Category Archives: Technology

Got a new phone for Christmas? Impress your friends with these emoticons from the year 2000

In the year 2000 I got my first mobile and my friend Beth got me this book.

The intro tells new phone owners why the book will be useful:

The sub-text of your words, acronyms or abbreviations will become crystal clear to anyone reading them if you punctuate your messages with emoticons, whenever and wherever you feel like it.

I rediscovered the book this week and now I’m the sickest yoof on the block.

So turn off your Westlife minidisc, put your Razor Scooter back in the box, pick up the phone you wish was really a Nokia 3310, and make like it’s Y2K:

*8=(:      I am a blithering idiot

%+{        I was the loser of a fight

:^Y      I turn my poker face away

o’!       I am feeling pretty grim (profile)

:-”     I am whistling casually

*L*    I am drunk (sideways)

%-<|>     I am drunk with laughter

%*@:-(    I am hungover with a headache

(,’%/)    I have slept too long on one side

:-L    I have a blank expression with a cigarette or pipe

===:[OO’]>:=== I have been railroaded

#!^~/      I am kissing while wearing shades (profile)

(><)      I am anally retentive

When you want to squeeze a pun in there too:

>–COD     I am ‘floundering’ for something to say

When you’re kicking it old school:

g-)      I am wearing pince-nez glasses

When you needed Instagram but only had SMS:

O-G-<     Me, me, me (pointing to self)

:-)-8     I am a big girl

:-)^<    I am a big boy

(:-{~    I am bearded

:-)##     I am seriously bearded

:-(>~     I just washed my goatee, I can’t do a thing with it

{:-)     I am wearing a toupee

}:-(     My toupee is at risk from a high wind

When you want people to focus a bit lower down:

:-)   .     I have an innie belly button

:-)   ,     I have an outie belly button

{:-| 8()>     You are going to be a father!

When you have a mythical revelation to make:

:-[    I am a vampire

:-E    I am a buck-toothed vampire

<*(:-?    Wizard who doesn’t know the answer

+-:-)     I am the Pope

When your tech is stuck in the wrong time:

[:-)     I am wearing a Walkman

When you need to cut someone down to size:

:-8(     Condescending stare…

i-=<***i     Caution: I have a flame thrower

When the animal instinct is strong:

<:3 )~~~     Mouse

#B<>     A duck with a spiky haircut and Ray-Bans, quacking

:-D*     I am laughing so hard that I did not notice that a 5-legged spider is hanging from my lip

>8-O-(&)     Message about/from someone who has just realised they have tapeworm

And let’s finish with a few seasonal ones:

*|:^)(.)(…)     Snowman

<:>==     Turkey

*<|<|<|=    Christmas tree

Got all that? Gr8. 

Merry Christmas! *<:-)

~ Todd


I couldn’t find the book for sale on the original creator’s site (Michael O’Mara books), but it is still available second-hand on Amazon (and probably elsewhere) – see here.

Thanks to Michael O’Mara for such a treat!


White Town made a #1 hit single in his bedroom on a multitrack and an Atari.

How did he make Your Woman sound unique?

You’ve got to fuck up the technology you’ve got rather than let the technology fuck you up. It took me two days to get the beats slightly out of time on Your Woman. Two days! Getting them in time took two seconds.

That was 1997. No need to edit on an Atari now. But the principle is just the same: innovation doesn’t come with a tutorial.


Full Wired interview here.

More miscellaneous tidbits here.

The Strange Case of Newbury and Maidenhead

Newbury and Maidenhead nestle quietly west of London. Neither has a professional football team, neither is a hotbed of cutting-edge consumer tech, and neither has >100,000 inhabitants.

So when my team launched a Facebook football game, we were shocked to see Newbury and Maidenhead in the list of top 10 places where our players lived. This was in absolute terms, not penetration. We actually had more players in those two small towns than in many large cities.

Scoreboard focused on the English Premier League. Each week users would predict the results of the upcoming matches, and every Friday we made a show in which two pundits pitted their wits against the wisdom of the crowd.

We were big in Asia because we were spending marketing money on reaching Asian football fans, who are under-served with good Premier League content other than the live matches. But Newbury and Maidenhead — what was going on there?

The questions stumped me for weeks until I stumbled across an academic paper: The Spread of Behaviour in an Online Social Network Experiment, published by Damon Centola in Science (2010) and summarised here by MIT.

The paper looks at the spread of behaviour through two networks of equal size and containing an equal number of connections, but with rather different structures. The networks are pictured here:

The first network has regularly-spaced nodes (nodes = people), and no real clusters. The second network has a small number of dense clusters, with only minimal connections from one cluster to another.

In which network do behaviours spread faster?

It’s the second. Why? Because in order for behaviour to pass from one person to another there need to be multiple stimuli. So a well-spaced network will transmit behaviour more slowly than a clustered network, because in clusters there are dense interconnections between a small number of people. If one friend suggests I watch a new film, I might nod politely. But when a second and third say the same thing, I really start to listen.

We must have hit upon a densely-connected network of football fans in Newbury and Maidenhead. One or two started playing, then invited friends to play, and soon those inside the network must have been receiving multiple invitations and decided to give it a go.



Perhaps this happens more often in smaller settlements than larger ones. re/code just published an article about Pocket Gems’s players, showing that their most intense US gamers are in small towns, not big cities.

If we did that project again I’d spend the whole marketing budget targeting very specific groups of potential players — and I’m sure I would get more bang for each buck.

The British comedian Norman Wisdom is a hero in Albania. Maybe one day there’ll be a statue of Scoreboard presenter Dougie Anderson in Newbury and Maidenhead.


Reference: Centola, D. (2010), The Spread of Behaviour in an Online Social Network Experiment. Science 329(5996), 1194-1197. Summary:

Get more strange sociological stories via @toddmgreen on Twitter.

Blackberry Poker

Alex told me:

Blackberry Poker is so great, man! It’s just perfect. Really cool. The AI is brilliant. It’s so easy to play. Ach! What a great game.

Have you heard anyone talk that way about something made by Blackberry in the last five years?

But this guy just loved it. And my Blackberry was rock-solid – battery lasted forever and the mail app was very neat, much better than most of the fancy new clients in the app stores today.

It’s easy to write off a company, and laugh at their mistakes. But the NYSE has 90+% new companies vs. 100 years ago – everyone fails eventually. Even when the company fails, parts of it can still be “so great, man”.


More musings via @toddmgreen on Twitter.

Primitive car safety testing

Another story from the Robert McNamara archives.

Before becoming Secretary of State, he worked at Ford on car safety. He described their testing programme in The Fog Of War.

I said, “What about accidents? I hear a lot about accidents.”

“Oh yes, we’ll get you some data on that.” There were about forty odd thousand deaths per year from automobile accidents, and about a million, or a million two injuries.

I said, “Well, what causes it?”

“Well,” he said, “it’s obvious. It’s human error and mechanical failure.”

I said, “Hell, if it’s mechanical failure, we might be involved. Let’s dig into this.” I want to know, if it’s mechanical error, I want to stop it.

“Well”, they said, “There’s really very few statistics available.”

I said, “Dammit, find out what can we learn.”

They said, “Well, the only place we can find that knows anything about it is Cornell Aeronautical Labs.”

[Cornell] said, “The major problem is packaging.” They said, “You buy eggs and you know how eggs come in a carton?”

I said, “No, I don’t buy eggs. I never have — my wife does it.”

Well, they said, “You talk to her and ask her: when she puts that carton down on the drain board when she gets home, do the eggs break?”

And so I asked Marg and she said “No.”

So Cornell said, “They don’t break because they’re packaged properly. Now if we packaged people in cars the same way, we could reduce the breakage.”

We lacked lab facilities, so we dropped the human skulls in different packages down the stairwells of the dormitories at Cornell. Well, that sounds absurd, but that guy was absolutely right. It was packaging which could make the difference.

Testing and iteration by dropping skulls down stairs. Smashing!


More McNamara here (my post on the terrible odds for WWII US pilots). Full interview transcript here (I made a few edits for clarity’s sake). Image by pegasus22 on Etsy.

If you’d like more McNamara-related posts, follow @toddmgreen on Twitter or join the mailing list.

The Strangeness of Silicon Valley

From a conversation between John Naughton and Judy Wajcman:

The technology industry is actually rather small. And dysfunctional. And solves its own problems. But Silicon Valley has convinced us that the problems of a small set of socially-unusual people (who sleep at their desks and have no social life) are actually our own problems too, and that we need products and services that help to solve them.

In case proof of this were needed – here’s Elon Musk (PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla founder) on relationships:

I would like to allocate more time to dating. I need to find a girlfriend. That’s why I need to carve out just a little more time. I think maybe even another five to ten — how much time does a woman want a week? Maybe 10 hours? That’s kind of the minimum? I don’t know.

Clearly a genius, but a rather strange one. The other side of the Valley.


Links: Naughton/Wajcman, Musk.

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The Robots Already Won

You can relax! Our robot overlords already took control.

Three examples of their successful infiltration:

1. Ipswich Town’s PR teambots

Ipswich defender Tyrone Mings paid off all his mum’s debts. Wonderful news! A footballer with a conscience!

An Ipswich spokesman said it was:

A private matter between Tyrone and his mum.


2. Verizon CEObot

Verizon spent $4,400,000,000 (that’s $4.4bn) on buying AOL. Blockbuster deal!

Lowell McAdam, Verizon chairman and CEO, said:

Verizon’s vision is to provide customers with a premium digital experience based on a global multiscreen network platform. This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience.


3. Local councilbots

Water fountain dating back to 1853, adorned by Biblical quote. Historically interesting! And possibly significant!


Game over, see you later. MAYBE.


Links: Mings, Verizon, Water.

For more warnings from the future, follow @toddmgreen on Twitter or join the newsletter.




Homescreen’s where the Art is

Yay, I finally found some data on what people have on their homescreens!

Here’s what I found on Homescreen, a site/app that helps you share a screenshot of your iPhone homescreen.

I like all this because, as co-founder Matt Hartman puts it:

The App Store is a black box.

The site shows the most popular apps, and gives the % of users’ homescreens on which each app appears. 500,000 different apps from 13,000 screens indexed so far.

The data comes from Homescreen users, so obviously there’s a heavy selection bias going on here. The Homescreen app itself appears on 9.82% of homescreens indexed this week… which I doubt is true of the full iPhone userbase.

So, what can we learn?

Turns out that even geeky homescreen curators will often keep the default Apple apps front and centre:

So what happens when we cut out the default Apple apps?

Things look a bit different. By this view, mobile is all about social. And as Quartz points out: no games, no newsreaders.

I’d love to see the data in more detail – for different devices, demographics, locations, etc. But the company just added profile pages as a feature (see e.g. Pocket), and on every profile page there’s cool stuff like which other apps it shares a folder with, and which other apps it most often appears alongside on the homescreen.

Here’s my current homescreen, with the %s of Homescreen users who have each app on their own homescreen. Man, they are missing out on Trello!



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Thanks for reading! ~ Todd

How to get a bargain on a new iPhone (and a free cost calculator)

Which of these costs more?

  1. iPhone 5C, 8GB
  2. iPhone 6, 16GB

Trick question: they cost the same amount (£1107 over 2 years) if you choose the right purchase option.

That’s one of the surprises I discovered when I compared the costs of all models, storage sizes, and purchase types (direct / 12m contract / 24m contract).

No shady stuff, no gimmicks or trade-ins – below I set out what I found just by building a little tool to compare all the usual options.

My trusty 4S borked last night after 2.5 years’ service, so I’m wondering (1) whether to stick with an iPhone and (2) if so, which to buy.

Assuming that I want to get another iPhone, there are three main variables:

  1. Model (5C, 5S, 6, 6+)
  2. Storage (8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB)
  3. Purchase option (direct purchase, 12-month contract, 24-month contract)

I built a basic cost calculator to help me decide which to buy. You can use it too – link below.

Remarkably, there are some relative bargains available.

Example bargains:

  • iPhone 6, 16GB for the same price as 5C, 8GB (the example given at the top)
  • iPhone 5S, 16GB cheaper than 5C, 8GB
  • iPhone 6, 64GB cheaper than iPhone 5S with 16/32GB
  • iPhone 6 Plus, 128GB cheaper than iPhone 5S, 64GB

Also – in all cases, buying direct from Apple is cheaper than spreading the cost across a contract – so if you have the cash, buy direct.

Here’s the key part of the spreadsheet, and here’s the link to download the calculator (.xlsx file): iPhone comparison calculator – 04-10-14

I haven’t made my mind up yet – but this will stop me overpaying if I do decide on an iPhone.


~ Todd

What is B? What The Data Can Never Tell You: Games and The Flash Crash

The 2010 Flash Crash was a United States stock market crash on Thursday May 6, 2010 in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged about 1000 points (about 9%) only to recover those losses within minutes. It was the second largest point swing, 1,010.14 points, and the biggest one-day point decline, 998.5 points, on an intraday basis in Dow Jones Industrial Average history.

The Flash Crash was caused by human error.

The [official] report said that this was an unusually large position and that the computer algorithm the trader used to trade the position was set to “target an execution rate set to 9% of the trading volume calculated over the previous minute, but without regard to price or time”.

And that original error was magnified by a sequence of automated knock-on effects:

The New York Times [wrote]: “Automatic computerized traders on the stock market shut down as they detected the sharp rise in buying and selling.” As computerized high-frequency traders exited the stock market, the resulting lack of liquidity “…caused shares of some prominent companies like Procter & Gamble and Accenture to trade down as low as a penny or as high as $100,000.”

Remarkably, the problem self-corrected after a few minutes. But it was not an isolated incident:

The growth of computerized and high-frequency trading in commodities and currencies has coincided with a series of ‘flash crashes’ in those markets. The role of human market makers, who can match buyers and sellers and provide liquidity to the market, is now more and more played by computer programs. If those program traders pull back from the market, then big “buy” or “sell” orders can lead to sudden, big swings. It increases the probability of surprise distortions… In February 2011, the sugar market took a dive of 6% in just one second. On March 1, Cocoa-futures prices dropped 13% in less than a minute on the IntercontinentalExchange. Cocoa plunged $450 to a low of $3,217 a metric ton before rebounding quickly. The U.S. dollar tumbled against the yen on March 16, falling 5% in minutes, one of its biggest moves ever. According to a former cocoa trader: “The electronic platform is too fast; it doesn’t slow things down” like humans would.

We have so much data, and so many smart tools for managing and manipulating it. These are tools so smart that they work automatically, without human direction or intervention. It’s like when your hand touches the cooker: you pull it away before the pain message even reaches your brain, because your nerves respond automatically, much faster than your thoughts.

But with all this data, and all these smart tools – are we cutting ourselves out of the loop too fast?

An analogy from games: dozens of companies are running thousands of A/B tests on millions of data points to try to figure out how to optimise their products.

But even though examining the data might tell you what you’re doing wrong, it cannot tell you how to put it right.

An A/B test divides players into two groups: A is the control, the normal version. B is the test, the new version. For example – you could run an A/B test which changes the way a new type of archer in Age Of Empires is introduced to the player in a tutorial (is that game still going? classic!). The games guys run versions A and B alongside each other and compare the results – checking which group used the new archer type more, were more likely to return to the game the following day, or were more likely to do more of whatever else they were looking to improve.

But if A is what you have now – the current version – then what is B?

B must be defined, built, designed by humans.

It can’t be automated. So you have to invent it yourself.

Using big data and smart tools is an art as well as a science.



Age of Empires is still going! Info on the series can be found here.

All the quotes above are from the Wikipedia article on the 2010 Flash Crash. The best stories are the true ones.

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