tommorris.org

Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.




If the BBC produces popular programmes, people say it is cannibalising commercial broadcasters. If they produce public service broadcasting that isn’t getting many viewers, the same people will also complain that we are funding a broadcaster that isn’t producing stuff people watch.

This is a game the BBC can’t win; their only winning move is to not play. The only way to truly satisfy their critics is to be utterly destroyed or be privatised (same thing really).


Testing Apple Pay in London

Apple Pay went live today in Britain. I was browsing Facebook and I saw another iOS user excited that they’d got Pay working. I know they have a penchant for downloading public betas and so on, so I thought perhaps they might be early to the party.

I grabbed my phone and saw that Apple Pay was on the menu. The card I use for the iTunes/App Store was already listed in there—I just needed to get a text. I also set up some other cards. The text approval cycle varies. With American Express, it was damn near immediate. With NatWest, it took a while. NatWest probably send out an order of magnitude more texts than American Express (just based on the fact that they have to notify customers about debit and credit cards, loans, mortgages, savings accounts and much else besides).

After playing ping-pong with verification codes, I now have four cards in my Passbook—my American Express card, my NatWest credit card and two NatWest debit cards. Barclays do not support Apple Pay, otherwise I would have added my business debit card. The reason Barclays aren’t supporting Apple Pay is because they have their own thing called bPay. They seem to think that people would much rather pay money to get a thing that looks like a Fitbit but is actually a way to make contactless payments. Good luck with that. Nobody wants that shit. So no Barclays. Just American Express and NatWest for me.

The first thing I noticed is how different the set up experiences were. When I set up the American Express card, the app gave me a welcome message from American Express which basically explained how I used it, and what to do if my phone is lost or stolen (basically phone them). My bank provided no such welcome message.

The layout of the Passbook changes once you have payment cards in there: it is split in to two sections with your credit cards at the top and your passes at the bottom. One thing that will be interesting is to see how exactly this all works when travelling: when you are at an airport and have a Passbook-based boarding pass, it prioritises that over the other uses of your phone. How you juggle between boarding pass and Apple Pay is something I’ll have to wait until I next fly to find out.

The Passbook entries vary in utility. The American Express Passbook entry is spectacularly useful. When I first got an American Express card, I downloaded the Amex app, but it requires me to enter my password to log in everytime. I stopped using the Amex app pretty much immediately and started using the (mobile optimized, responsive) website because I could login with 1Password. The Passbook card gives me the bare essentials of what I wanted from the website or the app but with less inconvenience—it shows me the recent transactions on my card. If I want to know the full balance on my card or how many points or whatever, I have to login to the website, but this reduces the friction a lot. If you have an American Express card, it is worth setting up Apple Pay for it, even if you don’t plan to use it much, just because Passbook is the most friction-free way to see your transactions.

The NatWest Passbook entries aren’t nearly as useful. They do distinguish between debit and credit cards, but if you have two debit cards from NatWest (say, a separate joint bank account, or a business and personal account), there’s no way to tell the difference between the two debit cards except the last four digits. Being able to add a label to your cards would be a useful addition to help separate these things out.

The NatWest Passbook transaction list only shows you transactions on your NatWest cards that have been conducted on the phone itself compared to the Amex approach of showing you all transactions conducted on your account.

Personally, I think that in this day and age, we ought to have instant SMS notifications for every single transaction for auditing purposes, but until that happens, I think that it is important for the banks and credit card companies to make getting access to your transaction log as seamless and non-fussy as possible while still staying secure. Until Apple Pay, it was easier for me to find out the transaction log for my Subway loyalty card than it was to find out the transactions on my credit cards.

Anyway down to the actual business of testing this thing.

First stop, a London bus. One of the New Routemasters (or “Boris buses” as they are known), to be specific. Hop on the back. Hold my phone to the reader and hold my finger on the button. It takes a fraction longer than it usually does with my card but eventually it works. Once I have climbed upstairs and sat down, the Passbook app tells me I had a transaction in “London, England”. I am guessing that is because the mobile payment point on the bus may not have transmitted as much data back to my phone as one in an actual shop.

Second stop is a branch of Boots pharmacy. I hold my phone to the reader and it goes into pay mode. I authenticate and my phone says “done” but the card reader wasn’t having any of it. I try again and then pull my wallet out and charged it to my card normally. The assistant told me that someone else had used their iPhone to pay earlier that day and it worked then.

Third attempt today was to get the bus home. I think I’ve got it this time. Only like a buffoon, instead of holding my finger on the home button, I press the home button and it leaves the Apple Pay screen and goes back to the homescreen. I have to pull the phone away from the reader, put it back, then put my finger back on the home button. The bus driver looks at me as if I’m simple.

Will Apple Pay mean leaving wallets and purses at home everyday? No. It means a proportion of payments can be done on your phone. The contactless ones in shops where the gear supports it. It is slightly more fiddly and you are reliant on a device that can lose its charge. It might mean lesser used cards get left at home (business expense cards, store cards) but most people will want the security of having the actual plastic in their pocket to pay when it goes wrong.

I can perhaps see how there might be some contexts in which just having one’s phone and some cash might be an alternative: exercise and clubbing. Like, if I’m going to a nightclub, I want to take the least amount of stuff possible. My phone, plus some banknotes and keys is pretty minimal compared to having to take a wallet. I can pay to get in, pay for some drinks with my phone and then book a cab home with Uber/Hailo etc. (or pay for the night bus—or maybe the night Tube—with Apple Pay). That’s the theory: might not work so well if one has used up all one’s electrojuice on nocturnal WhatsApping, Grindering/Tindering, Snapchatting, Instagramming or Shazaming.

Apple definitely need to improve the UX. iOS 9 promises to do this: double tapping the home button will apparently allow you to “pre-auth” the next payment before you touch it to the reader. Meaning hopefully you won’t be the arsehole holding up the queue of busy commuters on the bus or at the Tube gate faffing with his phone (or worse, his bloody smartwatch). That might improve things.

There are still some unanswered questions I have. Let’s take Transport for London. They have a system called price capping. If I am using an Oyster card or contactless card, the cost of using them on a pay-as-you-go basis won’t ever exceed the cost of buying a daily or weekly travelcard covering the journeys I have made. But does that work if one uses a contactless card and the same card via Apple Pay interchangeably? I asked TfL on Twitter and haven’t had an answer. I read earlier that starting a Tube journey with Apple Pay and finishing it with a card will lead to two journeys being recorded, and two fines. This seems like a recipe for massive quantities of ballache and some time-consuming calls to the refund line. It would be nice if TfL were to sort this out and explain it in a simple way so people don’t get caught out.

One thing I’d be interested in is whether there’s any plans to handle person-to-person money transfer in the future in addition to consumer-to-business. PayPal fees kind of suck, and I don’t really know anyone who actually uses Paym. There’s Bitcoin, but I’m not a Ron Paul-worshipping goldbug and I don’t think my non-technical friends and family are going to want to learn what a blockchain is or convert their Pounds Sterling through some shady-looking website. And none of them are that bothered about bringing back the gold standard either. It’s all very well making it easier to make credit card payments to businesses, but it would get quite interesting if Apple were to basically build a nice user experience on top of Paym: tap phones together, type in the amount, send.

Overall, Apple have done an okay job at this. One time transaction keys and biometric verification seem an improvement on the current joke that is credit card security.1 It needs to not randomly not work at places where contactless payment otherwise works and the iOS 9 updates need to make it so we aren’t stuck holding up queues waiting for TouchID to do its thing. There are real benefits in switching to a smartphone-based payment system (transaction notifications and biometric security), but it needs to be as seamless and boring as using my existing contactless cards.

  1. Example one: they think that the failure of a shared secret model can be fixed by adding another shared secret—CVV numbers. The credit card fraudster now has to work so much harder—they now have to turn your card over and take note of a three digit number printed on the back (or four digit number on the front in the case of Amex). That’ll stop them.

    Example two: 3D Secure aka. SecureCode aka. Verified by Visa. Banks and credit card companies encouraging people to fill in personal data in an iframe embedded in random websites is basically teaching non-technical users how to make themselves more vulnerable to phishing.


The phrase “Yik Yak celebrity” refers to an actual thing, apparently. I’m old and I have no idea anymore.


humans.txt should be replaced with humans.html. HTML is like TXT but with links and graphics and all that.

This HTML thing is cool, we should do more of it.




#indiewebcamp Brighton demo notes

Jeremy Keith, @adactio, adactio.com:

  • posting notes on your own site: “feels really good” to not be tied to Twitter - getting the benefit of Twitter
  • photographs: POSSE to Flickr and Twitter, PESOS to Instagram
  • everything also goes to Facebook via IFTTT
  • Posting update - simple textarea, choose file, Twitter and Flickr binary switches (slidey JavaScript)

Peter Molnar, petermolnar.eu:

  • “hack’n’slash” version of wordpress - be careful with the security, everyone will be trying to hack it
  • Markdown-based
  • plugin to import comments from places syndicated to
  • Webmention plugin for WordPress - needed to replace regex to use markdown
  • NextScripts: Social Networks Auto-Poster - “one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen in my life”
    • free version only posts to one network at a time, not paying for pro version
  • Keyring: can import everything from Flickr, Facebook etc. without use of Bridgy

Jeremy demoing Bridgy…

  • Looks at your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts: notifies you when someone has responded, it’s up to you what you do with it.
  • Tweets as comments
  • You can display them however you want, it’s up to you.
  • You can use it to publish, with write permissions.

Rosa, Happy Bear Software, rosa-fox.com

  • made a Ruby on Rails app
  • design skills aren’t so good, bought a template and choopped it up
  • portfolio, contact form, blog - did my blog on Wordpress, then copied over the HTML
  • adactio: maybe add h-entry microformat, webmentions support for when someone leaves you a message

John Ellison, john-ellison.com

  • running on Ghost, Node.js-based - preferable to Wordpress because it is lighter weight
  • curious about webmentions.
    • adactio: static site or if you don’t control the back-end it is a problem, you then need to use JavaScript to pull in the comments.

Amy, rhiaro:

  • PHP/MySQL
  • post all my notes to site - semi-manual process, not completely automated
  • Micropub, can post using Quill (login via IndieAuth) which sends to Micropub
  • post checkins - checkin + photo, notes, longer articles with titles, bookmarks, RSVPs, reposts, likes
  • likes are syndicated to twitter using brid.gy
  • travel plans
  • all marked up with microformats
  • uses webmention.io

Quill:

  • indieauth - lazy as possible, so we use third party - rel=me links to third party authentication
  • the idea is that instead of coming up with your own special snowflake editor - use whatever Micropub client you like
  • quill.p3k.io/editor - Medium style editor
  • look at what third party sites do well, try and replicate or improve on what the silos do
  • write blog post on Quill, push to wherever

Lewis Nyman, lewisnyman.co.uk

  • Jekyll - host on Github, don’t have to think about databases or servers
  • process is not that good: write flat file, compile on laptop, deploy to Github - can’t do that from phone
  • static sites mean you can’t do things like pingbacks/webmentions
  • suggestions from audience: jekmentions and GitPub
  • GitHub pages is really limited

Giulia - giugee.com

  • likes static sites because of speed
  • want to use Ruby/Octopress - mirrored between github and own server - distributed backups
  • publishing for myself first - if other people find it useful, that’s a bonus
  • aside: most people using Markdown

Me. You are already on my site.

Raphael, opensourcespecialist.co.uk

  • Was using Jekyll - some problems with dependency on Python

Sorry, I stopped note-taking at this point.


#indiewebcamp tommorris.org year in review

Today is IndieWebCamp in Brighton and Portland. As part of this, we are collectively trying to review a year of progress.

My year in review is pretty short: I’ve not done much at all. Just lots of little fixes and tweaks. My lack of progress has been mostly due to a busy schedule of work combined with some significant health issues which have taken a lot of my time (plus a lovely new relationship!).

But stuff I did add since this time last year:

  • Super-duper HTTPS support (currently rated A according to SSL Labs, will switch over to SHA-2 when I renew)
  • Experimenting with app cache
  • Design changes on the maps on the places section

I’m in the process of rebuilding my site using Django, learning the lessons of v1. I’m hoping to also make the finished version available as open source. The lack of an open source release of v1 is not due to a lack of desire to do so, but simply a number of problems with the code base that make it rather unpresentable and not that useful to people who aren’t me.

I’m hoping in the next year to finish rebuilding my site in a more modular way with a bunch of nice things to make it easier for me to work on new features. Specifically, the use of things like django-waffle-based feature flagging, so I can roll out features just for myself and test them before rolling them out more generally.

More broadly, I have been happy with the advances made by mf2py and thank the contributors, especially Kyle who has been extremely diligent in ensuring Python 3 support, fixing bugs and pushing out new releases. Microformats2 is making great progress, with parser libraries now available or being developed in Python, PHP, Go, Node.js, Ruby and Java.


FlashAir looks like a hacker-friendly alternative to Eye-Fi. @aaronpk has been playing with one and you get to build stuff. It’s all in Lua, which is a good enough reason to play with it. (Lua actually is the embeddable scripting language that people think JavaScript ought to be.)



iOS+OS X podcast app roundup

Recently, I’ve been trying to find the perfect combination of podcast software.

I have some simple requirements.

  1. OS X support.
  2. iOS support.
  3. Sync between the two platforms: if I am listening to something on my phone, then when I get back to my laptop, I should be able to listen where I left off.
  4. Ability to store the files permanently for archival purposes. (Plenty of stuff dies on the Internet, going to the giant 404 page in the sky and I want to be able to keep those files around.)
  5. The data flows through the application in a way that is understandable and relatively transparent and which mentally fits with how it ought to work.
  6. Relatively pleasant UX.

I have prioritised the issues in order of importance, with the more important things first.

The candidates I looked at are:

  • the iOS Podcasts app combined with iTunes
  • Instacast
  • Overcast
  • Downcast
  • Pocket Casts

I immediately disqualified Overcast and Pocket Casts as they do not have OS X support, and also thus fail (3) and (4).

The iTunes podcast app is okay, but the syncing between desktop and phone is pernickity and rubbish.

Instacast handled most of these issues, but the developer of Instacast has now gone out of business and rather than using, say, iCloud or Dropbox to sync state between the mobile and desktop versions of the app, it used the developer’s own servers, which have been discontinued. What a shit show. (A previous app by the same developer also had similar problems.)

Which leaves Downcast. It’s okay. The desktop client is sluggish and sometimes unresponsive, but it does actually work most of the time. The UX leaves a lot to be desired, but it satisfies all the other requirements. I’ve reluctantly switched to it pending someone making something that sucks less. (I’m not holding my breath.)


Flipboard: purveyor of light news and fluff, a sign of what is to come

For a while I have had Flipboard installed on my iPhone and iPad. The interface is nice, and it is quite a good way of discovering news. But the algorithms and human selection used for news on the platform leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes, one ends up discovering important news precisely because the algorithms fail so badly.

For instance, I have The Guardian set up in Flipboard as a source. But the stories it seems to prioritise from the Guardian are those dealing pretty much exclusively with Australia, including comments written about the Australian government as “our government”, even though I’m pretty sure The Guardian is a British newspaper, what with having visited their London offices a few times. Quite why I only get Australian news, I’m not sure.

Recently, I tried to set up a whole stack more feeds inside Flipboard so I could—in a bid to be a more informed global citizen—better monitor news from countries whose names don’t start with the word “United”.

The international feeds that Flipboard has recommended to me are astoundingly terrible. The feed on Germany seems to be primarily about the products of Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes rather than about the politics and current affairs of the country in which those companies are based.

The feed for Brazil seems to be mainly about the Brazilian men’s national soccer team or the World Cup, and the remainder of the stories are light fluff about travel to Brazil. This is in spite of the fact that Brazil has been undergoing massive waves of political protests in many of its major cities in response to the revelation of large-scale corruption of the country’s national oil and gas company, Petrobras. Said protests—in addition to the economic situation of the country—have left President Dilma Rousseff fighting for her political life as she was involved in the running of Petrobras before becoming President. The fate of the elected leader of the fifth largest country in the world—and the investigation into alleged corruption on contracts worth up to $22 billion—is obviously far less important than competing teams of men kicking a ball around a field.

Today, I just checked the feed for Japan. The first two stories are regarding the success of the Japanese women’s soccer team, then a story about scientific research from Japan. Then another story about robots. Then a human interest story about Pokémon. Then a story about sekusu shinai shokogun—the alleged celibacy of Japan’s “herbivore men”, and the alleged demographic impacts. I say alleged because there’s some debate about whether this is actually real or not. More about the women’s football team. A solar powered plane—okay, that’s moderately interesting. Ooh, an actually interesting story: “Toyota’s top female executive steps down after arrest in Japan”. Three more stories about the women’s football. Then a story about sushi. Hard hitting news.

Let’s try Denmark. “Danish festival recycles urine to make beer” is the top story, followed by the eminently less important “Denmark to cut asylum-seeker benefits under new leaders”. Oh yeah, the Danes had an election two weeks ago and Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s Social Democrats were replaced by a centre-right coalition led by Lars Løkke Rasmussen. I might have missed it because of headlines about people drinking beer made from their own piss.

How about Ireland? Top headline from there is “No Highway to Hell for AC/DC as their Irish fans are Thunderstruck”. Yep. A 70s rock band played a concert in Dublin yesterday. Flipboard also informed me that the Irish singer Val Doonican died, and pointed me to an article on the Huffington Post website about important moral lessons I could learn from watching the Irish version of The Bachelorette. Nowhere in the Irish news did it bother to inform me that yesterday, former Taoisearch Brian Cowan was brought in front of an inquiry to defend his handling of the financial crisis. Neither did Flipboard’s Ireland feed tell me anything about the remarks from Irish president Michael D. Higgins about Europe’s handling of refugees. I mean, I guess I’m sort of fuddy-duddy, what with the strange, old-fashioned assumption that reporting what the President of a European nation thinks about the Europe-wide refugee crisis is more important than a story about The Bachelorette.

Okay, perhaps I’ve just had a run of bad luck with news from Japan, Brazil, Denmark and Ireland. Let’s try Italy then. “Is This The Hottest Bar in Italy?” reads the first headline. Probably not. “3 of the best Piedmont reds”. Yawn. Swipe. “Trafficker gets 18 years in jail over Italian shipwreck that killed 366 migrants”. Okay, some actual news.

This is Silicon Valley’s vision of the future of news. Bullshit listicles about reality shows and wine and rock concerts being more important than stories about wars, refugees, terrorism, economic crises and the flow of political power. Thank you, Facebook. Thank you, Upworthy. Thank you, “disruption”. Please go swallow some recycled piss.


I really like this blind test of audio quality. I can mostly tell a 320 kbps MP3 from a 128 kbps MP3, but the difference between 320 kbps and lossless is pretty meaningless for most people. That self-proclaimed audiophiles still reject blind testing is proof of their full-on addiction to delusion.


Looking at front-end build tools. Nasty, node.js NIH-riddled nonsense but sadly becoming necessary.



Today is a great day for all my LGBT friends in the U.S. It is an achievement to be celebrated, but also a marker of how much more needs to be done, both in the U.S. and around the world.

Also, I’m happy to see messages from straight friends and acquaintances who have held off on getting married out of solidarity and are now getting ready to get married. That’s great dedication to the cause.

There’s still so much more work to be done, but the news today is good news.


You shouldn't need to be a 'joiner' to feel Pride

The Pride parade in London is happening tomorrow. There have been storms of controversy around whether or not UKIP should be allowed to send their LGBT contingent along to participate. This, for me, has exposed the rather difficult life that Pride parades now have in countries like Britain: with close to full legal equality now that marriage has passed, and widespread social acceptance, there is the feeling that Pride is kind of a spent force now.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Pride is still important. Even if the campaign for LGBT legal equality in Britain is now (mostly) complete, the campaign for social equality and respect still needs to carry on: walking the streets hand-in-hand with one’s partner is still a calculated risk for gay people compared to an utterly ordinary matter for straight folk.

More than that, I still think that even in modern day Britain, Pride is still important because there are still a lot of people who struggle with the first step: being able to learn to love themselves as gay, lesbian, bi or trans people. The first battle is personal: to look at yourself in the mirror and love your gayness or bi-ness or lesbian-ness or transness (or whatever particular queerness you identify with). That’s hard, and Pride exists to show in a very visible way that there are plenty of other people who have learned to accept and love themselves. Pride is an affirmation that our lives are possible and demonstrate a vision of a future where people everywhere can love without fear or discrimination or bigotry.

No, the problem with Pride these days is a small one: participating in it requires you to join a bloody group. Go to a Pride parade in Britain and you have everything—the gay water polo players, the lesbian lawyers, the bisexual bankers, the asexual furry otherkin (thanks Tumblr), the leather daddies, the bears, the gaymers, the drag queens, the dykes on bikes. Everything, that is, except the non-joiners. The people who are a bit too busy with work, relationships, friends and everything else to spend much time joining in with the gay version of the PTA.  You ain’t part of a group, so we’re not interested.

Perhaps we ought to have a Pride parade group for all the LGBT folk who can’t be bothered with groups and joining things. Grumpy sods whose idea of fun doesn’t involve committee meetings, taking minutes, administering Facebook groups, petty non-profit politicking or any of that tosh, but who still happen to fall under the banner of L, G, B, T, Q or whatever new letters have been added since I last checked. One thing that irks me most about this is that the people who aren’t joiners of LGBT groups often are probably the people who are best integrated into straight society—who have a healthy mixture of straight and LGBT friends, who don’t demand that every event or thing they go to be a gay event or a gay group.

Worse though is the demand that everyone be part of some sub-group excludes the people who actually need some kind of broader LGBT community: the closeted and the curious. If you are a scared 18-year-old who isn’t sure if they are straight, gay, bi or whatever and you turn up at Pride and the only way you can take part is by already being part of the gay volleyball team or the bisexual bankers or a representative from a big corporation,1 that’s pretty alienating. If you live out in the middle of nowhere where you literally are the “only gay in the village”, all the gay sports teams and choirs and business networking groups don’t mean a damn thing.

This isn’t to deny that these groups have value: we need more support groups, interest groups and so on. I’ve read my Robert Putnam: more community groups means more social capital, more support for people, more social discussion, more friendliness—all these things make people happier, more able to cope with life, all good stuff. There’s great value in having all those groups there for the people they support. But we shouldn’t assume that everyone is a “joiner” or that the LGBT community is simply the sum of all the groups who march in Pride parades, because then you discount the individuals. Most of the LGBT people I know aren’t involved in pretty much any groups that march in Pride parades. As Oscar Wilde (who probably would be too busy to join the gay volleyball league) said: “the problem with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings”. Most people have other things to do, other communities they are involved in. You shouldn’t need to give up all your evenings and live entirely in “gay community land” to feel pride.

  1. And, yes, this year’s Pride in London event is brought to you in part by LIBOR rate manipulators Barclays and Citibank, whose US mortgage division had to pay $158 million in fines for misleading regulators on the viability of home loans. Completely fucking up the world’s economy is fine though because they like the gays.


Nick Cohen: “We are moving towards a society where parties win by offering the biggest bribes they can to elderly voters; where the taxes of the young people support the leisure of the expanding number of old people.”