Whatever comes to mind, and then the interesting directions that thought will take you on the web.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Does Square need the Square Device

Square is a neat way of capturing a credit card transaction on your iPhone. You just plug the device into the audio jack on the iPhone, then swipe the credit card.

Today I signed up for Uber, and in the process, I was able to enter my credit card details by pointing the iPhone camera at the credit card.


That got me thinking - is the Square device even needed? Seems a lot more convenient to just use the camera.

Maybe this would cause problems with a subset of the people whose credit cards you are charging. The swipe seems "official", whereas taking a picture of the card seems scary and insecure?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

No Original Thoughts

Over the weekend I started playing a game in Spotify.

The idea is to start with an artist, and get to another artist through Spotify's "Related Artists" concept. A little like 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

It's fun, and you can add to the interest by playing a track as you pass by each artist.

As an example, to get from Green Day to Elton John, follow this route.

Green Day
The Damned
The Undertones
Roxy Music
David Bowie
Cat Stevens
Elton John

I also play that you can't use the Beatles, as they're probably at the root of a lot of bands.

I wondered if anybody else had come up with this game, and found a similar idea here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Voice Mail Purgatory

My iPhone 4 power switch broke recently. Apple very generously replaced the iPhone even when it was a few days out of warranty.

The restore from backup worked great. I hadn't encrypted the backup, so I had to re-enter passwords - a minor inconvenience.

Unfortunately, I was continually alerted to needing to enter my voicemail password. I tried the usual suspects for the password, but none of them worked.

I accessed the self-service for so-called Premier business customer, and there was a very useful looking menu item: "Reset Voicemail Password"

Unfortunately, there was the not-so-useful message to call a number.

Being the long weekend, I had to endure this extremely annoying popup for 3 days before I could call.

So, I called the number, and the voice system gave me the following options:
  1. Activate Wireless Service
  2. Assistance with an Existing Order
  3. Assistance with using Premier Website
  4. Billing Questions
  5. Financial Liability Transfer
  6. Repeat these options - press or say 9
Nothing about Voice Mail, and I couldn't even hit zero to speak to a person

So I took my chances and pressed "2", gave my phone number, and spoke to somebody who said that was "Business Support" or something, said to call 800-331-0500, and transferred me to that number.

After a few minute, spoke to somebody. Gave my phone number, name, employer, last 4 of IMEI number. Then miraculously, I could go to the Voice Mail tab in the Phone App on the iPhone, and choose a password. Heaven - no more alerts popping up.

Then the support person said "Do you want me to send you information on how to use the Self Service website?"

"But I know how to use the self service website" I replied - It tells you to call the (wrong) number"

Hence followed a circular discussion - I couldn't make her understand that the self service web site was deficient, and that was why I was calling the number - not that I didn't understand how to use the Self Service Website.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I've been a long time user of kayak to do flight comparisons.

However, I recently started using hipmunk. I remember hearing about it on This Week in Startups and Founders Stories.

It works great. There is something about the UI/User Experience that is beautiful and calming.

The concept of scoring based on agony (combination of price, duration and number of stops) is awesome, as is the automatic hiding of "worse" flights.

It's close to the experience of asking a personal assistant to book a flight, and having them make smart decisions on your behalf.

I remember thinking about how business travel should work:
Tell the system where you need to be and when (eg actual meeting locations), and have the system optimize flights, taxis, trains, hotels, buses, rental cars, visas
This should be the next step for Hipmunk

Thursday, April 07, 2011


I've written about previously.

I'm really excited that after nearly 3 and a half years of using Prosper, I am near to making a positive return! That's right, I am now only $100 down, but I am trending to positive returns! There are so many charge-offs, that so far, all the interest I've made - $1,024.89 has been reversed by the charge-offs $1,125.76. If Prosper ever holds another debt sale, I might be positive sooner than I think.

It got me thinking - it's tough to make money lending to consumers. No wonder credit cards have to charge exorbitant fees and charges.

One strategy that I've been following is to monitor loans that become overdue. Then, immediately that they become Current, list in the Notes Trading section, with a tempting 1% discount.

Luckily (and purposefully??), Prosper allows you to see what happened to the Notes that you sold:
43714-89.20%A700-719 Current3629$32.33$32.008.99%1.0% discFixed PriceSold
39019-20211.00%AA800-819 Late (61-90d)
In collections
3622$16.40$16.2011.17%1.2% discFixed PriceSold
44162-2758.25%AA740-759 Late (31-60d)
In collections
3633$37.30$36.907.98%1.1% discFixed PriceSold
40755-2712.04%A740-759 Late (61-90d)
In collections
3627$20.17$19.9012.15%1.3% discFixed PriceSold
40755-5512.04%A740-759 Late (61-90d)
In collections
3627$20.17$19.9511.91%1.1% discFixed PriceSold

So, from this evidence, being late once is a good indicator of being late again! It would be good to test this with more data.

Anyway, the process of trying to do this is a drag. It means logging in to Prosper regularly, bookmarking new delinquent loans, and checking on the status of previously bookmarked delinquent loans.

I was beginning to think about scripting in Selenium, then I suddenly thought to myself - Prosper should have an API.

I was thinking of the email I would send to the "Contact Us" link, and I was imagining the response "Thank you for your great idea. We'll discuss within the team", or some such platitude.

I went to the Prosper Blog, and noticed an Academics Tab, and lo and behold, a link to the developer tools and data mining resources page. And on the Developer Tools and Data Mining Resource page, a link to the docs for the API's. I felt like crying - they had done the right thing.

Now, to try using them. Maybe I'll still be crying, but for the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


I enjoyed listening to the Jason Calacanis interview with Blair Harrison of Frequency on This Week in Startups.

Frequency is a very good idea and product. For me, the key feature is "Auto Scan", which Frequency describes as:

Auto Scan mode is the same as "Autoscan" on a car stereo.

In this mode, Frequency will play you a 15 second excerpt of each video in the feed you're tuned to before automatically advancing to the next clip. It's the fastest, simplest way to quickly watch a series of videos to find one you want to watch in its entirety, without having to click around endlessly.

However, it was not quite working as I expected.

For example, I searched for my current favorite thing - "khan academy". This is the page I got back:
Unfortunately, the Topics are not related to the Khan Academy. Some of the clips are, and it would be nice to have Auto Scan on the clips in the search results.

Interestingly, when I clicked on the PBS clip about the khan academy, I got this page:

This page does have a khan academy Topic, and I can then do Auto Scan, but it would be good to see the topic directly on the Search Page. (either that, or my mental model of how Frequency works is missing something)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Unreinforced Masonry Buildings in Earthquakes

Looking at pictures from the Christchurch Earthquake, I was struck by the number of brick buildings.

Searching on the internet, I found this interesting article, written after the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake:

Some of New Zealand’s older buildings need to be knocked down before another quake does it for us, says Euan Smith Professor of Geophysics at Victoria University’s Institute of Geophysics - and more so because a bigger jolt could be on the way (keep reading).

Professor Smith said the country needed to learn several lessons from the Saturday’s earthquake in Christchurch.

The first lesson, for local authorities and policy makers, concerns what happened to the unreinforced masonry (URM) structures in this earthquake, Professor Smith told the Science Media Centre.