'Banking is exciting work!'

May 13th, 2014

I'm thinking that Re-Thinking the Game of Monopoly makes it rather less of a fun game for all the family. Which is the point, I suppose:

While it's true our culture proclaims the rich as our greatest heroes, the method of financial gain in Monopoly is not a system that allows for any creativity. Roll the dice, buy a property, pay rent, pass go, and collect $200. Repeat.

Simple models have long been used to help understand complex ideas. With a few small changes Monopoly can be a space where we can play at being in control of the economic system. All it takes is a few new rules.

Rule Change #1: The Banker

In the original rules the role of the banker is simply a chore–the board game equivalent of taking out the trash. But in real life the banker is no passive entity. The banker is the center of the universe. […]

[Via Waxy.org Links]

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Why The Sharing Economy Isn't

August 31st, 2013

Tom Slee is unimpressed by an attempt to hijack the 'sharing economy' for the benefit of venture capitalists:

So a couple of months ago Douglas Atkin, head of Community and E-staff Member at AirBnB, took to the stage of the Le Web conference in London (video) to announce the formation of Peers: "a grassroots organization that supports the sharing economy movement." I like grassroots organizations and I like the co-operative impulse, but this… Well here is his speech (in quotation marks) in its entirety with comments from yours truly.


Now why should you do this? Well it's the right thing to do. We literally stand on the brink of a new, better kind of economic system, that delivers social as well as economic benefits. In fact, social and economic benefits that the old economy promised but failed to deliver. As Julia, an AirBnB host, told me just last night, "the sharing economy saved my arse".

The sharing economy is not an alternative to capitalism, it's the ultimate end point of capitalism in which we are all reduced to temporary labourers and expected to smile about it because we are interested in the experience not the money. Jobs become "extra money" just like women's jobs used to be "extra money", and like those jobs they don't come with things like insurance protection, job security, benefits – none of that old economy stuff. But hey, you're not an employee, you're a micro-entrepreneur. And you're not doing it for the money, you're doing it for the experience. We just assume you're making a living some other way.


Well worth reading in full.

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Numbers don't lie

July 7th, 2013

Statistic of the day:

Parachuting for charity: is it worth the money? A 5-year audit of parachute injuries in Tayside and the cost to the NHS.

Authors Lee CT, et al.

Injury. 1999 May;30(4):283-7.

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Perth Royal Infirmary, Scotland, UK.


All parachute injuries from two local parachute centres over a 5-year period were analysed. Of 174 patients with injuries of varying severity, 94% were first-time charity-parachutists. The injury rate in charity-parachutists was 11% at an average cost of 3751 Pounds per casualty. Sixty-three percent of casualties who were charity-parachutists required hospital admission, representing a serious injury rate of 7%, at an average cost of 5781 Pounds per patient. The amount raised per person for charity was 30 Pounds. Each pound raised for charity cost the NHS 13.75 Pounds in return. Parachuting for charity costs more money than it raises, carries a high risk of serious personal injury and places a significant burden on health resources.

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

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The Problem of the Amanda Palmer Problem

April 29th, 2013

Nitsu Abebe has written a thoughtful piece on The Amanda Palmer Problem. By which he means not so much the various issues some people have with Palmer's own actions1 but the wider problem of how artists seeking support from fans can bring down such vitriol upon themselves online:

I think there's a lesson to be learned from Palmer, and it's not the falling-into-the-crowd lesson she offers. Yes, she's correct: The web offers an opportunity to fall into the open arms of fans, in ways that weren't available before. Here's the catch: The web also makes it near-impossible to fall into the arms of just one's fans. Each time you dive into the crowd, some portion of the audience before you consists of observers with no interest in catching you. And you are still asking them to, because another thing the web has done is erode the ability to put something into the world that is directed only at interested parties.

This sort of furore is only going to get bigger and noisier as the example of the The Veronica Mars Movie Project is followed by the likes of Zach Braff and more and more recognisable names show up on the front page of Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

[Via Waxy.org links]

  1. i.e. using Kickstarter to raise more than US$1 million to fund an album, then inviting fans to donate their services as musicians on her tour. Then defending herself against criticism of both moves in part by emphasising that fans being given the chance to play with her were gaining non-monetary benefits from the exchange, i.e. the chance to accompany their idol.

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Friendly credit

February 17th, 2013

The Economist reports on how some lenders are starting to take a long, hard look at your presence on social networks before deciding whether to lend you money:

Grabbing whatever data you can makes obvious sense in emerging markets where credit bureaus are underdeveloped. But it works in the rich world, too, where younger people and immigrants often have no credit histories. Bureaus themselves are now using everything from court records and rent payments to utility and phone bills. And a range of start-ups are also busily exploring alternative data.

Some firms piece together scores by analysing applicants' online social networks. Professional contacts on LinkedIn are especially revealing of an applicant's "character and capacity" to repay, says Navin Bathija, the founder of Neo, a start-up that assesses the creditworthiness of car-loan applicants. Neo's software helps determine if applicants' claimed jobs are real by looking, with permission, at the number and nature of LinkedIn connections to co-workers. It also estimates how quickly laid-off employees will land a new job by rating their contacts at other employers.

As statistics accumulate, algorithms get better at spotting correlations in the data. Applicants who type only in lower-case letters, or entirely in upper case, are less likely to repay loans, other factors being equal, says Douglas Merrill, founder of ZestFinance, an American online lender whose default rate is roughly 40% lower than that of a typical payday lender. Neo's efforts to improve accuracy include recording borrowers' Facebook data: Mr Bathija reckons that within a year there will be enough evidence to determine if making racist comments on Facebook is correlated with a lack of creditworthiness.


The article goes on to note that (for the time being) the established high street banks are watching these developments from the sidelines. Wary of the potential for bad publicity over invading customers' privacy, or just waiting to see evidence that this approach actually produces useful results for the various startups trialling this approach?

For once, this isn't a social media/invasion of privacy story in which the likes of Facebook are the bad guys: given that these startups are 'seeking permission' from the applicant, it's akin to those odd occasions where a potential employer wants to access an applicant's social networking activities in order to see if their life away from work includes anything that might embarrass the company. Reprehensible and dumb, but not something in which Facebook are complicit.

In other words, it probably won't take off on a large scale, but it'll as sure as hell prove rough for unlucky applicants who made the mistake of having Friended the odd acquaintance from school or college or a past job who has fallen on hard times.

[Via Rough Type]

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Designing the mobile (phone) wallet

May 24th, 2012

Designing the mobile wallet – A case study. Slide 59 is a particular delight, but this entire presentation by Tim Caynes is worth a look.

[Via currybetdotnet]

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Me too

April 16th, 2012

I Want a Tank.

[Via Barry Freed, commenting at Blood & Treasure]

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Kickstarting Democracy

March 26th, 2012

Kickstarter: Shared Access to David Cameron by RevDanCatt

Donations are normally made to the Tory Treasurer, unfortunately the current one has just recently left to spend more time with his family. When a new treasurer is found and the dust has settled I will make a donation for the full amount raised (the more we raise over the target the more time we get to spend with the PM) to sit with David Cameron for a full hour to put forward your stories, opinions and lobbying.




I know a lot of people have a simple shared phrase they'd like to say to David Cameron. In the very last 10 second slot I will, to the best of my abilities personally issue this phrase to David Cameron's face.

Estimated Delivery: May 2012

[Via iamcal]

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Hero and villain

October 26th, 2011

Assange versus Zuckerberg.

[Via Ghost in the Machine]

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The phrase "Render unto Caesar…" comes to mind

September 22nd, 2010

Boris Johnson on meeting the Pope:

There we were on the tarmac at Heathrow as the papal jet prepared to land. The cameras were trained on the night sky. The red carpet was rolled out. The charming Foreign Office people tried for the umpteenth time to remind me where to stand – and all the while my mind was whirring with a single question. It is a problem that goes to the heart of the relationship between church and state. It is a question that will be studied by future generations of students of theology and patristics, because the answer we give – and the answer you give, off the top of your head – is an indication of the balance currently existing between the privileges of spiritual leaders and the egalitarian demands of our temporal world.

Never mind abortion or paedophile priests. As Pope Force One taxied towards us, there was one issue still revolving in my mind at the speed of a Rolls-Royce fan jet. Should the Popemobile be liable for the congestion charge and, if not, why not? Should the Holy Father have to pay £8 to drive through Westminster, like everyone else? Or should that fee be waived, in recognition of his status as the vicar of Christ on Earth? It is a tough one, and I am sure there will be clear-sighted readers of this paper who will take opposite views; and it is that very division of instinct that is so revealing about the psychology of this country. […] 1

[Via The Browser]

  1. The answer, for anyone who doesn't want to follow the link, is that the charge only applies to "normal" road use: if the road is closed off so the Pontiff can wave to a sea of admirers then that's not "normal" road use and would attract no congestion charge. How much time the Pope's driver spent in traffic is another question entirely. Not very much, I'd guess.

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"Through a million decentralized decisions the power of a perfect metric will create a perfect meritocracy."

July 23rd, 2010

Welcome to the Slacktivist's Meritocratic Utopia:

I'm proud to report that our team at the Worthiness Bureau has completed the first step toward a more just world. Meritocratic utopia is now just around the corner. We have devised a new, perfect, authoritative metric for human worth: the Human Worthiness Algorithm.

Our formula is, of course, proprietary and thus must be kept as a closely guarded secret. But trust me, we've factored in everything and just because no one else is allowed to know the process doesn't mean anyone should be second-guessing the precision and objective, scientific accuracy of the HWA.

Every human being on earth, every so-called individual, can now be assigned a simple number — their HW score — from .001 to 1.000. (The formula originally assigned scores in whole numbers from 1 to 1,000, but we reconfigured this because, as you know, scores with lots of digits after a decimal point are always much more accurate.) […]

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Blip off

April 25th, 2010

Last December I posted the following description of Blippy, a new social networking site:

Blippy is a fun and easy way to see and discuss the things people are buying.

Automatically share your favorite purchases from iTunes, Amazon, Zappos, Visa, MasterCard, and more.

In the light of this week's news they should probably amend that to:

Blippy is a fun and easy way to see and discuss the things people are buying.

Automatically share your favorite purchases from iTunes, Amazon, Zappos, Visa, MasterCard, and your credit card details.

The word 'Oops!' doesn't really cut it.

[Via MetaFilter]

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April 6th, 2010

Feeling lucky?

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The BBC-O-Gram

March 1st, 2010

The BBC-O-Gram is pretty and quite informative, but would be much improved if it didn't mix income and expenditure indiscriminately.

If the same chart must be used to show both, it would be better to organise the data around an1 axis, with income stacked up on one side of the axis and expenditure on the other. As it stands, including income and expenditure in the same chart with only colour coding the separate the two categories serves only to inflate the size of the chart to the tune of rather more that a billion pounds, making it that much harder to grasp the proportion of overall expenditure devoted to any single major area.

  1. Vertical? Horizontal? It doesn't matter, so long as you pick one and stick with it.

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February 12th, 2010

Ross Anderson et al: Chip and PIN is Broken.

The UK Cards Association: "Our research suggests that criminal interest in chip-based attacks is minimal at this time as they are unable to find ways to make sufficient amounts of money from any of the plausible attack scenarios." (Emphasis added.)

[Via Memex 1.1]

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Insecure verification

February 1st, 2010

Ross Anderson on how the banks and credit card companies have pulled a fast one by pushing customers to use the 3D Secure system to 'protect' their online purchases:

Online transactions with credit cards or debit cards are increasingly verified using the 3D Secure system, which is branded as "Verified by VISA" and "MasterCard SecureCode". This is now the most widely-used single sign-on scheme ever, with over 200 million cardholders registered. It's getting hard to shop online without being forced to use it. In a paper I'm presenting today at Financial Cryptography, Steven Murdoch and I analyse 3D Secure. From the engineering point of view, it does just about everything wrong, and it's becoming a fat target for phishing. So why did it succeed in the marketplace? […]

Surprisingly enough, it's got very little to do with security and a great deal to do with shifting liability for losses onto customers.

[Via Bruce Schneier]

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At last, a social networking site that cuts to the chase

December 14th, 2009

Blippy demonstrates that for some people, we really are what we buy:

Blippy is a fun and easy way to see and discuss the things people are buying.

Automatically share your favorite purchases from iTunes, Amazon, Zappos, Visa, MasterCard, and more.

Just so we're all clear about this, the idea isn't just that Blippy will post details of what users have bought: it'll display where they bought it and how much they paid for it.

Please, $DEITY, let this be a satire on social networking.

[Via MetaFilter]

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This never happened to Billy Ray Valentine

December 2nd, 2009

If this story of a futures trade gone awry isn't true, it damn well should be:

As the senior trader at ̠xecor, Brad made it very clear that no one Р"not even His Holiness, the Pope" Рshall question his trades. After all, Brad makes complex trading decisions that no one else could possibly comprehend. Sometimes he buys high and sells low. Sometimes he holds in a decline. Sometimes he refuses to sell at any price. Brad works in mysterious ways, and if he said "do it", then it better get done.

Just this once, it might have been better if it hadn't got done.

Fun as it is to poke fun at a Master of the Universe when he comes a cropper, this particular foul-up isn't really down to Brad at all. It's a reminder of the importance of the Robustness Principle, as expressed by the late Jon Postel in RFC 793: "Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others."

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If only they'd use their powers for good

October 6th, 2009

Perhaps it would be best if we just shut down all online banking systems now:

New malware being used by cybercrooks does more than let hackers loot a bank account; it hides evidence of a victim's dwindling balance by rewriting online bank statements on the fly, according to a new report.

The sophisticated hack uses a Trojan horse program installed on the victim's machine that alters html coding before it's displayed in the user's browser, to either erase evidence of a money transfer transaction entirely from a bank statement, or alter the amount of money transfers and balances. […]

Alternatively, and more realistically, banks need to start routinely requiring confirmation of transactions via some means not involving the user's web browser: ringing the user on a preset phone number to confirm that they authorised any transaction to a new recipient, or any transaction over a certain value.

[Via Bruce Schneier]

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Putting it all into perspective

August 20th, 2009

A billion here, a billion there … pretty soon you're talking real money.

[Via Word Magazine newsletter #76]

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