Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Flash on iOS devices with Puffin

Flash on the iPad? Has Hell frozen over?

Not quite. Puffin is a web browser that lets you view Flash content on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. However, it doesn’t make Flash run on iOS. Instead, it uses one of three US data centres to render web pages - including any Flash elements - remotely, and then streams the resulting display to your iPad.
Hang on. Post-Snowden, I don’t feel quite so comfortable about US-based data centres...

Well, if you have nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to... No, you’re right, of course. Developer CloudMosa insists that while it will comply with law enforcement requests, it encrypts everything that passes between your device and its servers, and once you log off, it erases your history from its cache. Aside from enabling it to serve Flash content, CloudMosa also reckons offloading all the processing work to a server is quicker than tasking your iPad with retrieving every part of each web page itself, so browsing will be faster all round.

And is it?

Kind of. On our iPad, Puffin completed the SunSpider JavaScript test in 253.9 milliseconds; Safari took 1285.2ms. Like Safari, Puffin scores 100% in the Acid3 CSS test, so there’s nothing to choose between them in terms of web standards compliance.

Stats are only half the story, though. In general use, Puffin sometimes felt a bit laggy. For example, it impacted our score when using the test quizzes at MyMaths (, an education site built using Flash, where we were able to answer 16 questions on an iPad 3 and get 15 right within a two-minute limit. On a regular Mac, we worked through 67 questions in the same time and scored 65. When your score depends as much on how many questions you see as on how you answer them, real-world speed is crucial.

At EducationCity (, we completed a French test on the Mac in one minute 40 seconds, and on the Puffin browser in two minutes 14 seconds

Puffin doesn’t support the latest version of Flash, currently topping out at 11.2, while Adobe is shipping 13.1. Nor does it support Microsoft’s rival, Silverlight.

How about Flash video?

Puffin does let you play Flash videos, but when embedded in web pages these were sometimes jerky and blocky in our tests. You also need to be aware that routing everything through the US means you’ll be identified as a US user. So UK-specific services like iPlayer’s TV content are off limits - although iPlayer works fine on iOS without Flash, so that’s academic. ITV Player didn’t work for us via Puffin even when we entered a UK postcode. On the other hand, you may find you can access US services you normally couldn’t, although you might be breaking their T&Cs.
And all this is free?

Not quite. The free version of Puffin only plays Flash during what it calls ‘daytime’ - currently 9am to 4pm, but this could change without notice. If you want to watch at other times, you need the £1.99 app. Alternatively, you can sign up for an auto-renewing subscription to the Flash rendering service, at 69p for six months.

Should I download it?

If you need to access Flash sites on iOS, Puffin is probably your best bet. It may not be as quick as a flash, but nor is it just a flash in the pan [you’re fired - Ed].

Try the free version from the iOS App Store and see if it works for you. Flash rendering is free round the clock for the first two weeks.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

IWORK PRO: How to work around some of the features axed from Pages

They’ve broken iWork! Or so it would seem if you took to heart the litany of complaints that have followed the product’s recent revamp. Every iWork user will probably pine for at least one feature that’s been dropped in order to make iWork a truly cross-platform product.

A couple of iWork-using friends have worked themselves into near-apoplexy owing to the absence of a customisable toolbar in the new iWork. I can live without that, but I do sorely miss AppleScript support. Like many other missing features, I’m comforted that Apple is working on bringing this feature back (see

But broken? I don’t think so. There are inconveniences, certainly, but what the new iWork brings - access to my iWork documents wherever I am and the ability to work on the same file without worrying that elements have been stripped out -is worth the price for living for a short while without vertical rulers in Pages, or footers and headers in Numbers.

If you’re resolutely railing against iWork’s stripped-down features, which particularly affects Pages users, there are ways to keep the old version’s best features.

The most drastic step is to eschew the upgrade. iWork ’09 isn’t removed when you install the new iWork and lives on in your Applications -> iWork folder, functioning just as well as it did before. However, this approach is difficult to stick to for any time, particularly if you’ve also updated iWork on iOS, because these require the new version of iWork (and Mavericks) to sync. The simple act of opening an iCIoud-stored iWork ’09 document on iOS or in iWork for iCIoud - even if you don’t edit it - automatically converts it to iWork’s new file format, which
is incompatible with earlier versions. In the case of iWork for iCIoud, all this happens without a warning. Effectively, the only realistic way to avoid working in the new version is to avoid using iCIoud, which I think removes one of iWork’s greatest advantages.

If such an emergency occurred, you could use the updated File > Export option on the Mac to export a document back to iWork ’09 format, or revert the document to its a pre-iWork ’13 state by choosing File > Revert > Browse All Versions. Remember, of course, that this will lose any other changes you’ve made to the file since that point.

However, I’ve discovered workarounds for at least a couple of Pages’ missing features. For example, its Layout mode, which is used for creating newsletter-style layout documents, has disappeared, to the annoyance of many users, but you can mimic much of its effect in the new version of Pages by removing its background text layer.

To do remove this text layer, open the Setup Inspector and uncheck the Document Body option. Now you can move shapes and text boxes around the page just as you could in Page Layout mode. Remember to convert images and other elements that you want to keep into floating documents, otherwise they’ll be stripped out with the background text. In the Format Inspector under the Arrange tab’s Object Placement section, make sure the ‘Stay on Page’ button is active. A word of caution here, though: if you remove the background layer, Pages treats the document in the same way as it did Page Layout files in that you won’t be able to export the document to ePub format.

Pulling power.  It’s now possible to pull data from one Pages table into another

One way of reverting to the old iWork format is to revert to an older version of the document

Some Pages features aren’t actually missing, they’re just difficult to find. I was looking to adjust the spacing after a paragraph of text, something that was easy enough to dointhe old Text Inspector. But nowthe option is hidden away under the Text tab ofthe Formatting Inspector. To get to it, you need to choose Text > Style > Spacing, and then click thedis-closure triangle, which will finally reveal the elusive Before and After paragraph space settings.
Because the new unified Pages iWork format treats documents as a single flow of text, rather than the separate pages of the erstwhile Page Layout mode, there still isn’t a way to manipulate pages or sections by dragging them in the sidebar. Exporting the document to iWork ’09 won’t do the trick, as an exported document opens in iWork ’09 as a word processing, rather than a Page Layout, document.

Neither can you capture pages nor add complete pages to documents. The workaround here is to add new pages through the Insert > Page Break menu options, and copy and paste elements from other pages that you want to use in the new page. Here at least, Pages’ ability to store Object Styles makes them easier to reproduce consistently.

A huge casualty of the decline of Page Layout mode is that you can’t create floating text boxes and link them so the text they contain flows between them. It’s an indefensible loss. But I’ve stumbled across a workaround - although I’m sure it wasn’t intended as one - through iWork’s new Shape tools, found under the Format Inspector’s Arrange tab. These new shape editing tools, which let you combine, intersect, subtract or exclude shapes, only appear when you select multiple shapes. Their primary purpose is to make it easier to create complicated shapes, but if you select two text boxes and click the Unite button, it joins them so text flows from one to the other. It’s rudimentary: once joined, you can’t move the text boxes individually or change their dimensions. And you can’t adjust the flow of the text; the text seems to flow between boxes in the order in which they’re created. However, until Apple allows true text box linking, it’s compensation worth having.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Database tasks in Numbers

With the demise of Bento, FileMaker’s consumer-based database app, database choices for those on a budget begin to look a little thin. However, a solution might be closer than you think v. For simple database tasks, iWork’s Numbers, now free to purchasers of new Mac or iOS devices (and cheap anyway), might be all you need.

Numbers may be billed as a spreadsheet, but at its heart a database is simply a way of organising data, and Numbers does this very well. In fact, a spreadsheet table in Numbers can be thought of as a simple ‘flat file’ database. Such a database consists of a single table, with one column or two containing lots of associated fields. If you were tracking your clients, you could, say, have a column of client names, with cells underneath each containing their contact details.

The limitations of the flat-file approach become apparent when you want to use the information within it elsewhere. More powerful databases are relational: they contain more than one table and an entry in one can link to an entry in another. They enable you to store information in a modular fashion, and there’s less duplication of data: you don’t need to re-enter data, just look it up in another table.

You can mimic this more powerful type of database in Numbers, by using its VLOOKUP (Vertical Lookup) function. VLOOKUP takes a value from one table and searches for that same value in another table. When it finds it, it returns the value of a corresponding cell from a specified column the same row of that table. This turns Numbers into a powerful database. Let’s say you’re a small business looking to invoice clients, but you don’t want to manually enter their address or product details on every invoice. Instead you can have one table containing a list of clients and another comprising a stock list. Thanks to Numbers’ Lookup function, simply entering certain data into a cell will automatically enter other information into cells next to it.

Here, we’ll use Numbers’ VLOOKUP function to generate an invoice using client information stored in one table, and stock information kept in another.

  Create the invoice sheet in Numbers. Numbers comes with a perfectly serviceable invoice template in its Template Chooser, so use that as a starting point. It currently holds static data for the address fields and invoice entries, but we’ll change that later.


  If you have existing contact details in the Contacts app, you can save yourself trouble. Select the contacts you want and drag them over an open Numbers window. Note, though, that this trick doesn’t yet work in the latest version of iWork, so you’ll have to import the contacts into a Numbers ’09 document, then copy it into the current document.

 Set up the two tables that will act as the database sources to populate your invoice. In the Invoice template, click the *+’ button below the toolbar to create a new sheet. The first table of these will comprise a stock list: a collection of products for sale together with their prices and other information.

 The second table that you’ll create in the same sheet is made up of a list of your business contacts, including each contact’s name, address and postcode details, entered in a separate cells along a row. This data will be used to populate the address field of the invoice sheet.

  Add a column on the left-hand side of the Clients table (right-click the leftmost column and select Add Column Before) where you can add a three-letter abbreviation unique to each client. This will be matched by the code you later enter in the invoice to refer to this client.

 In the invoice sheet, delete the text box containing the name and address, and replace it with a plain table. Click the Table button in the Toolbar and choose a simple table style from the list. In the Table Inspector, uncheck the options for Table Name and Alternating Row Color, and remove the grid lines.

 Leave one cell empty to hold the customer reference, which you’ll add when you create each invoice. The reference that you add will be matched against code next to each client in the Clients table. There’s no requirement for his code, but by matching short codes, it makes errors less likely.

You don’t want all this work to go into every invoice, so to re-use the template, empty the Invoice Sheet of any data and choose File > Save as Template. Click the Add to Template Chooser button, and the template will be available from the Template Chooser from now on.

 By sending the invoice as a PDF, you can only send the invoice sheet, rather than all sheets. With the invoice sheet active, choose File > Print. In the Print dialog, choose one of the PDF options and in the Print Preview Inspector, make sure that the option to print This Sheet is selected.

Copy the formula to the other invoice item cells in the same way as you did for the address fields, but don’t preserve the row and column of the Lookup value, as this changes on each invoice line. When you come to enter the product name in the invoice, the Lookup function will enter its price.

One advantage of using the Invoice template is you only need now to enter the quantity of the product ordered (column B, here) and the untouched Cost column (column D), and thanks to the pre-built formulas that came with the template, the invoice will calculate the total automatically.

 Enter the Lookup formula in the cell that holds the product price (cell C2). Use the same Lookup formula, adjusting it so that when you enter the name of the product in column A, the formula will search the first column of the Product List table and then return its price in the next column.

Once the formulas have been added for the address, you can turn your attention to the Invoice items, which appear on a separate table on the Invoice sheet. Clear the contents of column A - you’ll enter the name of the product yourself when you create the invoice.

Questions and answers

Following a system restore on my MacBook running OS X 10.6.8, I’ve lost permission to access backups prior to the restore. How can I fix this?

This probably occurred because during the restore you’ve been added as a new user additional to the original user. Although your user name may be the same, OS X knows users as numbers, typically making the first admin user 501. You may discover that your current numeric ID is 502. Under the standard permissions set for folders in the Backups.backupdb folder used for storage by Time Machine, this would be seen as a different user, hence lacking permissions to access those backups. Sometimes you can prevent this from happening during a system restore, but once it has occurred, the only reliable way to address it is to change permissions on the affected folders. If you had a tame Unix wizard to hand, there are some neat command line tricks they could use.

I was sad to learn that FileMaker had abandoned its Bento database, and that it’s incompatible with Mavericks. Can I create dual-boot partitions so I can drop back to Mountain Lion to use Bento 4? If so, how?

Bento was a sad loss., but Bento 4 appears to have no compatibility issues with Mavericks, so you can safely upgrade to Mavericks without risking loss of access to your databases. However, you raise an excellent point: how to set up a dual-boot system that will allow you access to both Mountain Lion and Mavericks. If you have access to an external drive capacious enough to contain each partition, you could clone your current Mountain Lion startup volume to it, restart from that external drive, repartition your internal drive, clone the Mountain Lion volume back to its partition and then install Mavericks afresh to the other volume. We would be interested to hear from users who have accomplished this.

l’m running iPhoto 9.4.3 under OS X 10.8.5 and haven’t printed directly from iPhoto for some time. The other day I went to do so, only to be told that the theme was missing. Where does iPhoto keep themes, and how can I workaround this?
 Normally, current iPhoto themes are stored inside the iPhoto app itself, in the path Contents/Resources/Themes. Some localised components are tucked away in the Themes.Common folder inside the Resources folder there. Additional themes appear in /Library/Application Support/iPhoto/Themes. You might be able to keep themes in folders having a similar path in other libraries, including that in your Home folder, but those aren’t usual. When themes are correctly located, iPhoto should find and use them automatically. It’s worth repairing permissions to ensure this isn’t the result of incorrect permissions. However, you probably used a legacy theme that hasn’t ported across to an update, or has become lost. If iPhoto can’t handle an old theme, change theme via the button at the top right of the window.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


App Store products have stringent ‘sandbox’ requirements that are reflected in locations used for their support and preference flies. The main point of entry is through ~/Library/

Containers; each installed app there has its own folder, containing a miniature home folder constructed largely of links to your own folders, and traditional items such as Application Support and Preferences.

Your home folder also includes sub-folders intended for specific types of media, including Movies, Music and Pictures. These are the default locations for iMovie, iTunes and iPhoto libraries, but each app lets you change library or content location, which is helpful if you want to keep large libraries on a separate or networked drive. Unless you have good reason to be different, it’s simplest to use these as Apple intends, to keep some order within your Home folder.

If you wish, you can relocate the iTunes Media folder to a location outside your Music folder using the Advanced tool in its Preferences

Curiously some find it harder to move or share files between different users on the same Mac than between different Macs. The simplest solution is to place documents in the /Users/Shared folder, which all user accounts can access. This can have its own Library folder, which is useful for sharing fonts between some but not all users. An AirDrop virtual drive appears in Finder windows when activated.

FILE AND FOLDER STRUCTURE  -  True to its name, the system library contains components essential to OS X, hardware and everything that works at low level. A typical example is /System/Library/Extensions, which contains code that extends the OS X kernel to address hardware such as graphics cards and Thunderbolt ports. Third-party products can install their own kernel extensions (.kext files) there, but an errant .kext can readily cause kernel panics and other serious issues. The system Fonts folder must contain those fonts required by OS X, currently around 43 files, but shouldn’t contain others.

The main library houses support files that are common to all users. In its sub-folders, you’ll find the great bulk of the fonts that you have installed, third-party System Preferences panes and extensions, and in Application Support all manner of files required to make Apple and other apps work properly. In contrast to the system library, it’s tailored by apps and other tools to make your Mac what it is. The Library in your home folder is more personal still, containing your personal preference settings and all other support material specific to you. Although usually hidden from the Finder, it’s easily revealed by pressing Alt when you open the Finder’s Go menu.
You don’t have to install apps in the top-level Applications folder, and can run them temporarily from within most other folders, including the Documents folder in your Home folder (~/Documents) if you wish. However, most users find it best to segregate apps into the Applications folder; you can use the folder of the same name in your Home folder if you want to limit use of that app to just yourself, but updaters may not notice them there. Indeed, nesting apps inside custom folders inside your Applications folder can sometimes confuddle updaters, so you’re best installing each in the default location in /Applications.

If your Mac is sharing files or more over a network, then you should see a top-level Network folder offering you those shared facilities. Sometimes routers and other devices appear there even if they’re not offering any shared resources, though.

Sticking to this standard form of folder layout ensures OS X can find the right files at the right time, and you’re never upset by reports of missing fonts or other resources. However, you can be more creative within your home folder, which is what it’s intended for.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dual Pixel СMOS AF upgrade for Canon C100

When Canon announced the 70D back in the summer, it represented perhaps the first advancement in sensor technology for a good few years. Since filmmakers started using the 5D Mkll to shoot HD video back in 2008, there have been new models, but nothing that really improved the sensor for video capture.

The70D has a new feature called Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which drastically improves the DSLR’s autofocus capabilities. Autofocus for video on DSLRs has typically been slow and unreliable - to the point where it’s a liability and you’re better off sticking with manual for safety.

The 70D changes this by employing a new sensor that splits each pixel into two photodiodes that can be read separately to allow phase-detection autofocus, which is far more accurate than the contrast-based scheme used by previous DSLR sensors.

Dual Pixel СMOS AF upgrade for Canon C100

Dual Pixel СMOS AF upgrade for Canon C100

The upside of this is that you get a DSLR that can autofocus quickly, accurately and without overshooting and racking back. However, the world has moved on from shooting on DSLRs to large-sensor camcorders that combine the best of both worlds, such as Canon’s own EOS Cinema range.

The real surprise about Dual Pixel CMOS AF came when Canon announced it could enable this new technology on existing C100 cameras via a firmware update. The C100 has been available for less than a year, so owners who have already put down the best part of £5,000 to buy one will be relieved to know that their investment hasn’t been obliterated by a newer, swankier model in fewer than 12 months.
You’ll need to send your camera back to Canon to perform the update, but so far, so good. Canon has never been afraid of pricing its products at what it feels the market can bear, and although previous updates to the C100 have been free, Canon intends to charge $500 (U K pricing TBA) for this one.

The company has confirmed that the update doesn’t require any new hardware - it’s just firmware and then alignment by an engineer to ensure the pixels are functioning correctly. However, just the fact that Canon is charging for this update has upset many people on the internet.

The attitude seems to be that firmware updates should be free - whether they add new features or not. This argument ignores the fact that firmware updates take significant resources to develop and test: they don’t create themselves. Even if the firmware ‘unlocks’ a feature already present in the hardware, it’s not a rip-off for Canon to charge for this additional functionality.

It’s likely that most people complaining about the update aren’t actually C100 owners. Given the choice between a nominal fee to increase the functionality of an already great camera versus having to ditch it entirely and buy a brand-new model, Canon’s approach is sensible. Professional cameras aren’t meant to be replaced on the same schedule as iPhones, so anything that prolongs the life of that investment for a fraction of the original purchase price is welcome, whatever anyone with an internet connection and the ability to type says.

THUNDERBOLT - standard. The original Thunderbolt spec supported 20Gbit/sec of total bandwidth, split between a 10Gbit/sec upstream and a 10Gbit/sec downstream channel. Thunderbolt 2 aggregates these channels, so it still offers the same 20Gbit/sec maximum, but can offer more than 10Gbit/ sec in each direction, depending on what other transfer demands there are at the time.

Back in the days of FireWire (and pre-Gigabit networking), you could also create a fast network connection between Macs using FireWire. Mavericks has re-introduced this concept in the form of the Network Thunderbolt Bridge. This enables you to connect two Macs together via a single Thunderbolt cable and transfer files at super fast speeds. Trying this out between a 2013 MacBook Pro Retina and a 2013 MacBook Air showed huge potential, although is wasn’t exactly smooth. Running Blackmagic Disk Speed Test on the MacBook Air, accessing the MacBook Pro’s SSD saw speeds hit 619MB/sec (just under 5Gbit/sec), which is nearly as fast as the theoretical maximum of USB3.

Trying the test the other way round, however, saw speeds all over the place - from as low as 77M B/sec (0.6Gbit/sec) to 416MB/sec (3.3Gbit/sec). That’s quite a bracket. However, this method shows a lot of promise, especially if you connect your machines the right way round.

10 Gigabit Ethernet is still hugely expensive, so Thunderbolt could provide an affordable way to hook up multiple users to fast shared storage. With six Thunderbolt ports on the forthcoming Mac Pro, you could create a small network for a fraction of the cost of kitting everything out with 10 Gigabit network adaptors.

Thunderbolt is still more expensive than USB 3, but the premium is gradually falling. It also offers greater functionality and performance, especially as 4K video becomes more prevalent. Thankfully, Apple
has equipped all new Macs with both: use USB3 now if it does everything you want and when you need faster connections or greater functionality, Thunderbolt is ready and waiting. Just plug in the right peripheral and you’re good to go.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Naturally drawn

Paper by FiftyThree is one of the most popular sketching apps for iOS, not least because it makes whatever you draw look as if it was produced with an imperfect, scratchy real-world tool. Now FiftyThree is launching an actual tool. The logically named Pencil joins a crowded market in premium styluses, but sets itself instantly apart with its grip-friendly shape and a unique tip that’s ‘carefully friction-tuned to feel great on a screen’.
Naturally drawn

While it lacks high-tech innovations like the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus’s pressure sensitivity or the Adonit Script’s ultra-fine tip, the Pencil does promise ‘special expressive features when connected to Paper’, and FiftyThree says its palm rejection system means you can rest your hand on the screen while drawing, as seen here, and the app will still only take notice of the Pencil’s tip.

The Pencil is on sale in the US at $60 for a sustainable Walnut finish or $50 for the elegant-looking Graphite, and is due to reach the UK in the New Year.
The mobile digital artist

‘Being an artist was easy while I was a student. I had all the time in the world, a personal studio space, and peers to discuss and share ideas with. When I graduated, all that changed. Now, with a full-t me job and two "    children, if I want to paint I have to do it where and when opportunities arise. This tends to be on the train, during a lunch break at work, sitting in front of the TV in the evening...

‘This kind of flexibility is only possible when you’re working digitally, and on a mobile device. As a student,
I was a traditional artist, and my paints had long since dried up when 10 years later I saw an article in a technology magazine that showed what some artists had managed to paint on their iPhones. I immediately downloaded the Brushes app and started playing around.

‘At first the screen felt tiny, but you soon learn to adjust. Once you see the advantages of working in layers, you’ll never go back to painting traditionally.

‘Inspired by this new medium, I bought an iPad, which had a screen large enough to create very detailed pieces yet small enough to whip out in public.

‘When I started painting on the iPad, I signed up for a Flickr account and posted a few of my pieces online. The next day I’d had a couple of hundred views and comments from other digital artists keen to share techniques and experiences of different devices and apps. Contributing in this community has led to getting my work exhibited in galleries and competitions across the globe, including the Saatchi Gallery in London.
‘There’s a great selection of art apps available in the App Store, all at ridiculously low prices. Procreate, Sketchbook Pro, Inkpad, Paper - all to suit most working styles. The only thing lacking on the iPad is pressure sensitivity. There are a few styluses (styli?) on the market that try to replicate this, using Bluetooth to transmit pressure readings to apps, but Apple has a little catching up to do to match the sensitivity of Wacom’s dedicated tablets.

‘There’s a lot of interest in mobile digital art at the moment, since it’s still kind of a gimmick, but this can make it hard for the art establishment to take it seriously. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a steady increase in exhibitions and galleries opening up to tablet art, including the National Open - probably thanks to respected artists such as David Hockney, who included his iPad paintings in his ‘A Bigger Picture’ solo exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art.’.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A virtual currency that's made real millionaires

Bitcoin? That’s like Monopoly money for geeks, isn’t it?
PayPal for drug dealers?
Linden Dollars?
Go on, then tell us.
It’s an open source peer-to-peer electronic money system. Or crypto-currency, if you prefer. It was introduced in 2009 by the mysterious ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’.
I don’t prefer. Crypto-currency?
It uses cryptography to make sure transactions are secure and to keep a record of the number of Bitcoins in circulation.
Go on then, explain how it works.
I was hoping you wouldn’t ask.
Whenever a Bitcoin transaction occurs, a digitally signed payment message is broadcast to a decentralised network of computers. These computers then solve ‘cryptographic puzzles’ to verify the trans-
action and update the record of Bitcoins in circulation, known as the blockchain. This is called ‘mining’ because the owners of the computers, miners, are rewarded with Bitcoins for using computational power.
Business Insider described it like this: ‘Miners assemble “blocks” consisting of Bitcoin transactions, a hash record of the prior transaction block in the blockchain and an extra randomly assigned number. The miner then repeatedly hashes the block, making a small change to the extra number [each time], until the hash number satisfies a rare criterion.’

It’s thanks to the blockchain that once a Bitcoin is ‘spent’ its owner no longer controls it. You can’t spend the same one twice.

That makes sense. But to have value as a currency, there must also be a limit on the number of Bitcoins in circulation.

There is. As the number grows, the cryptographic puzzles required to mine them become more difficult, and thus require more computational power. Rewards for solving them are halved at regular intervals. And the whole system is designed to create a maximum of 21 million Bitcoins, at which point production will stop.
A virtual currency that's made real millionaires

So the recent growth in popularity must have made mining more difficult?

Yep. According to Business Insider, the number of hashes being processed, measured in gigahashes per second, has grown exponentially since the summer of 2013. It grew 275-fold between January and the start of December, and tenfold between September and December alone. So more and more computing power is needed to mine Bitcoins, for less and less reward.

The guys who started mining in 2009 must be pleased with themselves.

Yes, perhaps with the exception of James Howells, who mistakenly threw out the hard drive that stored his Bitcoin wallet and didn’t realise his mistake for several months. There are £4m worth of Bitcoins in a landfill in Newport, Wales - at least, according to Howells’ account.

Ouch. Isn’tthere a better way to store Bitcoins than on your Mac’s hard disk?

There are other ways, but whether they’re better is moot. Apps for mobile devices can act as wallets, and you could argue that you’re less likely to throw out your smartphone than a hard drive from a deceased laptop. But phones get stolen, of course. There are also paper wallets, which have QR codes printed on them. When you want to enter a transaction, you scan the QR code with a mobile device and the wallet is updated.

Paper money, huh? Revolutionary.

It sounds like a minefield.
It is, and governments and economists are still trying to figure out how to deal with it. On the one hand, transaction fees are a fraction of those charged by traditional payment processors, and there are no big banks involved. On the other, Bitcoin has become notorious because it’s used on what the newspapers love to call the Dark Net. Most infamously, the FBI seized 26,000 Bitcoins when it shut down the drugs marketplace Silk Road.

In December, This Is Money reported: ‘There are concerns that the anonymity of Bitcoin will attract international money launderers, drug barons and other criminal users.’

Not so different from big banks, then. Except that it’s anonymous?

Not quite. It’s hard to associate transactions with real-life identities, but not impossible. The Washington Post reported that ‘sophisticated analysis of past Bitcoin transactions could reveal patterns that unmask users.’ It’s also likely that Bitcoin intermediaries will eventually have to comply with banking regulations in their territory, and so will have to collect customers’ personal data.
Any other pitfalls?

There’s no central bank, so no lender of last resort. Bitcoin isn’t legal tender, so transactions are informal agreements between parties, and only a few retailers accept it. The rapid growth in value -now north of $1,000 per Bitcoin - has led many to believe it’s a bubble. Botnets have hijacked users’ PCs for illicit mining. And at the start of December, China banned its banks from handling Bitcoin, causing a dip in the currency’s value.

Economists are split on Bitcoin’s merit. One, Paul Krugman, wrote in the New York Times that a successful monetary system incentivises transactions, but with Bitcoin ‘there has been an incentive to hoard rather than spend’.

Unloved and misunderstood, WinRT bows out

Microsoft is planning to abandon Windows RT, the cut-down version of its operating system that was used for the flopped Surface RT tablet (below), according to interpretations of a remark by a senior executive.
Speaking at a seminar, Microsoft's executive VP of devices and studios, Julie Larson-Green, said: ‘We have the Windows Phone OS, we have Windows RT and we have full Windows. We’re not going tohave three.’
Windows RT, designed to run on ARM chips, has not proved popular with Microsoft's hardware partners. In fact, none of them have licensed it. RT is used only by Microsoft and its subsidiary-to-be, Nokia. The company insists, though, that it’s fully committed to supporting ARM.

Unloved and misunderstood, WinRT bows out

Microsoft had to write down $900m at the end of the Junequarter to account for unsold Surface RT tablets. Why the RT operating system variant in the first place? Larson-Green explained the thinking behind it. ‘The goal was to deliver two kinds of experiences into the market: the full power of your Windows PC [on the Surface Pro] and the simplicity of a tablet experience that can also be productive... I think we didn't explain that super-well.’

Perhaps -or may be users don’t see a necessary difference between a ‘full power’ tablet and a ‘simple’ one, as any iPad user could have told Microsoft. While Apple’s OS X and iOS provide a dual operating system model for Larson-Green and her colleagues to follow, it remains to be seen exactly where Redmond might draw the line between Windows offerings.

$840m win is not about the price tag, says Apple

Retrial increases previously reduced damages award against Samsung over iPhone design rip-off

Apple and Samsung faced each other in a US court in November in the latest instalment of a patent dispute in which Apple was awarded $1.05bn (about £642m) in August 2012.

That award was cut to $550m early in 2013 when Judge Lucy Koh, who had presided over the original trial, ruled that the jury had been wrong in its assessment of part of the damages award. She ordered a retrial to determine how much of the remaining $455m should be awarded.

Apple claimed it should get a further $380m, while Samsung reckoned $52m was appropriate.
The jury settled on $290m, bringing the total awarded to Apple in the case to $840m.

In a statement to tech news site AllThingsD, Apple said: ‘For [us], this case has always been about more than patents and money. It has been about innovation and the hard work that goes into inventing products that people love. While it’s impossible to put a price tag on those values, we are grateful to the jury for showing Samsung that copying has a cost.’

Jessie J had released no comment on the matter at the time of going to press.

The original trial focused on claims from both companies that each had infringed the other’s patents. The jury found Samsung had wilfully infringed Apple patents for software and hardware design, and was guilty of diluting the ‘trade dress’ of the iPhone by making its smartphones look and feel so much like Apple’s device that customers could be confused.

It also confirmed that Apple had infringed none of Samsung’s patents.

At stake was the look and feel of both the iPhone and iOS. The software patents in the case related to the user interface and the way users perform routine functions. These included the ‘bounce-back’ feature, also known as rubber-banding, which responds to the touchscreen user trying to scroll content past its end point by offering increasing resistance until the user lets go, at which point the content rebounds into place.
$840m win is not about the price tag, says Apple

Samsung was also found to have infringed some of Apple’s patents relating to the design of the iPhone’s hardware, although the jury drew the line at Apple’s attempts to enforce a patent relating to the shape of the iPad, which some reports characterised as trying to claim to have invented the rounded rectangle.

Both sides can still appeal the judge’s ruling, but by early December neither had announced an intention to do so.

Apple hasn’t always been on the right side of patent infringement rulings in recent months. One dispute, with a company called VirnetX, is affecting the performance of FaceTime. At issue was the use of peer-to-peer technology for messaging applications. Accuit:.iiy t’.j Ars TeVnica. in a story sourced from a VirnetX investor, Apple originally routed almost all FaceTime calls directly between users. In other cases it used a relay server. Placing calls without a relay server was found to infringe routing all calls tnrough a relay, and this is why the maximum resolution currently transmitted is much lower than the FaceTime HD cameras in Apple products are capable of.

VirnetX claims Apple is spending $2.4m a month on this kludge - but it has a vested interest in inflating that figure, because the more it costs to use relay servers, the higher the royalty it can charge for the alternative method.