a "PayPal" source do you get in an average month? How many are really from PayPal? I would expect that never-ending struggle to continue at the browser level.

At the Innovate Conference, PayPal showed off some other neat stuff, too, including a Shopping Showcase that revealed how the company will use some of the technologies it's been acquiring this year. For example, using Where's technology, PayPal wants people to check into stores before they arrive, not after. This lets merchants show discounts or special offers. If it's a frequent destination — your regular coffee shop or grocery store, for example — the wallet will show the merchant your previous purchases or shopping list so they can offer discounts on those or related items.

Zong's direct-billing technology, which eBay bought this summer, will enable a service called Empty Hand. Don't have your wallet or your phone? Key in your mobile number and a pin on the retailer's point-of-sale console and you can access your PayPal account to complete the purchase.

PayPal is also planning to offer new financing options. Currently, you can link multiple payment sources to your PayPal account (for example, checking account, Visa card, and AmEx) or you can use PayPal's BillMeLater service. Soon, you'll be able to change your mind after the fact. Wish you'd put that dinner on your miles card? Log on the next morning and switch the source. You can even decide to change from a full purchase to a payment plan, freeing up more cash to ... buy more things with PayPal.

As noted above, one of the challenges PayPal/eBay faces is bringing more retailers into its system. Toward that end, PayPal is taking its Shopping Showcase on the road to show what's possible. Next stop: a pop-up store in TriBeCa that aims to stimulate interest among trendsetters and the retailers they buy from.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at

Tracking down Bitcoin's developer

BitcoinThis week's New Yorker magazine features a report by Joshua Davis on Bitcoin, the virtual currency launched in January 2009 by the pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto.

Bitcoin's program has distributed more than 7 million bitcoins through a lottery process. Value rises and falls with perceived demand, reaching a high around $29 last June, though it's down below $5 now.

For the New Yorker piece, Davis visited a Bitcoin mining operation tucked into a warehouse in Kentucky and a Howard Johnson's motel near Disneyland that accepts Bitcoin for payment. The hotel manager was excited to meet Davis because he was "... the first customer who's ever paid with Bitcoin."

The article traces Davis' attempts to uncover Nakamoto's real identity. Internet security expert Dan Kaminsky outlined some of the skills Nakamoto must have: "He's a world-class programmer, with a deep understanding of the C++ programming language ... He understands economics, cryptography, and peer-to-peer networking." Davis also noted that Nakamoto has impeccable English skills and tends to write in UK style rather than American style when in a hurry.

Davis narrowed the field of likely suspects and eventually settled on Michael Clear, a post-graduate student at Trinity College Dublin, who — at least in the New Yorker report — offered a non-denial denial.

After the story broke, Clear issued a much more unequivocal denial: "Although I am flattered that [the New Yorker] had reason to think I could be Satoshi, I am certainly the wrong person," he said. Whether he is or isn't, he has good reason to dispel the notion. As Davis noted, the U.S. government has a record of prosecuting people who create alternative currencies.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out PayPal DevZone on X.commerce, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


September 05 2011

Four short links: 5 September 2011

  1. Dan Kaminsky on Bitcoin (Slideshare) -- short version: banks are an emergent property as it scales.
  2. Unethical Ventures (All Things D) -- astonishing slam on the new venture fund that Michael Arrington (founder of TechCrunch) will be running while still writing for TechCrunch. This could have been a lot cleaner, of course, by Arrington simply resigning from TechCrunch, becoming a VC and perhaps starting a new blog where his agenda is much clearer, from which he could huff and puff away as he does with much entertaining gusto at real and (mostly) imagined slights. There is certainly precedent for VCs blogging, including Fred Wilson, Brad Feld and Ben Horowitz. And, despite my criticisms about ethics, it is clear that Arrington is a talented writer whose unique voice would be even stronger if it was truly seen as separate from what has become a news organization. But because of his obvious need to be the center of attention — requiring the ermine kingmaker mantle and foisting his patented I’m-here-to-tell-it-like-it-is attitude on us all — that appears to be impossible.
  3. An iOS Developer Takes on Android -- a very easy to follow comparison of the two platforms from a developer who worked on both and who is carefully not partisan. I hadn't realized before what an advantage OpenGL confers to the iOS devices. It's not just for 3D games any more (he says, catching up with 2008).
  4. Clever Algorithms -- book of 45 nature-inspired algorithms, code in Ruby.

July 25 2011

Four short links: 25 July 2011

  1. Anonymity in Bitcoin -- TL;DR: Bitcoin is not inherently anonymous. It may be possible to conduct transactions is such a way so as to obscure your identity, but, in many cases, users and their transactions can be identified. We have performed an analysis of anonymity in the Bitcoin system and published our results in a preprint on arXiv. (via Hacker News)
  2. 3D Printing + Algorithmic Generation -- clever designers use algorithms based on leaf vein generation to create patterns for lamps, which are then 3d-printed. (via Imran Ali)
  3. Manimal: Relational Optimization for Data-Intensive Programs (PDF) -- static code analysis to detect MapReduce program semantics and thereby enable wholly-automatic optimization of MapReduce programs. (via BigData)
  4. Screenfly -- preview your site in different devices' screen sizes and resolutions. (via Smashing Magazine)

June 17 2011

Four short links: 17 June 2011

  1. Don't Play Games With Me -- slides from an excellent talk about games and gamification. (via Andy Baio)
  2. All Your Bitcoins Are Ours (Symantec) -- a trojan in the wild that targets the wallet.dat file and transfers your bitcoins out. If you use Bitcoins, you have the option to encrypt your wallet and we recommend that you choose a strong password for this in the event that an attacker is attempting to brute-force your wallet open. (via Hacker News)
  3. FT Escapes the App Trap (Simon Phipps) -- Financial Times dropping their iOS app and moving to HTML5, to escape the App Store commissions. As Simon points out, they're also losing the sales channel benefits of the App Store. Facebook are doing similar. (via Tim O'Reilly)
  4. Artur Bergman on SSDs (video) -- a short sweary rant he gave at Velocity, laying out the numbers for why you're an idiot not to use SSDs.

June 07 2011

Four short links: 7 June 2011

  1. OMG Text -- a plugin for CSS framework Compass for directional text shadows. (via David Kaneda)
  2. Build a Cheap Bitcoin Mine -- some day it will be revealed that the act of generating a bitcoin token is helping the Russian mafia to crack nuclear missile launch codes and Afghan druglords built the Bitcoin system to destabilize the US dollar.
  3. Polycode -- a free, open-source, cross-platform framework for creative code. You can use it as a C++ API or as a standalone scripting language to get easy and simple access to accelerated 2D and 3D graphics, hardware shaders, sound and network programming, physics engines and more. The core Polycode API is written in C++ and can be used to create portable native applications. Lua interfaces. (via Joshua Schachter)
  4. Flickr Date Design -- interesting thoughts on Flickr's date design. The date your photos was taken is stored in a MySQL datetime technically giving you the ability to label your photo as being taken solidly 800+ years before anything most of us would describe as the invention of photography. Which is a little silly.[...]Fundamentally this split between system activity time, and human editable creation date models a world where the people who use your software do something other then use your software. You have to decide how you feel about admitting that possibility. (via Nelson Minar)

June 03 2011

Four short links: 3 June 2011

  1. Silk Road (Gawker) -- Tor-delivered "web" site that is like an eBay for drugs, currency is Bitcoins. Jeff Garzik, a member of the Bitcoin core development team, says in an email that bitcoin is not as anonymous as the denizens of Silk Road would like to believe. He explains that because all Bitcoin transactions are recorded in a public log, though the identities of all the parties are anonymous, law enforcement could use sophisticated network analysis techniques to parse the transaction flow and track down individual Bitcoin users. "Attempting major illicit transactions with bitcoin, given existing statistical analysis techniques deployed in the field by law enforcement, is pretty damned dumb," he says. The site is viewable here, and here's a discussion of delivering hidden web sites with Tor. (via Nelson Minar)
  2. Dr Waller -- a big game using DC Comics characters where players end up crowdsourcing science on GalaxyZoo. A nice variant on the captcha/ESP-style game that Luis von Ahn is known for. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Machine Learning Demos -- hypnotically beautiful. Code for download.
  4. Esper -- stream event processing engine, GPLv2-licensed Java. (via Stream Event Processing with Esper and Edd Dumbill)

Reposted bydatenwolf datenwolf

May 20 2011

Four short links: 20 May 2011

  1. BitCoin Watch -- news and market analysis for this artificial currency. (If you're outside the BitCoin world wondering wtf the fuss is all about try We Use Coins for a gentle primer and then Is BitCoin a Good Idea? for the case against) (via Andy Baio)
  2. Time Capsule -- send your Flickr photos from a year ago. I love that technology helps us connect not just with other people right now, but with ourselves in the future. Compare TwitShift and Foursquare and Seven Years Ago. (via Really Interesting Group)
  3. HTTP Archive Mobile -- mobile performance data. The top 100 web pages average out at 271kb vs 401kb for their desktop incarnations, which still seems unjustifiably high to me.
  4. Skype at Conferences -- The two editors of the book were due to lead the session but were at the wrong ends of a skype three way video conference which stuttered into a dalekian half life without really quite making the breakthrough into comprehensibility. After various attempts to rewire, reconfigure and reboot, we gave up and had what turned into a good conversation among the dozen people round the table in London. Conference organizers, take note: Skype at conferences is a recipe for fail.

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