NFC: An Issue of Trust?

The introduction of NFC (Near Field Communication) technology for payment cards, quite frankly, gives me the willies. I recently received my first “wave me at the coffee counter” touch payment card from my bank, and it set me to thinking. And what I think is that I have what any decent psychiatrist would call trust issues.

Imagine the scenario. You waft your wallet full of touch-payment cards at the payment station in your local Barista hangout – which one gets used? The first one detected, I suspect. And Murphy’s Law says it won’t be the one you wanted. To make sure the right one is used, you’ll have to take that card out, present it to the payment point, and put it back in your wallet. The delays this is going to create at ticket barriers and on buses will make for an unhappy rush hour experience (and let’s face it – rush hours don’t need any help, thank you very much).

And anyway, taking out the card you intend to use is boring! The whole point of putting NFC on a payment card is to speed up the process. The next time you’re in London on the tube, look out for the Oyster users who glare at the tourists who get immersed in the whole which-way-round-ness of barrier ticket confusion, with murder in their eyes. Even I use an Oyster card, and I don’t live there! And now, London commuters are going to have to lift out their oyster cards as well, because plans are afoot for TfL to accept touch payment cards at tube barriers and on buses. So pretty soon Oysters will have to be kept separate from any other touch-payment enabled cards. In fact, all of these NFC/RFID enabled cards will have to be kept separate from each other. Perhaps we need a lanyard for each one, or is that just a Health & Safety disaster in waiting?

All of this negates the purported benefit – namely, speed efficiencies and ease of use.

My other issue is theft. NFC/RFID is actually good for thirty feet. On a good day, mind you (or “down hill with the wind behind it”, as my mother used to say), and not on any legitimate pay stations (which are generally restricted to a range of between 4-10cm). The kind of distance that I’m talking about is inherent in the technology, and means that thieves using a reader with a good range on it can steal the limit (soon to be increased from £20 to £30) on each of your NFC cards without ever going near your pocket. One afternoon’s wandering up and down Oxford Street could net tens of thousands for a “hard-working” tealeaf. And with passports moving to having biometric data stored on NFC chips, it means that identity thieves can hoover data up in a similar fashion. There are already phone apps on the open market that will read content from passport chips.

Now, ApplePay on the other hand is a solution that actually uses NFC well, and it’s a simple one at that. The NFC isn’t activated until you press the home button and your fingerprint is validated. Given the ubiquitous nature of the iPhone, it makes perfect sense for retailers and the like to adopt pay stations that accept ApplePay. Sadly, as it’s a service that’s only active in the U.S. at the moment, it feels a bit like Cinema and VHS releases back in the day.

If you still want to use your wafty-payment plastic, it turns out that you needn’t worry about theft, though, as I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this issue. Betabrand have teamed up with Norton to create a set of RFID-shielded jeans, and there’s already a plethora of RFID-shielded wallets and card sleeves available on Amazon. I recently bought one from a certain “outdoors” retailer, but I was still able to gain access to the office by waving it in front of the door access system, so I guess the jury’s still out. Luckily, I needed a new wallet in any case, so no harm done. But it begs the question – is it tech worth getting just yet, or should we rely on our own good housekeeping and the odd insurance claim?

Frankly, I think I’m better off simply never leaving the safety of my foil-insulated house. But that’s probably a story for another time.

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My Name Is…

Finally, it was my turn. As I stood up, the backs of my knees pushed my chair out behind me, the scrape of the metal legs against the damp concrete floor echoing around the the basement hall. The noise only served to highlight the general sense of loneliness and desperation. God, they were a depressed looking bunch. I cleared my throat, “Hello, everyone. My name’s Jamie, and I’m an addict”.
“Hello Jamie” they mourned. Well, I couldn’t exactly tell them the real reason I was there, now could I? The last time I did that, I had the whole group running for the door. Luckily, I got to it first, and managed to contain the situation. Well, when I say contained … put it this way, I’ll never be able to show my face in Bromley again, not after that little blood-lust of an evening. It had been a pathetically low turn-out anyway, so there were only four of them. Still, it ended up a real mess, what with all the hysteria. And the trouser wetting. Oh, and let’s not forget the blood. No – starting a meeting, any kind of meeting, with “Hello everyone. My name’s Jamie, and I’m a vampire” is definitely not the way to win friends. But then generally I’m not out looking for friends, I’m looking for dinner.

Piffle

Piffle, drivel, bollocks and shite
Four eloquences with which to write.
When I touch my artist’s pen to scroll
I nearly almost use them all.

Each stanza, line, and paragraph
Displays my elegance (in draft).
My mind, just like a rapier poised,
More oft to drift, as radio noise.

But with my lowly sang-froid self
My folio sits unread a’shelf.
I ponder on where reader went
But find my august wonder spent.

Not Safe

“I’m not a gun-slinger”, he hissed at me, “I’m an assassin. It’s not a predilection, it’s a service.”

“Either way, you kill for money”, I said. “If they had money, you’d kill me.”

He stared through the grill where the window had once been, and out into the dark. His hangdog face gave away nothing. “Oh, they got money. This is different.”

“So you’ll help?” I asked.

“Help?” he replied, “You think this is help? Kid, this isn’t help, this is preservation. They’re coming for me just as much as they’re coming for you.” Then he turned to me and grinned, the first I’d ever seen from him. His face didn’t look like it did it often – or even liked it, “They just want you a little more.” He nodded to the corner, then turned back to the dark, waiting, “Don’t you have something to do?”

I had thought we would be safe out here, quietly existing among the dusty mix of trees and rocks, minding our own business. But I was wrong, and we weren’t safe. They were coming for us now, and I realised that despite all my efforts, there was simply no escape – the past was about to catch up with me very quickly and very violently.

I moved across to the small bench in the corner, took a breath, paused, and let it out slowly. Then I set to work on the pipe bombs. Just as I’d learned all those years ago.

Bitcoin and its Environmental Impact

I was recently asked about how I felt about the environmental impact of virtual currencies, given that the energy required to mine the coins gets almost exponentially higher as fewer remain.

I don’t think for a minute that environmental impact will ever be the limiting factor in Bitcoin mining (I could wax lyrical on the human condition and its all-consuming need for power, to the detriment the environment, for paragraph after paragraph), and here’s an example of why.

GPU performance requirement for mining the remaining bitcoins is so high that it requires significant investment to make it feasible to do so. And that’s a continual investment, as it means replacing your GPU board each time a faster one is released. And that probably means you’ll need a new PSU into the bargain (the forthcoming Radeon R9 295X2 8 GB from AMD will be priced around the $1500 mark – no UK prices available as yet – and has an un-clocked power draw of 500W). So it’s no longer commercially viable for home users to mine what’s left, even with dedicated hardware (no more “I bought the hardware for gaming, and I mine overnight”). The hurdle is financial, and that finance is all Bitcoin-oriented.

So the scarcity of bitcoins requires increased processing, leads to increased investment, increased power consumption, and the inevitable increase in Environmental impact. Sadly it won’t be the environmental impact that will put people off mining (or make it problematical), it will only ever be the diminishing ROI that the necessary increase in more powerful hardware dictates.