Coin and Coin 2.0 – A Year In Review

In November of 2013, I was pretty excited to hear about a digital credit card that could replace all of my physical cards for fifty bucks. It was an early backer price and seemed a bit high for taking a chance on something new, but my mind couldn’t let go of the idea of it. Sometimes I see an innovative new gadget and I just have to have it. As Kickstarter was gaining momentum, I felt comfortable giving it a shot and handed over my money. Even though I knew I’d have a wait ahead of me, I often wondered over the next nine months when it would come. In August of 2014, my Coin 1.0 arrived. More than a year later, Coin 2.0 was released and I was upgraded for free.

Coin Digital Credit Card
Coin Digital Credit Card

What is a Coin digital credit card?
Before I get too far into my personal observations, I should take a moment to talk about what Coin is. Coin is a smart device, the size of a single credit card, that can store the information of up to eight credit cards and work as any of them when swiped. It has an e-ink display to show which card is selected and the last four digits and expiration and a button to switch between cards. Coin also has the ability to set up a Morse code style password so you can unlock your Coin with a few short and long button presses when your phone is not nearby.

One year with Coin 1.0
While I’ve had Coin for a year, I’ve honestly only used it for a few months total. For starters, it didn’t always work when I would swipe it. Almost half the time, I had to try again and too often, I wound up pulling out the actual bank-issued card to complete the transaction. Coin’s two big selling points for me were convenience and security. Having to try multiple times and eventually use my other cards sometimes eliminates the convenience I would otherwise gain with a single card to carry around. That said, I now only carry my Coin and one major credit card.

As for security, the thought is that I no longer hand over a card to someone who can simply copy the numbers and make purchases online. Additionally, my Coin (and by extension, all my credit cards) become unusable when away from me for more than 7 minutes. I always worry that my server at a restaurant won’t get it swiped in time, but it hasn’t been a problem yet. Of course, the other side of the security argument is that I now have all my credit card information in a device that uses Bluetooth. What if it gets hacked? I use an RFID shielded wallet, so I’m more concerned about someone obtaining access to my phone than I am my Coin.

The several months in between usage can be explained by the fact that I’d get a new phone and have to enter all my cards again. For the sporadic level of swipe success, it sometimes felt like something I didn’t even want to bother with and my Coin would sit in a box on my shelf for a couple months.

Coin Digital Credit Card
Coin Digital Credit Card

Coin 1.0 and 2.0 Compared
Using a coin is pretty simple and basically the same with both versions. When I’m getting ready to pay, I just pull it out and choose the card I want to pay with and hand it off to the cashier or swipe it at a terminal. With both versions, most cashiers are awestruck having never seen something like this before and usually tell me that they think it’s pretty cool. It can be nice, but it also means I usually have to tell them what it is and how it works when they ask. The first incarnation of Coin – despite a long wait that included being envious of west coast beta testers – did not always work. Above all, that has been my biggest complaint. As mentioned above, just under half the time, it would not work on the first attempt. Thankfully, improvements have been made to really cut down on this. While I’ve only had Coin 2.0 a week or so, everywhere I’ve tried it was a success. There was one place it failed on the first try and I immediately reverted to my bank-issued card because there was a long line behind me.

The Morse code security feature hasn’t proven useful for me yet. The one time I left my phone in the car, I completely forgot that I could unlock the Coin without it and just grabbed my phone. Had I remembered the feature, I don’t think I would have remembered the code. For others, this may be an indispensable feature, but to me, it’s just a possible security hole if I lose my card. Luckily, the Coin app will tell me if it can’t see my Coin when the Bluetooth connection drops. This is another great feature for other people, but not as much for me. Having a shielded wallet means that every time I put my Coin back in my wallet, the app thinks I’ve left it behind. This is an acceptable trade-off, I suppose.

Coin comes with an internal battery that will last about two years with “normal” use. Normal use is defined as using your Coin about 5-6 times a day. I’m assuming I’ll get up to 3 years out of mine since I don’t use it nearly that much.

EVT and NFC are concepts new to Coin 2.0. While the new Coin doesn’t have an actual EVT chip, NFC provides a contactless form of EMV payments. It seems that this will only be useful for cards that support EVT. While shopping earlier this week, I attempted to tap to pay with both of my cards and it simply would not work. This was at a single merchant and I have yet to try again. This was one of the key upgrades with Coin 2.0, so I’m hoping it will prove to be a usable feature for me.

Conclusions
Coin is a great little device, but it has found its struggles as the pioneer in an odd little niche product market that seems to have caught on in the last year or so with a few competitors. Despite the challenges, Coin has done well to support those who believed in it by giving free Coin 2.0 upgrades to early adopters, but it will need to work hard to keep up as competitors innovate with new features. Coin 2.0 offers much needed improvements, but unless there’s a feature-rich Coin 3.0, it will probably be the last of its line. At $99 with a two year battery life, you’ll be in for about $50 per year, which is still not bad if you’re able to make the most use of it.

How To Create A Digital Microscope For Under $10

I’ve always been a little frustrated with macro photography. Rather than spend a lot of money on macro lenses, I’ve often tested the minimum focus range of cameras to see how close I could get to a subject. A few weeks ago, I heard about a simple way to create a digital microscope from a cheap webcam, so I gave it a shot and the results were surprising. Here’s the camera I started with.

webcam

This is not a great webcam. I bought it for around $10 and have since determined that I don’t much like or need it, so it was sitting in a box with my other orphaned gadgets. You can get one on ebay for $7 now. With this camera, I had to unscrew the lens from the housing and then actually clip off the focus ring edge with wire snips. It screws on, but then I think they glued it. Yeah. $7. Anyway, it’s a decent camera for the job and is otherwise easy to take apart.

How To Create A Digital Microscope

This is really much easier than it sounds. While the instructions below are specific to this webcam, you can apply the theory to many other webcams: Open it up, flip the lens around to be backwards, close it up.

1. Take apart the webcam. (5 screws)
2. Remove the camera board from the housing. (2 screws)
3. Remove the lens housing from the board. (Be careful not to touch the tiny CMOS sensor) (2 screws)
4. Unscrew the lens from the mount.
5. Using wire snips, very carefully remove the black focus ring edge if it won’t unscrew on its own.
6. Screw the lens back into the mount backwards.
7. Re-assemble everything.

Sample Photos And Uses

Personally, I wanted to do this mostly to film small insects like ants and tiny spiders. Using a webcam adds the benefit of having both photo and video capabilities. If you have kids, this is a great way to provide them with a digital microscope and get them more excited about science. Below are some examples I came up with in the hour since I’ve completed the conversion.

A human hair
hair

The head of a pin
pinhead

Pixels on my monitor
pixels

The head of a small screw
screw

Enjoy and post your success stories and links to photos below.

Digital Musical Instruments

Is digital musical more than just a play button?

Once, if you went to a gig, you’d see people skilfully (or sometimes not quite so skilfully) play their instruments. But lately, it’s started to become just as likely to see someone back up the ukulele-playing frontman by pressing the play button on a laptop. Technical developments have always influenced the music industry, from the first mass-produced pianos to the electric guitar, but is programming some software on your computer the most innovative we can come up with now? Surely, there must be something more interesting out there?

Laser Harp
(laser-harp – Miemo Penttinen)

There is, but no one wants it. A quick search on the internet shows the huge amount of digital instruments that have been developed in the past twenty years. The Eigenharp, for example: an instrument that resembles an oboe, electric guitar, synthesizer, and drum kit all rolled into one, and is presented as the “most expressive instrument ever made.” Another new instrument is the Chapman stick, which, although not many people have seen it played on a stage or know its name, has actually been used on a fair few records to add texture to guitar, bass and drum sound. It looks like a body-less electric guitar, and is played by tapping with both hands instead of picking or strumming.

Another category is formed by various “sound machines” that seem to rely more on serendipity than skill. They turn images of kitchen appliances into melodies, or contain innovative interfaces that let anyone intuitively play a tune without ever hitting a false note. The mistake that these engineers seem to have made is that they focus on accessibility: they try to make instruments easier to learn so everyone can make music. But most people don’t want music to be simple. If they go see a band, they want to be impressed. Knowing it took years of practice to master those instruments is part of what makes music sound good.

Many videos prove that The Eigenharp and the Chapman stick don’t suffer from accessibility, but require lots of skill and practice. Unfortunately, there is another problem. Digital instruments sound the same. The sound of an electric guitar or bass is electronically amplified and transformed, but is still influenced by the type of wood of the body, the type of strings, different sets of pick-ups, etc. It may be electric, but it still produces an analogue sound, not a digital one. Digital music does not sound different if you use a different operating system or a different way of pressing the keys.

And this is where the laptop comes in. Because if an instrument sounds the same however you play it, why then put your time and energy in improving your expressive motor skills? Instead, you can focus on intricate compositions and harmonies that lie outside of your physical capabilities. And then skilfully press play.