Alex Muir

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Things I just learned about headphones

Headphones might need to be run in

It's not completely proven, but it does seem probable that headphones benefit from wearing in to some extent. Something around 40-hours of normal usage would seem to be the magic number. The RHA MA750i pair that I've just bought apparently need more running in than most.

iOS has a 'late-night' mode that makes a huge difference in noisy environments

Under Settings > Music > EQ, there's a Late Night option which compresses audio into a smaller range which makes it sound better in a noisy environment like a plane, office or streetscape. Unlike the other EQ settings, this mode affects all audio output from the phone, including video and app audio.

iOS EQ only affects the music app

Spotify audio is unaffected by the iOS EQ setting. But Spotify has its own EQ setting under Settings > Playback > EQ.


I've been travelling quite a lot recently.

By plane, when I like to do work and listen to music. Noise cancellation is the priority here. Walking around cities, where I love to daydream. I don't want to stand out with some big over-ear headphones, and I'd like to hear some traffic noise to stop myself being flattened by a bus. Running. In the rain. I sweat a lot. I need my bangers LOUD.

I used to have a nice pair of knock-off Bose noise-cancellers. Goldring NS1000s. They were very, very close to the genuine Bose ones in sound, but the build quality revealed itself after I lost their case and they disintegrated over about a week.

So for the past six months I've just been using Apple's earbuds. I found them comfortable and reasonable. They also seem to be fairly indestructible but the cable seems to have a party every single time I take them out. Anyway - they're missing so I nipped to the Apple Store (the only place that's open on a Sunday in Paris).

Looking up reviews for everything on the shelves (unsurprisingly dominated by Beats) I chose a pair of RHA MA750i in-ear buds. Based mostly on a fairly glowing WhatHi review. Price paid €99.95. Which is cheaper than I'd find them in the UK.

First impressions are good - build quality is outstanding. Nice chunks of machined stainless steel. I'll reserve judgement on sound quality until they've worn out.


I've done no physical exercise for the past month. Today I went for a one-hour run and wasn't completely wiped out. That's further than I was running when I stopped exercising a month ago. But I know from past experience that the next run I go on will be exhausting and I'll struggle to match that first hour. It's almost as though my body forgets where the limits are after a while of not doing exercise. I've had exactly the same thing with weights - go back to it after ages stronger than I was when I stopped (and then plummet back down after that initial spike.)

My current exercise routine is to run for 20 minutes each morning and do 200 sit-ups. I stuck to that for a month in Paris and I'm planning on doing the same here in Budapest.

eBook dilemma

I just read a recommendation from Fred Wilson for a book called Product Design for the Web. I'm hitting a lot of walls in developing UI and flows for a couple of projects that I'm thinking about - Napkin and How a Car Works. It's hard not to just fall down the same REST trap all the time.

I can't decide whether to get the Kindle or the paperback. I can have the Kindle version instantly, and it's about half the price. But there's something nice about having a physical book: To read, to be seen to read ("Are you a developer?"), to share or give away, and to glimpse on a shelf for as long I keep it.

Fiction goes perfectly on the Kindle - ultimately just words, and certainly only going to be read once. But for non-fiction, and particularly anything with illustrations or code, the Kindle just doesn't display nicely. I feel like the Kindle is a little too sterile - but then it seems counterintuitive that fiction seems to suit that sterile setting perfectly.

My gut feeling is to get the paperback, but I'm going to try the kindle format and see whether eBook design has moved on from when I last tried.


As a startup community we love to frame Uber as an agile startup, beating down bureaucracy and disrupting an industry which hasn't seen innovation in decades. And in the process, enabling drivers to set their own hours and freeing them from the shackles of employment.

And Uber itself revels in this type of coverage. Posting articles about the regulatory hurdles it facts, protests from entrenched drivers, and how it's creating jobs. I've heard very polished PR people on various news bulletins explaining how they're battling for the consumer and the driver. Of course they're really battling for their investors against their competitors, but that goes unsaid.

But the reality is that Uber shareholders want to own the taxi market. Uber wants its drivers to remain drivers forever - there will be no scope for a driver to work hard, save money, and set up his own competitive taxi business with other drivers. Co-operatives? Nope. Uber wants to eliminate taxi businesses and own the market. What opportunities will there be for an Uber driver to progress? Very little. Instead of a taxi business with one or two local, comparatively wealthy owners and 20-200 drivers, there'll be an uber-business, with 25 super-rich owners, and 20,000-50,000 drivers. That's just further concentration of wealth. It's probably inevitable, but I feel it's also unacknowledged.

Google ads are now virtually indistinguishable

I've been using Google daily for over a decade. Today was the first day I found myself unable to quickly parse past their adverts in a search.

I'm not sure how they can continue argue that advertising isn't effectively paying to be boosted to the top of their search results.

Android tablets will win

A couple of days ago I bought a Nexus 7 tablet to play around with a concept for an app. Colour me impressed.

Packaging was slightly below Apple's standards, but it inconsequential. The product had a feel of quality and heft. It works. Setup was a breeze. It's fast, flexible and easy to use. I don't like the on-off button on the side, I would much prefer it on the front but that's very minor.

I installed Twilight, an Android version of Flux, which dims the screen at night - something I really need with iOS 7 and it's super-bright whites.

Developing on Android is easy and fun to get started. Within an hour I had a little app working on the device. No cost, no complex downloads.

Developing is fine and good, but I think Android is going to dominate the iPad into oblivion over the next couple of years. The Nexus 7 is £200 off the shelf at retailers, or easily found for £180 on offer, or £150 on a hot deal. Apple won't come close to this price. Tablets are first and foremost a web and video consumption device. I'd say the Nexus 7 works better than my iPad for this. At a significantly lower price. I could have picked up a Hudl for £120 which would be pretty similar.

I have a feeling that tablets will be commoditised before phones. Phones have an important social element - iMessage helps here, and apps are arguably more important on this smaller form factor. I'm fairly locked in to a couple of subscription apps that I've bought for my iPhone. This isn't the case with the tablet, where I almost exclusively use the web browser.

I might write some time about iOS 7, but having lived with it for a while I think it's brought almost nothing new. I dislike the design strongly - it is new, not better.


I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent -- their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy -- they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent -- he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.

-- Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord

Bitcoin's potential market cap

As I write this, a Bitcoin now costs over 400 USD, giving a market cap of $5billion.

I am told that Bitcoin has a limited supply, and I have to take that as fact because I do not have the skills to investigate. In the same way that buyers of gold or diamonds are told they cannot be manufactured. If tomorrow it turns out that gold can be printed out of milk and charcoal then the gold market will tank.

If we ignore that risk, then we ask what Bitcoin's market cap could feasibly be.

Bitcoin will take some chunk of the following markets -


The annual value of the drugs market was estimated at $321bn in 2003 But estimating on such an enormous scale is unlikely to be accurate, let's look locally... Scotland's drug market was valued at £1.4bn in 2009.

Now Bitcoin is suitable for some drug transactions - end-user purchases by mail-order, and also potentially for wholesale purchasing and transfer of money. £250,000 in cash takes a holdall to move so there is obviously an appetite for alternatives in wholesale transactions. The €500 note is also much harder to use now in Europe, which was the cash of choice or anything over £100k.

40% of Scotland's drug market is estimated to be heroin. I think these end users will never have access to, or use Bitcoin. Even now they don't have credit on their mobile phone (if they even have one).


Unlikely, but possible. Adultwork is transacting tens of millions of dollars of business in the credit card system. It can't be long before they are slapped with some regulation and forced into the Bitcoin system - at least for payouts. Clients and service providers may also prefer this as it keeps transactions off bank statements. Personal services will still be cash though.

Dark porn

There can't be any doubt that Bitcoin is already the currency of choice for child porn and other deep underground sexual business. I don't know what the value of this economy is, I don't think it can ever be known. It must be in the hundreds of millions of dollars though.

Blackmail, ransomware and extortion

Receiving ransom by Bitcoin has to be a textbook use case. Plus this sort of business is 100% profit and so BTC exchange rate fluctuations are less of an issue than in business with slimmer profit margins. This could be kidnapping, piracy, straightup blackmail, and ransomware. Analysis suggests that just one ransomware operator was clearing $5m per year, this is going to balloon as bitcoin becomes more mainstream and a higher percentage of users pay up.

Black hat economy

The black hat hacking world will be fueled by Bitcoin. What's it worth? No idea. DDOS attacks, spamming, virus creation, day-zeros , botnets, click-fraud. That has to push us into the billions.

Money transfer

Right now, transferring $1,000 USD to the Philippines via Western Union will cost 3% after currency spread and fees. I can see a future for Bitcoin here, but not while the exchange rate is so volatile. Bitcoin varies by 3% every hour. A more stable currency though and it becomes a real alternative.

US online gambling

Previously hundreds of millions of dollars.


The widespread use of Bitcoin for anything other than 90%+ profit businesses is going to depend entirely on its stability. No-one wants to be selling physical goods for a currency that falls by 10% in a day. This isn't so apparent in the current environment where Bitcoin is clearly trending upward.

_I think that assuming Bitcoin retains its integrity, it's market cap will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. That is to say, at least 20x what it is today. _ However, I think the likelihood of technical issues with Bitcoin to be between possible and probable.

Missed productivity

Things don't get done because it's hard to find people to do them. This happens too often. And at the same time there are capable people who want to do things, but the two don't connect.

I want to do something about this.