It’s a familiar tale: any time I once made to play Metal Gear Solid, Pro Evolution Soccer or PaRappa the Rapper has long since been eroded by the glamours of parenthood and an erratic work schedule. Mario Kart Wii still gets spun up, as much of an occasional treat for me as it is for my kids.
I am the ‘lapsed gamer’.
But I do still play games. Armed with my smartphone or tablet, pocket puzzlers like the stunning Monument Valley, gory graphic novel epics such as The Walking Dead or riddlers including Mr Robot help ensure that train platform dead-time can still be game-time.
I’ve yet to tire of exploring new places with Pokémon Go, and I stand firm that the Swift Playgrounds lessons are every bit as satisfying as a good Sudoku puzzle – plus I get to learn a valuable skill.
I am the ‘on-the-go gamer’. Living the smartphone gaming dream I am part of the fastest area of revenue growth in the games industry.
So, when Nintendo formally announced its latest console last Friday I wondered if it was an attempt to appeal to gamers like me.
Nintendo Switch is a hybrid tablet/TV games console, as comfortable in your hands as it is hooked up to your television. Accompanying the hardware is a strong first year line-up of titles including new the Zelda Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey adventures.
But the big question is whether Nintendo has given itself enough of a fighting chance with the Switch to emerge from the shadow of the debacle that was the Wii U, to overcome the console behemoths that are Microsoft and Sony, and to take on the smartphone gaming market.
That was the topic of the story I wrote this week for Mobile World Live: “Will Nintendo fanboys make the Switch?”.
After going hands on with the Nintendo Switch at the London launch event, including playing the new fun fighting game Arms, I headed over to BBC Broadcasting House to report back for two live spots with the BBC News Channel and BBC World News:
In the US Black Friday follows Thanksgiving Thursday and, along with so-called Cyber Monday, has become one of the biggest days in the online shopping calendar. Inevitably it has become a big deal in the UK now too.
On Friday’s ITV Good Morning Britain I was in the studio sharing some tips on how to bag the best online Black Friday bargains.
Many Black Friday shopping tips apply equally to buying online around the rest of the year, but some peculiarities have emerged:
- Keep checking throughout the day. A large element of surprise and secrecy exists around Black Friday that retailers are keen to persist. Prices change, new deals get added and stocks are limited: it’s all part of a clever strategy to keep us interested throughout the day and coming back to their online stores. But that does mean that a good price at 8am might be even better by midday, but sold out by six. That’s the risk you take.
- Black Friday Pop-Up Portals: Comparison sites and aggregation tools are useful all year round, but on Black Friday dozens of pop-up sales portals appear on reputable websites. Which to choose? If you’re shopping for gadgets and technology (always a big deal over this weekend) then take a look at the website of popular gadget magazines or online titles – referrals and traffic mean Black Friday is great business for them too, and many have journalists locked in a room all day hunting down the best deals so you don’t have to.
- Is it really a bargain? It’s worth pointing out that some retailers don’t play fair – research by Which? found many so-called Black Friday bargains were anything but, with prices cheaper both before and after the shopping bonanza weekend. Websites like camelcamelcamel.com (I’ve no idea…) keep track of prices over a period of time to let you see how the price you on offer today compares with the price over, say, the last twelve months.
It goes without saying to watch out for scams though phishing, smishing and malvertising, be aware of your rights and consider paying by credit card for the best consumer protection.
A final thought:
- Don’t let Black Friday Frenzy take over. Remember this is essentially a bit of fun – the worst that can happen is that we pay full price for something or don’t buy it at all. Part of the fun of the whole experience is the thrill of chasing a bargain but your life absolutely does not depend on it. Keep it in perspective and if the fun stops then switch off your computer, switch on the kettle and make a cup of Black Friday tea.
On BBC Watchdog tonight I appear in an item highlighting gaping holes in home food delivery service Deliveroo’s security and fraud prevention systems.
Victims of so-called ‘Deliveroo fraud’ report having their credit and debit cards emptied of many hundreds of pounds on food and drink orders they never placed, to addresses many hundreds of miles from where they live.
Deliveroo’s standard response to claims of a security breach has left those affected with a bitter taste in their mouths, suggesting victims look to their own security failings instead.
The first a victim knows of the fraud is when they receive an email from Deliveroo confirming an order has been placed.
Deliveroo insists that its own systems have not been the subject of a hack or data breach; instead the firm advises that customers should not reuse passwords and usernames across multiple online accounts.
Sound advice on its own, but a critical mass of Deliveroo victims all suffering the same fraud might suggest that Deliveroo should look again at its own security measures.
- Smart fraud prevention mechanisms, if present at all, appear to be ineffectual here. Purchases that are so out of character – such as those highlighted in the show – should easily be picked up by automated systems and subjected to additional verification.
- Similarly, a change of delivery address should also trigger additional verification – a PIN sent to the account holder’s smartphone, for example.
- Deliveroo chooses not to authenticate customer card payments with a CVV2 code.
The Card Verification Value is one of the names given for the additional security numbers printed on the signature strip or from of the card. Deliveroo is far from the only retailer to forego ‘card not present’ security – Amazon, with its 1-click purchase is another. However, this lack of verification allows fraudsters to place orders on credit cards that are not theirs with no challenge at all.
Deliveroo’s light touch on security can be put down to one thing: sales. Here’s how skimping on security benefits Deliveroo’s bottom line:
- When we buy something, the more hoops we have to jump through to make that purchase, the more likely we’ll drop out and go somewhere else.
- Understandably Deliveroo wants to make placing an order with them as simple a process as possible by cutting out as many hoops as it can.
- However, some of those hoops are there for reasons of security; in removing those, Deliveroo is not only making it easier for its customers to place an order, it’s making it easier for them to be defrauded.
Watchdog airs on BBC1 tonight at 8pm.
As much as I find reading eBooks quick and convenient there’s something about the authority of a hefty hardback that really attracts me.
While inky words on reams wood-pulp paper might have a whiff of the past, Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable – the pages of which I’ve been thumbing through and scribbling upon over the past week – tastes very much of the future.
Kelly’s forthright views and predictions on the inevitable forces that shape our lives by 2046 are honed from a lifetime chasing the red rag of technology’s bleeding edge. They are rooted in humility, however, grounded by a confession that he hasn’t a clue what technologies are coming next. But then again, nobody does:
Most of the important technologies that will dominate life 30 years from now have not yet been invented.
Instead the Wired co-founder concerns himself with describing the twelve technological forces that will define humanity’s what’s next.
Confession time: as of writing this I’ve not finished reading the whole book, instead diving between chapters. That The Inevitable supports this is to its credit, each trend depicted is sufficiently standalone in substance.
Of those I’ve digested ‘Cognifying’ impacts the most, breaking down the monolithic AI concept into the tangible ways artificial intelligence and augmented intelligence will become commoditised and work with us, alongside us in our everyday. Kelly steers well clear of the graver questions around technological singularly – his tone is optimistic, genuine concerns well masked if they exist.
As well as reading Kevin’s fascinating thoughts I’m thrilled to be hosting an audience with Kevin at the annual Supernova digital marketing event in London on November 18th 2016. During our fireside chat we’ll be discussing some of the key themes in the book – artificial intelligence in particular, and what accelerated change catalysed by technology means for entrepreneurs and businesses, consumers and society.
Later on in the day Team GB Olympic gold medalists Laura Kenny (née Trott) and Jason Kenny OBE will also be on stage with Olympian-turned-coach Paul Manning to give an insight into how British cycling’s data-driven approach yielded so many medal-winning performances at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
There are panel sessions throughout the day too with leading figures from the technology, media and telecoms industries as well as motoring and advertising who will be revealing insights on consumer trends, online behaviours, and how businesses can embrace innovation in the digital world.
Find out more and register on the Quantcast Supernova website.
Among the topics I cover in this series of Rip Off Britain: Live on BBC1 is speech recognition. In Tuesday’s show I went to Liverpool to investigate how viewers are talking to their tech to help make their everyday lives easier.
According to researchers at Stanford University we can talk three times faster – and with 20% more accuracy – than we can type or swipe on a mobile phone.
Proof that it’s good to talk, right?
It was no surprise, however, to find that many I spoke with were initially sceptical about the effectiveness of speech recognition. But I had a hunch that their lack of confidence was misplaced, with judgements on poor comprehension based on older generations of the technology.
Our day of filming in and around Liverpool proved my point: I found that Apple’s intelligent personal assistant Siri was better than even I was at comprehending commands, irrespective of accent or background noise.
Speech recognition technology – and Siri is far from the only or even the best example at present – has now reached a level of useful maturity. What is needed next to help more to benefit from it is further accessibility and behavioural change.
In the main Rip Off Britain series in September I also took a look at how voice biometrics are being used by major service providers as an authentication factor to make logins to our online accounts safer, simpler and more secure.
Check out further clips from this series of Rip Off Britain here on the BBC website.
The new series of Rip Off Britain begins this Monday on BBC1 resuming its mission to expose shams, scams and poor customer service.
In this series I look at how failures in Vodafone’s billing systems and customer services have left subscribers out of pocket and with costly black marks on their credit history; also I investigate how freely available information might be used by identity thieves to build up detailed profiles of their victims.
One item that I hope to be covering more of is the future of passwords.
Like a stuck record, over the last four or so seasons on Rip Off Britain I’ve made the point again and again about the importance of good password hygiene to minimise the risk of hacks.
But recent developments in voice biometrics technology might be part of a move to make our live online much safer. In fact, customers of some major UK banks and service providers are already using just their voices to securely log-in to their online accounts.
The software claims to analyse around one hundred different behavioural and physical characteristics of our voices (for example accent or length of vocal folds) and is being used by customers of TalkTalk and HSBC among others. Its developer, Nuance, says the technology is so sophisticated that it can even distinguish between identical twins.
We took a special version of the voice recognition app to the BBC pop up shop at the Trafford Centre in Manchester to discover whether shoppers there felt secure using their voice as their password.
Rip Off Britain airs on BBC1 Monday to Friday from 12th September at 9.15am.
A challenge as a technology journalist is making sure more complex material remains accessible to your audience without compromising accuracy. With a daily UK readership of 1.895 million the Metro newspaper’s audience is broader than most, so when writing here I’m at pains to check that I’m maintaining clarity without sacrificing substance.
An example: faced with an assignment on Digital-to-Analogue Converters for this week’s Connect section of the paper I pitched hard with my editor to include an introductory paragraph to give some background. The format doesn’t normally allow for this, and even though we knew we would lose word-count elsewhere in the piece she agreed. It was the right decision.
A bit more about DACs:
A DAC or Digital-to-Analogue Converter takes the 0s and 1s from your digital music source – a CD, mp3 or Spotify stream for example – and pumps out the analogue signal necessary for speakers, subwoofers and headphones to function*. You’ll find them in phones, PCs, TVs, DVDs, games consoles, even digital radios – anything that plays audio from a digital source.
While this sounds like it should be a consistent digital activity there is variation in the specification of DACs which can result in audio quality differences. Bluntly, the DACs integrated into our devices may not be making the most of the audio source, particular if from high-resolution or lossless audio formats.
That’s where an external DAC comes into play, squeezing as much detail as possible from good quality digital audio files. They can also add some extra power to the output too – I for one find the volume on my Apple iPhone 6 Plus a little too soft when on the train, tube or in other noisy environments. There is additional significance here for iPhone owners given that Apple has pulled the plug on the ubiquitous 3.5 mm headphone jack in its newer phones – something these jack-equipped headphone amps can help to work around.
I did try to name the feature ‘What’s Up DAC?’ but my editor overruled me. A shame, but once again it was probably the right decision : )
* I was curious to discover whether purely digitally-driven speakers exist: it turns out they do in theory but are impractical for mass adoption – there are precious few resources online but here’s what Wikipedia has to say about them.
A lot of my work right now is around cyber crime and cyber safety. My Hackageddon feature this week’s Connect section in The Metro illustrates some ways in which our online data might be vulnerable.
While there are precautions we can all heed and best practices we can each adopt when online – good password hygiene among the most important – we are still at the mercy of the organisations we trust to safeguard our data. Sadly, too many of these have been found wanting, with poor security contributing to the estimated 500,000,000 personal records that were leaked or lost in 2015 alone (source: Symantec).
In the Metro feature I look at passwords and password managers, the rise of ransomware, and how to check if your data has already been leaked. We also see how Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg may take care to keep his details safe now, but how his previous poor security choices recently came back to bite him.
Read the full feature in the Metro e-edition here.
As a side note, the feature coincides with season two of Golden Globe-winning cybercrime drama Mr Robot airing on Amazon Prime Video. I enjoyed the first series – it’s a good drama with plenty of technical authenticity – and can’t wait now to get stuck into the second.