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Opera: Phantom of the TurnaroundHindenburg Research

Screenshot of one of Opera's predatory loan apps from the Google Play store

If you still have the Opera web browser installed anywhere, now might be the time to stop.

With its browser business in decline, cash flow deteriorating (and balance sheet cash finding its way into management’s hands…), Opera has decided to embark on a dramatic business pivot: predatory short-term lending in Africa and Asia.

The article goes on to outline evidence of some seriously dodgy practices. What a sad end to the Opera story.

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Balwearie High School opening (BBC archive)

This video is apparently footage from a 1964 BBC interview from the opening of my old high school, Balwearie in Kirkcaldy. It’s fascinating to see how much of it looked exactly the same when I went to school between 1998 and 2004 — and how much of it was totally different.

For example, it is a revelation to see what the roof was originally like. The attractive and useful rooftop garden and astronomical equipment was gone, replaced with a plain felt roof with a haphazard walkway of paving slabs.

The school was also about twice as big by the time I went there. No-one confused it for a luxury hotel. But then again, that’s what 30 years will do to a building.

I wonder what it’s like now, 20 more years on.

Via Rich Gordon

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New sim swap hacks highlight carriers’ wobbly securityMartha DegrasseLight Reading

Diagram demonstrating how the attack works

Researchers at Princeton University called three of the four major [US] carriers and tried to convince customer service representatives to move phone numbers to new sim cards. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile each received ten calls from the researchers, who posed as customers.

Astoundingly, in all 30 cases the fake customers successfully convinced the carriers to move the numbers to new sim cards.

This matters because so many other services (such as banking systems) rely on SMS for authentication. If you only need to convince one customer service representative to swap a phone number, you could potentially have access to… almost anything.

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Things Fall ApartMark O’Neill

This articulates something I’ve been pondering for a while. Is the current political climate the result of a gradual erosion of the unwritten rules of civil society?

It turns out that the Civil Society in Britain is built on very shaky foundations. In the past few months we have seen the illegal suspension of Parliament, an act that carried no consequences whatsoever; we have seen Civil Servants bullied out of their jobs by politicians who were then rewarded for their harassment by promotion and increased status; we have seen the government spend £100s of millions on trying to deny the consequences of its own policy on Brexit and, in doing so, do possibly irreparable damage to the global reputation of the UK.

The post also makes an interesting point about how the BBC covers the UK in a way that assumes it is a stable democracy, and turns a blind eye to developments that would see other countries being scrutinised heavily.

Leaders in the past were guided by a strong sense of right and wrong — doing what’s right in the name of stability. Those days are now gone.

Via Strategic Reading

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Vortrack [Fracture Remix]Squarepusher

Vortrack cover

This tune has disturbed me.

Since I heard it, a distressing sentence has floated around in my head:

“This is the best Squarepusher track in 14 years.”

14 years. Count it up.

I think I was 15 years old when I first discovered Squarepusher. To the young Squarepusher fan I was, it’s been almost a lifetime since he has released music like this.

I was a big fan of 2003’s Ultravisitor, where Squarepusher created an otherworldly environment somewhere between stadium prog-rock concert and IDM basement. It was genre-defying — a unique sound. But it felt perfect. It was a brilliant, successful album.

But it seemed to send Squarepusher down a strange rabbit hole, tenuously exploring the boundaries between live and studio-based music with ever-diminishing returns.

Time to change direction then. An email I received from Warp Records in November said:

‘Be Up A Hello’ sees Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) return to using a bewildering array of vintage analogue and digital hardware, the same equipment that first helped him develop his sound in the early ’90s.

By the way, the 14-year-old tune I’m referring to is Planetarium:

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Week ending 2 January 2020James MastertonChart Watch UK

How Amazon appear to have had undue influence on the music charts. River by Ellie Goulding is this week’s number one, seemingly because Amazon have added it to their Christmas music playlists. So whenever anyone asked their new Alexa to play Christmas music, this new single got played — propelling it to number one.

This article also contains some interesting details about the pros and cons of different ways of compiling music charts in the streaming era.

If the voices of those clamouring for the charts to discriminate between “lean in” and “lean back” streams — i.e. those which the user has actively chosen to hear rather than simply being served up in a playlist — grow ever louder in the new year, then River will be held up as a shining example of why that needs to happen.

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The complex task of simplicityPaul Taylor

Sainsbury's Basics food packaging - washing powder, flower, canned tomatoes

It is human nature to add things, making them more complex. This feels like you’re doing something, but actually you’re probably making the situation worse.

We see this in web design. People like adding pages to their websites because it feels productive. But actually, the most effective websites are the ones with fewer, simpler pages.

The same can be true for any design, including the way we structure our work.

We often anchor around the wrong thing. That’s why some big institutions have no chance — they are hit by random plans and transformations rather than anchoring around purpose and iteration.

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It is easy to despair. But I say let’s foster hope insteadJo SwinsonLiberal Democrats

Jo Swinson

I found this a difficult election result to digest. Never would I have expected the Liberal Democrats to get fewer than 20 MPs, never mind with one fewer MP than at the last election.

Given that they increased their share of the vote, there is clearly a strategy problem at play. (My previous post suggests some serious organisational problems as well.) Uniquely, they increased their share of the vote in every region of the UK.

But it’s also difficult to escape the conclusion that voters are simply not interested in (or convinced by) liberal ideas at the moment.

It would be arrogant to assume that the voters are wrong. Yet, Jo Swinson was right to boldly stand up for liberal ideas of openness, tolerance and bringing communities together.

She is also right to highlight that Labour are every bit as dangerous as the other nationalist parties — the Conservatives and the SNP. Those parties are all dealing in the politics of easy answers — blaming others, and seeking to divide rather than unite people.

There’s a big challenge ahead. The ideas are not wrong, and we must fight for them. But liberals must figure out how to sell this story more convincingly.

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Photo — 2019-12-13

Jo Swinson's signature with a PS: "Remember, every single penny you donate will be doubled by a generous donor. Please donate today and help us paint Britain gold on the 12th December."

Today I’ve received a timely letter from the former leader of the Liberal Democrats. To give you a flavour, here’s the end of it.

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F1 teams unanimously vote not to use Pirelli’s new 2020 tyresKeith CollantineRaceFans

Drivers had expressed doubts over the new constructions after testing the during the first practice session for the United States Grand Prix in November. They were given the chance to test the new compounds alongside the 2019 rubber at Yas Marina last week.

However that failed to ease concerns over the 2020 tyres. Following the test Romain Grosjean said the new tyres were not a clear improvement over the ones used this year.

How many more stories like this do there need to be before people start concluding that Pirelli simply aren’t up to the job of supplying tyres to Formula 1?

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Mercedes exit may hand Hamilton a Ferrari flingAdam Hay-NichollsMetro

Britta Seeger and Lewis Hamilton on the podium at Abu Dhabi

What might lead Lewis Hamilton to drive to Ferrari, and the pros and cons of doing so.

If Mercedes pull out of Formula 1 next year, moving to Ferrari would possibly be his only chance of surpassing Michael Schumacher as the most successful F1 driver of all time. But could he really bring himself to break his equally incredible record of racing with Mercedes power throughout his entire career?

Every race he has ever run has been with a three-pointed star on the car’s nose, which shows incredible loyalty. And he is very conscious of his future earnings.

He wants to continue bringing in eight figures a year. If he retires in a Mercedes he will be an ambassador for life, a lucrative deal I call ‘Fangio Plus’.

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Why xHamster is so much better at content moderation than FacebookLux AlptraumOneZero

A clue on how social media can be better regulated, by looking at the porn industry.

Before anything can be posted to an adult site, it must be rigorously screened to make sure it’s not opening the site up to legal liability…

“Because we’re very aggressive in our patrol of content, the criminals know not to use us.”

It suggests that major social media services can have an active moderation policy and still “survive — even thrive”.

…given some of the horrors that the existing version of Facebook has unleashed, it’s worth considering whether a version of the site that had focused more on moderation and less on rapid growth might have been better for us all.

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Why Formula 1 is finished for meClive JamesThe Guardian

This article was written in the immediate aftermath of the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, which was ruined by the most flagrant and offensive display of team orders in history. Rubens Barrichello, having had the upper-hand over Michael Schumacher for the entire weekend, ceded the victory to his team-mate literally at the finish line.

As you would expect from Clive James, this is a brilliant piece of writing. He really got to the appeal of motorsport like few could.

But seeing this article float through my Twitter timeline in the aftermath of Clive James’s death this week, it’s got me thinking.

Did Clive James stay true to his word? Did he never watch an F1 race again? I’m not aware of any contributions of his, beyond this moment. Am I wrong?

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Types of design focusBen Holliday

Useful definitions outlining the differences between user-centred design, person-centred design and human-centred design.

If user-centred design is more functional in terms of understanding and meeting needs. Person-centred design is more holistic. This means that it’s more focussed on emotional needs and goals. Human-centred design is then about thinking beyond individual needs and more towards the collective needs of a system, place, or community.

See also: When individual experience isn’t enough — what shared spaces teach us about the challenge and opportunity for user experience

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Juan Manuel Correa talks: ‘I feel that I have to return not only for myself but also for Anthoine’F1 Feeder Series

The first in-depth interview with Juan Manuel Correa since his tragic accident at Spa-Francorchamps. It’s an emotional read.

It’s strange that I didn’t lose consciousness in the crash, it was an impact of 70 g, when I told doctors that I hadn’t lost consciousness they didn’t believe me. Before I crashed I put my muscles hard and I held on tight, that helped me too. I wanted to get out of the car myself, I was conscious throughout the whole accident.

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Love Without SoundWhite Noise

An Electric Storm cover

It’s Delia Derbyshire Day, which this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of An Electric Storm by White Noise.

Delia Derbyshire may be best known for her part in the realisation of the Doctor Who theme tune — and her wider work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. But her involvement with the White Noise project saw her dabbling with a futuristic vision of pop music.

It was both way ahead of its time, and also resolutely of its time. Synthesisers weren’t yet affordable, so these boundary-pushing sounds were made with complex tape manipulation and other engineering techniques. I think this is among her best work.

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In storytelling and service design, easy is boringDaniele CatalanottoEnigma

Illustration of a rollercoaster

Why it may not always be right to design as smooth a journey as possible.

This idea seems counter-intuitive at first, but makes perfect sense on further reflection.

…people who had an issue with a service that was later resolved gave a better rating to it than people who didn’t have any.

It reminds me of a story (which I now cannot find) about someone who annually camped out for nights on end to get tickets for a particular event. One year, this person’s dedication was rewarded with free tickets. This gift offended the person. They derived their utility from the effort they were putting in (or perhaps in showing that effort to other people). The value was in the struggle.

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Labour’s broadband plan won’t work — but let’s have a national debate to find a plan that doesBryan GlickComputer Weekly Editor’s Blog

A balanced piece that considers the pros and cons of Labour’s proposal to nationalise Openreach and promise free broadband for all.

What’s notable is that the only reason we’ve reached this stage is because of the utter failure of BT to do this job properly (particularly in rural areas). It is constantly being “dragged kicking and screaming” to do the basics. This has left the UK needlessly lagging behind.

Still, they’ve got the Champions League rights, huh?

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Note — 2019-11-19

I was in a meeting once where someone pitched a really unrealistic idea. I don’t remember the details exactly. But let’s assume this idea depended on pigs being able to fly.

“But how will the pigs fly?”, we asked.

“Oh, we’ll have an algorithm.”

“OK… But, we don’t understand how the algorithm make the pigs fly?”

“I just said, the algorithm will sort that out.”

“But you haven’t explained how?”

“With the algorithm.”

“Algorithms can’t make pigs fly.”

“Algorithm!”

Don’t devolve your thinking to an algorithm.

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F1 trailblazer Sílvia Bellot: ‘If I can do it, it proves other women can’Giles RichardsThe Guardian

Sílvia Bellot in front of an FIA truck

Interview with Sílvia Bellot, who will become the race director for Formula 2 and FIA Formula 3 next year. At the age of just 34, she becomes the first woman to hold this important role.

Motor racing is still overwhelmingly dominated by men on and off the track and Bellot is more than aware of the importance of her achievements. “I feel I have an extra responsibility because I am a role model for young women,” she says. “In the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission we believe the best way is to show we have the women already in the sport. If I can do it, it proves someone else can do it. I know it could impact on other women’s lives.”

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The Liberal Democrats need to stand firm if Corbyn is to be kept out of Downing StreetCharlotte HenryTheArticle

Jo Swinson campaigning with other Liberal Democrats

Why the Liberal Democrats are right to put candidates up against Labour.

Never mind that Labour would use its majority, should it get one, to negotiate a Brexit deal, and potentially campaign for it – to campaign for Brexit. This is an institutionally antisemitic organisation. It has, for years now, failed to tackle this issue. It is absolutely not suitable to be a party of government. The Liberal Democrats must play no part in helping put it there.

The idea that the Labour Party would be any less problematic than the Conservatives is deeply odd. Even beyond the frankly fanciful notion that Labour would put any effort into stopping Brexit, their appalling record on antisemitism makes them truly beyond the pale.

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Note — 2019-11-14

IxDA Scotland logo

I’ll be speaking at the next IxDA Scotland community meetup about our user research with the Learn Foundations project.

Duncan’s talk will take us through how the University of Edinburgh’s User Experience Service has undertaken a comprehensive programme of user research supporting a project aimed at improving students’ experience accessing course materials digitally. Find out how they developed a programme of multiple user research methods to understand what students really need.

Time: Wednesday 4 December
Venue: Amazon Development Centre, 2–4 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh

Full details about the IxDA community meetup event

Maybe see you there?

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Repeat after me: Preference testing is not A/B testingDavid TravisUserfocus

Person holding up two photographs

Reasons why you shouldn’t simply ask users to choose which design they prefer.

It turns out people aren’t good at answering this kind of question. People don’t know why, or they don’t care enough to answer, or they may not want to tell you. When asked for an opinion, most people will form one on the spot. Such opinions aren’t carefully considered or deeply held. It’s not that UX researchers don’t care what people like: it’s just risky making important design decisions based on fickle opinions.

User experience isn’t about discovering what people think they want. It’s about finding out what they need.

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