2019-07-16

Banks should let customers input amounts as displayed

An older lady of my acquaintance recently had to drive 20km to visit the branch of a well-known South African bank in order to make a transfer to another account at the same bank even though she uses Internet banking. It was a somewhat larger amount than usual and her mistake was using the comma as thousands' separator. Why? Since that was how the bank also displayed numbers on the same page. Very recently, I had the same problem at another bank. If you include a space in the amount, it is rejected even though the bank displays the space itself, right at the next step. Now, since we officially use the comma as decimal symbol one can understand a reluctance to allow it as a thousands' separator when using the decimal point as most banking applications do. Why the space is forbidden, I do not know as it clearly makes the number more reasonably and a few lines of JavaScript can remove it when the transaction is submitted. The same is true for telephone numbers. User Experience: fail.

2019-06-21

Skype for Business is nie Skype nie

Mense wonder soms waarom gewone Skype en Skype for Business nie met mekaar praat nie. Die rede is dat die twee eintlik min met mekaar te doen het – buiten dat beide tans deur Microsoft besit word. Skype is 15 jaar gelede begin in Estland en eers heelwat later deur Microsoft gekoop.

Gewone Skype het baie mense verlos van duur internasionale oproepe en vriende en familie nader aan mekaar gebring. Die sagteware en veral Skype se algoritmes vir die verspreiding van die netwerkverkeer het eenvoudig net goed gewerk.

Skype for Business is eintlik Lync, die opvolger van Office Communicator 2007. Dit is 'n Microsoft-produk wat gebaseer is op uibreidings tot die SIP-protokol. Dit is dus nie 'n diensuitbreiding van die gewone Skype-produk,  soos die naam dalk aandui, nie.

2019-06-03

Bibliography tools for easy referencing of an academic paper

Nowadays, when I quickly need to write a report or paper with academic references, my methodology is to first complete a list of references and try to download all the papers and other sources that I think I might use. Since it is very convenient to write using the Markdown language and use BibTeX source files for citations (since this allows for later easy formatting and reformatting) it helps to first get the BibTeX references for each paper.

This is easiest using doi2bib which provides the BibTeX from a DOI number or address. The DOI is a generally used universal identifier for much technical literature. Incidentally, the easiest tool for obtaining the papers themselves is the cooperative or pirate (depending on your point of view) site Sci-Hub which uses the same DOI to get the paper itself from behind the paywall. Naturally, Sci-Hub is probably in serious violation of ordinary copyright but I think the users, especially if they are already entitled to access the material they seek but in a less convenient way, might consider it to be fair use and moderately unobjectionable.

2019-05-07

The new Opera browser incorporates a crypto wallet that works

More precisely, an Ethereum wallet is included with the latest versions of the quite good Opera browser. Incidentally, the main thing not to like about this sturdy Scandinavian software is that the Android version on a default installation does keep throwing a lot of notifications which has to be they way they pay their way.

It was very easy to send ETH Ethereum coins from another wallet, which is to be expected and as it is, a transaction cost of ZAR 1 ensured that this happened within a few seconds. The way to start is actually to install Opera first on a mobile device and then link it to other installations of Opera (on your laptop, for example). Right now, I have the same wallet on several laptops as well as my mobile phone which is really convenient. This is a real wallet as the wallet itself stores the cryptographic private keys for the address and they can therefore be lost – unless backed up, for example by running the wallet on some other devices. Doing this with Opera is really convenient since you can use a QR code to transfer the private keys to a device with a camera or simply re-enter the back-up version of the key which is a twelve-word phrase that the wallet can display. This might be a topic for another blog but for now, I would say that the Opera wallet looks quite nice. Obviously, it also handles other crypto tokens that reside on the Ethereum blockchain so you can invent your own currency and run it right from this wallet.

Update on 10 May 2019: the private keys are not actually stored on other device but only on the phone. There is a complicated messaging going on because apparently Opera lets you use the phone version of the wallet from the desktop but the keys for signing are not on the desktop. I am no longer so sure how much I like it...

2019-03-17

One reason why apps work – the user is in control

With Johannesburg and Pretoria currently suffering from power cuts 1/3 of the day on many days, a lot of people can be seen checking various apps (especially one called Eskom se Push) for the latest information about their suburb. The service frequently falls over, in fact. One of its features is information for suburbs that you add to your watchlist.

The point is that the user is in complete control of the notifications that (s)he receives. Contrast this with older technologies like e-mail or SMS alerts. Here the problem is that the user is not really in control of the messages received. This depends, rather, on a central database and we all know those irksome messages that just keep on coming from a company that one might have used or purchased something from in the distant past. The app does not present this problem – you can just uninstall it.

The versatility of mobile apps, to me, seems to guarantee that they will remain an immensely useful tool for the foreseeable future. The reason is simply the control that is vested in the user who knows much better than a (number of) central database(s) what (s)he wants to know. Of course, Google (or Apple, or Facebook) is trying to provide the user with a large set of appropriate notifications but, for now, I think this is too haphazard to really replace the app economy any time soon.