World’s First Bitcoin ATM Arrives at Coffee Shop, Goes Live Tomorrow
- 5:07 PM
VANCOUVER, Canada — It’s a good thing that Mitchell Demeter owns a moving company. He needs a way of getting a 750-pound Bitcoin ATM off a wooden pallet, so it can be anchored to the floor in this Vancouver coffee shop.
Demeter is one of three partners who have shelled out more than $90,000 to buy five ATMs that handle bitcoins, the world’s most popular digital currency, and today they’re going through the steps of installing their very first one at Waves Coffee, right next to the provincial courthouse in downtown Vancouver. As far as we know, this will also be the first operational Bitcoin ATM on the planet.
Trading bitcoins for cash is a bit of a grey area, as far as financial regulations are concerned. In the U.S., companies that do this typically need to register as money transmission businesses with both state and federal regulators. In Canada, however, the regulations aren’t so onerous. That’s why the machine is making its debut here.
With press and curious onlookers watching, Demeter and his business partner spent about an hour this morning unpacking their brand new ATM, built by a Nevada company called Robocoin. The machine scans your palm and then will sell you bitcoins for cash — or vice versa. It’s set to go live tomorrow.
Until then, they have a day to test that it works, connect it to a bitcoin exchange, fill it with money, and, of course, anchor it to the ground.
They’ll also have to plug it in. For a few panicky moments this morning, Demeter and Warren thought their Bitcoin ATM had been shipped without a power cord. But then they opened up the machine and discovered it inside. We found the ATM’s key lying on a cafe table. “Oh my god, give me that,” said Warren. “I’m so bad with keys.”
When operational, the machine will be able to do up to 3,000 Canadian dollar worth of transactions per day. You don’t need any form of identification to use the ATM, but it comes equipped with a palm scanner, that’s used to make sure that users don’t exceed the 3,000 per day limit.
“We don’t want drug dealers sending a bunch of coke to the States and then withdrawing cash,” says Warren. “we don’t want these to turn into money laundering machines; that’s the worst thing that could happen.”
Lies, Damn Lies, and Progress Bars
- 8:58 AM
I should have waited for things to settle down, but I didn’t. I went ahead and installed Mac OS X Mavericks. You know how this goes, you have to reboot your computer and then you get this page that says “installing.” On this page, the computer also gives you a progress bar and a “time remaining” estimate.
I claim that this time remaining is a lie. I’m not sure right now, but I have this feeling that the computer told me there was less than 1 minute left for like 5 minutes of time. Of course, there is one way to find the truth – an analysis.
Yes. I have looked at the progress bar before for downloading a file. I suspect this case is a bit different.
Here is the plan. Use a camera and record the install process on another computer. With Tracker Video Analysis, I can create a plot of the percent of progress (from the length of the bar) as a function of time. I can also record the “time remaining” as reported by the installation process.
Here is a plot from Tracker video that shows the length of the progress bar as a function of time. I scaled the bar so that the full length was 100 (you could call it percent if that made you happy).
Of course, I also need the reported data from the installation. Here is the time left as a function of time. Yes, that seems silly but that is actually what is reported. I only have data points for the times that the “remaining time” changed. When it reports “14 minutes left,” I don’t have a new data point until it reads “13 minutes…”
Now for some analysis.
How Wrong Was It?
Since I have finished with the installation, I actually know how long the whole process took (38 minutes). Here is a plot of the reported time left as a function of actual time left.
Since this looked fairly linear, I added a linear regression line. If the computer were always correct, this would be a straight line with a slope of 1 and a y-intercept of zero. Here is the problem. Although the fitting line looks nice, the slope is 1.316 with an intercept of -14.25 minutes.
Here is another plot. This is the percent error as a function of time (just plain time – you could plot this versus time remaining or percent complete).
Does the installation lie? Yes. Look at that plot. At the end of the installation, it is almost 90% wrong. Maybe the computer doesn’t think you can handle the truth. Maybe it thinks that if it tells you that it doesn’t know how much time is left, you will leave and start using Windows 8.1.
How can you fix this? Well, you probably can’t “fix” the problem because of the nature of the installation process. Sometimes you just don’t know how long something will take. However, I have some suggestions. What if the computer didn’t report the “time remaining”? It would have to say something though. Here are some suggestions.
- “I don’t know how much time is left, but why worry? Relax and have a cup of tea. I’ll let you know when this is finished”.
- “I’m just a computer. I have no idea how much time is left. Have a cookie.”
- “I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t tell you how much time is left in the installation.”
- How about the computer just shows you pictures from your iPhoto library?
I guess this is why I’m not an Apple developer.
There are too many awesome questions here to not give you some homework. First, I have all the data. Here is a Google doc spreadsheet with the numbers from both the progress bar and the reported time left. You will probably need that to answer these questions (unless you want to collect your own data).
- Think of the progress bar as the x position of the installation. From this, make a plot of both average x-velocity and instantaneous velocity as a function of position.
- Use both of the above velocities to estimate the time remaining in the installation and compare it to the actual time remaining.
- See if you can come up with a better way to predict the time remaining in the installation.
Have fun with the homework. You could probably finish it before Mac OS X Mavericks finishes installing on your computer.
Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2
After Problem-Plagued Year, Microsoft Re-Surfaces
Rating: 7/10 Very good, but not quite great
- Surface Pro 2: $900 for 64GB, $1,000 for 128GB, $1,300 for 256GB, $1,800 for 512GB, Surface 2: $450 for 32GB, $550 for 64GB, Touch Cover 2: $120, Type Cover 2: $130
- · More info from Microsoft
- Reviewed by
- October 21, 2013 |
- 12:01 am |
- Categories: Tablets
Delightful touch interface makes best use of gestures this side of a mime troop. Two angle kickstand. Gorgeous full-screen, high-definition video makes you want to skip the theater. Backlit Touch Cover 2 feels you, bro, and wants to help you express yourself. Two years of 200GB free SkyDrive storage should be plenty to store all your HD porn. Skype calls right from the lock screen.
Developers, developers, developers: Wherefore art thou, developers? Desktop mode is a joke on Surface 2, and too minuscule to be much use on Surface Pro 2.
Microsoft’s Surface devices are the physical embodiments of its operating system. That was true of last year’s devices, which, like Windows 8 itself, many people found perplexing. And the new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, much like the new Windows 8.1, reflect iterative refinements based on what Microsoft learned after releasing its products in the wild.
These devices feel more refined. The keyboards are more responsive, the battery life, cameras and displays are all better. There are no dramatic changes, but everything is a little bit nicer. I liked the Surface devices Microsoft released last year, and I like these even better. But they aren’t without problems, some of which are significant.
There are two devices, both of which come in multiple configurations. There is the ARM-based Surface 2, which runs Windows 8.1 RT–a bare-bones version of Windows that can only run applications from the Windows Store. It won’t handle your longtime x86 apps. And then there is the Surface Pro 2, which has an Intel Core i5 processor, runs Windows 8.1, and can do anything and everything a regular Windows machine can. Both are essentially tablets with detachable keyboards. Both are designed to be touched. The Pro comes with a pen input too, so you can scribble away.
Some of the upgrades are really noticeable. Take the kickstand that props the device upright. Its hinges now stop at two different angles: one designed for a desktop, the other for your lap. Battery life really is great. With casual on and off use, you should be able to run all day on both. My tests found almost five hours of video playback on the Surface Pro 2, and almost seven and a half hours on the Surface 2. Did I mention both come with 200 GB of SkyDrive storage?
Overall, these are just really well-built devices. Solid. Light. Responsive. Here’s an anecdote that I think speaks to build quality. While testing these, I had both set up on a ledge in our home that overlooks a stairwell. A friend, looking at them, picked one up by its keyboard, not realizing it is connected by mere magnets. It popped off, and the Surface fell about 12 feet, tumbled down a couple of steps, and smacked and skittered across the hardwood floor below. I cursed. But not only was the Surface unblemished, the movie it was playing never even stuttered. It was as if nothing had happened.
Speaking of the keyboards, these too have gotten upgrades. I had gotten used to typing on a Touch Cover and can hit it quickly enough and without making a sea of errors, but the new 2.75-millimeter-thin Touch Cover 2 is far more responsive than its predecessor. The keys are illuminated so you can use it in the dark. It’s more sensitive. It’s easier. Similarly, the 5.4-millimeter-thick Type Cover 2 has been improved in subtle ways (it’s also backlit and hey you can get it in a few different colors). But while both are responsive, both still feel small. If this were your only computer, my guess is that you’d find the keyboard cramped.
That cramping also exists on the desktop environment. Windows 8.1 made it clear that, despite complaints, Microsoft isn’t retreating from its touch-first operating system philosophy. (Nor should it; the world is changing.) It pushes you to use programs from the Start screen and the Windows Store, where you’ll find apps optimized for gestures over mousing. And when you do use the Desktop mode on either device, the interface elements feel very, very small. Almost unnavigably so. It’s hard to operate menus or hit buttons, which is exacerbated by the very small trackpad on both style keyboards.
This is true both not only of the Surface 2, which runs a stripped-down version of Windows, but also Surface Pro 2, which runs a full version of Windows 8.1 capable of fielding all those traditional desktop apps you’ve been using for years. While you won’t spend much time in the desktop environment with the former, it’s certainly one of the latter’s selling points. But trying to accomplish things with the tiny trackpad, or using your fingers to poke at the screen, is difficult.
Which means that the Windows Store apps, the ones that can run both on ARM and x86 machines, are an essential part of the user experience. A year ago, reviewing the Surface RT, I wrote that “overall it’s quite good; certainly better than any full-size Android tablet on the market. And once the application ecosystem fleshes out, it’s a viable alternative to the iPad as well.”
That fleshing out still has not happened. Honestly, I expected the Windows Store to come alive with apps over the past year. Microsoft, after all, is a company with a massive, well-established developer network. It seemed likely to me that developers would dive in. I was wrong.
The Windows Store does have lots of apps. But too many are crappy little parasites that prop up the store’s numbers without actually adding any value. Worse, many of the applications from major developers are half-assed. Dropbox and Evernote, for example, are hobbled compared to the versions you’ll find on other platforms. The Windows Store version of Evernote, for example, will not even record audio notes.
If you only want to use a Surface for web browsing, email, and office applications, you’ll do fine (especially thanks to the needed overhaul of its mail application). Microsoft has you covered on all that. But look for many of the applications that have made tablets not just useful, but delightful–like Flipboard, or Instapaper, or Pocket, or even a legit YouTube app–and you come up empty.
The bottom line is that once you venture beyond the Windows Store applications Microsoft itself makes, and a very small handful of others, there is not a lot to love. Will you love the Surface as a tablet? I don’t know. How much do you love Microsoft Office?
The Surface line is still great hardware–even better than the original, which I liked quite a lot. But it has a real software problem that doesn’t appear to be getting much better and may even be locked in a downward spiral. Not many people are buying Windows RT devices, so developers aren’t writing apps, which gives people little reason to buy it. Chickens and eggs.
This is, of course, less of a problem on the Surface Pro 2, which has the full arsenal of Windows desktop apps to fall back on. Dropbox is Dropbox; Evernote is the full elephant. But if you are just using Surface Pro 2 as a desktop machine, you would do likely do better for your money to go with a touch-capable ultrabook.
I’m still bullish on Surface, and Windows 8.1. Both show an immense amount of promise. But both are hobbled by the application situation in the Windows Store. This is a problem that Microsoft has to solve. Without more third party programs designed to run as touch-first (dare I say Metro) experiences, Surface risks becoming little more than a curiosity.
All photos by Josh Valcarcel/WIRED
Apple Expected to Announce iPad Updates at Event Next Week
- 12:57 PM
Apple sent out invites to its next product-filled media event this morning, which will be held on October 22 in San Francisco. The invite teases us with “We still have a lot to cover,” written below a colorful, fall inspired Apple graphic. We’re expecting Apple to announce a number of new additions to its lineup Tuesday, including highly-anticipated iPad updates.
Signs point to a redesigned fifth generation iPad that is styled like a larger version of the iPhone 5/5s rather than previous iPads. The iPad mini is also expected to get a major upgrade with the addition of a high-resolution Retina display.
What else could we see next week? We should get a closer look at OS X Mavericks, the next big update to Apple’s desktop operating system. Along with that, the MacBook Pro should get an upgrade for 2013. We could also get a better look at the Mac Pro, which we got a sneak peek of at WWDC this summer. As with last month’s event, we don’t think Apple is going to spend any stage time on the iPod line.
Apple already updated its iMac line for this year with faster processors and 802.11ac WiFi.
We’ll be there October 22 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to share everything Apple unveils. Stay tuned!
NSA Leaks Prompt Rethinking of U.S. Control Over the Internet’s Infrastructure
- 2:15 PM
The leaders who run the internet’s technical global infrastructure say the time has come to end U.S. dominance over it.
In response to leaks by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Fadi Chehadé, who heads the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and others have called for “an environment, in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on equal footing.”
Among other things, they were concerned “over the undermining of the trust and confidence of internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance.”
ICANN, a nonprofit established by the U.S., has never awarded a contract to manage the .com, .net, .cc, .tv and .name space to a company outside the United States — in fact, VeriSign of Virginia has always held the immensely economically valuable .com handle. The Public Interest Registry, also based in Virginia, manages the .org domain.
All of which means that both registries are under the auspices of the U.S. government, its courts — including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — and the home turf of the NSA’s snooping efforts.
ICANN was established in 1998 by the Clinton administration, and has been under global attack to internationalize the control of the Domain Name System ever since. A United Nations working group in 2005 concluded that “no single government should have a pre-eminent role in relation to international internet governance.”
Even before the Snowden leaks — which disclosed vast court-approved NSA spying powers and decryption efforts — governments like China, India and Russia have distrusted ICANN. They have demanded control of the net’s naming system to be turned over to an organization such as the International Telecommunications Union, an affiliate of the United Nations — a proposition scoffed at by the United States.
What’s more, who controls the internet’s infrastructure became an issue last year after the United States began seizing hundreds of domains across the globe for allegedly breaching federal copyright and trademark laws.
VeriSign said it was just complying with “lawful orders” from the U.S. courts by redirecting the DNS (Domain Name System) of a domain to a U.S. government IP address that informs online visitors that the site has been seized.
The Internet Governance Project, a global alliance of academics specializing on internet governance, said the statement by Chehadé and the others “was one of the most significant manifestations of the fallout from the Snowden revelations about NSA spying on the global internet.”
Still, no concrete proposals from the major internet organizations were produced at last week’s meeting in Uruguay.
“…They were thinking of new forms of multistakeholder oversight as a substitute for U.S. oversight, although no detailed blueprint exists,” the Internet Governance Project said.
ICAAN is developing a five-year strategic plan and is taking public comment through January.
Lavabit Files Opening Brief in Landmark Privacy Case
- By Kevin Poulsen
- 7:51 PM
Edward Snowden. Courtesy of the Guardian
Secure email provider Lavabit just filed the opening brief in its appeal of a court order demanding it turn over the private SSL keys that protected all web traffic to the site.
The government proposed to examine and copy Lavabit’s most sensitive, closely guarded records–its private keys–despite the fact that those keys were not contraband, were not the fruits of any crime, were not used to commit any crime, and were not evidence of any crime. Rather, the government obtained a warrant to search and seize Lavabit’s property simply because it believed that the information would be helpful to know as it conducted its investigation of someone else.
As first reported by WIRED last week, the formerly secret July 16 order under appeal came after Texas-based Lavabit hesitated to circumvent its own security systems to comply with earlier orders intended to monitor a particular Lavabit user’s metadata, defined as “information about each communication sent or received by the account, including the date and time of the communication, the method of communication, and the source and destination of the communication.”
The name of the target is redacted from the brief, and from unsealed records in the case. But the offenses under investigation are listed as violations of the Espionage Act and theft of government property — the exact charges, in the same court, that have been filed against Lavabit’s most famous user, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The appeal brief correctly notes that the SSL keys would have allowed the government to eavesdrop on any or all of Lavabit’s 400,000 users as they used the site, though the government promised it wouldn’t do that.
After losing a court argument challenging the order in August, Lavabit founder Ladar Levison turned over the key and shut down his business, mooting any attempt at surveillance.
He appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The government’s reply brief is due
November 4. Levison has raised approximately $90,000 in an online fundraising drive to finance his appeal.
How Not to Work From Home, According to the Giants of Tech
- 6:30 AM
The tech world doesn’t want people working from home. Or so it seems.
Hewlett Packard, which had previously encouraged many employees to work from home, is now nudging them back into the office. And after Yahoo and Best Buy made moves to discourage working from home, the tech press and pundits are convinced they’ve spotted a bona fide trend.
But what’s going on here is far more nuanced than a full-scale retreat from remote work — and much more encouraging for home workers. Ubiquitous broadband and cloud computing helped usher in the euphoric first wave of 21st century work-from-home arrangements, in which employers salivated over real estate cost savings and workers fantasized about nuking commutes and pointless meetings. Now, we’re in the second wave, a reckoning with the realities of telecommuting that could make the practice more productive for companies and more satisfying for employees, and thus more popular and available.
Take HP. Yes, the company is encouraging a return to the office, writing in a memo obtained by All Things D that “HP needs all hands on deck…to build a stronger culture of engagement and collaboration.”
But consider the context: Just a few years ago, the company was all but shoving some employees out of the offices — by HP’s own admission. To cut HP’s real estate holdings and reduce costs, former CEO Mark Hurd cut back on physical space, installed flexible office technology and encouraged telecommuting. Expecting a 70-year-old company with a longstanding office culture to maintain its collaborative strengths as its workers were suddenly sent home and set adrift amid spending cuts was not a viable strategy. So HP is, as it explained to the New York Times, making space for people who want to come back into the office, while leaving the old work-from-home policies firmly in place.
Yahoo and Best Buy have also bent over backwards to make it clear that their own moves to get people back into the office are attempts to create work arrangements that function better over the long term. Under a series of short-term, underperfoming CEOs, Yahoo had reportedly seen its work-from-home system devolve into an escape from dysfunction at the office, with some employees avoiding doing any work at all or even launching their own startups.
CEO Marrissa Mayer has said that by the time she arrived on the scene, employees complained that work-from-home arrangements kept teams from gelling, so workers were recalled to headquarters. But she left the door open for bringing back remote work once the company is back on its feet, saying remote work is “not right for us — right now.”
It’s possible to build a culture of remote work that allows employees to be more focused, commute hours to be made productive, and managers to clearly shape and see the results. But that requires a healthfully focused company and certain degrees of savvy, engagement, and practice on the part of both managers and workers. Too often, the potential of working from home is spoiled by broader dysfunction, under-engaged managers or employees who lose their motivation, perhaps out of habit, once they’re outside the walls of headquarters. For all its potential benefits, telecommuting is a tough problem involving technical, cultural, and tactical challenges. What’s surprising isn’t how often it fails, but that people are still trying — hard — to make it work.