Friday, December 27, 2013

Data Expiry

A tweet caught my eye just now...

I agree with this, but have argued in the past that in order to fully appreciate data expiry you need to look at how technology and humans interact where this is occurring.  

For instance:  If someone sends you a package by courier, the chances are that you can track where the package has been... but is a person looking up this information actually interested in where it has been?  No.  What they're actually interested in is "when does it arrive at it's destination".

To put a very fine point on my technological gripe, all the manufacturers of technological solutions work in the left (Green) circle above...  Humans mainly operate in the right (purple) circle above.

To illustrate this further:  We've had cars that have paired with smartphones for years, but take the following steps and ask yourself why this doesn't happen.

  • A user pairs his car to his phone.
  • The car has a GPS.
  • The phone has a calendar with an appointment in it.
  • The user gets into his car.
  • The car detects the phone and queries to see if you might be going somewhere, then programs the GPS accordingly.
The reason this doesn't happen is what I just pointed out above in the venn diagram - the technology is ignoring the fact that you get in a car to go somewhere in a time that is in the future from now.  The fact that it could predict where you're going based on data generated in the past (the calendar) is totally lost on them.

This has bugged me for years!


Trees in Toronto

If I was to point blame on the bulk of my house ownership woes over the years, trees would be the main culprit. If they're not clogging up downspouts with leaves and causing issues, they're attacking clay sewer pipes and blocking them with roots, and their latest trick is from a silver maple I have that is dropping 400lb boughs from 40ft up on to my deck roof because of the ice storm...

Frustratingly, the City of Toronto has a very rigid tree program that basically says that you can't touch or majorly alter a healthy tree, yet despite not allowing you to mitigate potential damage to your property, you're responsible for all cleanup costs when this ultimately goes the way you'd expect.  

Like any administration with a vein of corruption running through it, you can get around this rigidity if you talk to the right people, but when that happens you then get a 30 day take-down notice for the entire tree... 

I get that trees look pretty, and I get the role they play environmentally, but people don't think properly and then plant trees wherever they want - and then disregard that 30 years after they've moved out that maybe putting an oak tree 10ft from the house foundations was maybe not their brightest contribution to the future of mankind.

I'm not exactly hopeful that the City of Toronto will learn from this... after all, just look at the wide-sweeping changes that were announced after last summers flood (I'm being sarcastic there).

In short, what they need to do more than anything is this... The existing trees will continue to expire, but new trees should not be placed within a certain distance to: 
1) Houses and their foundations
2) Power lines.

If they do that, they'll at least mitigate some of the aggravation that Toronto residents have to put up with now.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Open Letter To Electrolux

A tweet this morning caught my eye…

It asked the question as to how you keep guests warm and welcome.  I just spent two days in a power outage with Frigidaire (an Electrolux company) Professional equipment - I do like their appliances, but they can be a source of frustration.  So, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to raise one particular issue through an open letter… 

Dear Electrolux,

One of the biggest costs of a power outage is the replacement of spoiled food in the refrigerator.  This can quite often reach to near the cost of the actual refridgerator itself…  Now, this is a problem that has existed since the invention of the appliance itself, and nobody has done anything to resolve this.

The weight of a food laden refrigerator is too much to move in a fitted kitchen, so you can never unplug it at the rear to save your food…  

Can you please put an electrical outlet on the front of the base of the appliance so that it can be run on a generator?  A simple current detection switch behind the socket then switches the input from the back of the unit to the front.  

The modern appliance is actually designed to fail at it’s one primary task in a power failure, yet the solution is so devastatingly simple.  

Please consider looking into this.


Jason Coulls

When it counts, watch your suppliers.

It's when it really counts in a crisis that you can see the mettle of a person or organization.  Those who follow me on Twitter will remember when I pointed out 24 hours after this ice storm the @Bell and @Bell_Support accounts hadn't posted a single thing to tell people how to report downed phone lines, disconnection issues, etc.

For an organization that bills itself as the national carrier and part of the community, this advertised to people that either they didn't view urgent customer communications and advice as a priority, or they'd were unable to keep their own house in order to get messages out (99% uptime?).  

Looking to the competition, the likes of Rogers were advising people throughout the entire ordeal on a regular basis...

That speaks volumes.

you may not have to like either (I don't!), but it pays to take note of who is more likely to be communicating with you in a crisis.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Live and Learn - Don't just live

The Toronto ice-storm of December 2013, whilst very inconvenient, has proven to be a valuable exercise in emergency planning.  Nothing helps you find problems like a good 40 hour (and counting) shake-down of your emergency plans. 

What I learned in 2003 was that on top of electricity, you can’t depend on your water in Toronto - once the pumping stations run out of backup power, you run out of water.  So, I’m well stocked with water, beyond the 72 hour recommendation period.  I also made sure the next house we bought had gas in the kitchen, so we can heat food indoors.  Once the power comes back on, and the cleanup of trees is over, I will be re-jigging the emergency plan.  

It’s only by living through an emergency and testing your prepared plans that you get to see what is wrong - and if you don’t fix things for next time, then what have you learned?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cameron's ISP filter...

The UK government backed ISP filter (the "porn filter" to everyone else), in my mind, has to go down as one of the most poorly thought out ventures into IT in recent years.  

 As an example of what I'm talking about.

The above from BT (British Telecom) shows that they allow you to be able to block out sites "where the main purpose is to provide information such as respect for a partner", as well as those in confusion as they get to grips with their sexuality, but now take a site like this that is not on the list of items you can block.

Websites containing this sort of "tabloid news" stuff is quite OK, apparently.

Personally, I think they should remove the filters and have parents do what they should be doing, which is acting like responsible parents and monitoring their own kids' computer usage.

Thoughts on Social Media and the London Apollo

Last night there was an event at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftsbury Ave in London.  Something fell onto the audience.  News got out very quickly on Twitter, but something odd happened that doesn't normally happen on Twitter.

Pictures were scarce.

Usually, on Twitter when a news story breaks, you get accompanying images to help you decipher the accuracy of the text.  For a very long time last night we had a lot of pictures of the outside (fire brigade and ambulance service) and nothing from inside.

Naturally, this led to a problem where even I backed off retweeting anything because I could not tell what was truth vs fiction.  This lack of context also meant that foreign news got things horribly wrong - in this case it was the word "balcony" that screwed everything up - not knowing the top (fourth) level is called "the balcony", they reported it like a box (think of the Muppets "Waldorf & Statler") on the side had fallen down.

This story soon morphed into a ceiling collapse, then a roof collapse.  As I mentioned last night until we know precisely what happened, the only thing that's for certain is a lot of plaster would have come down because that's how the inside of that place is constructed.

Time will now answer the biggest question - why did this happen?

Whether it was neglect, age (it's not actually that old - opened its doors in like 1901 or thereabouts) or other structural failure reason will come out at some point. Until then, this is one story that Twitter couldn't really help with.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Social Media and Self Censorship

One of the basic tenets of social media is sharing.  Sharing information.  Sharing emotion.  Sharing whatever is on your mind. However, there is still a filter that needs to be applied sometimes.

It's not always obvious what you should or shouldn't share, and there are some people out there who are clueless, however, there are a good number of people who practice self censorship - where they type something then edit it before hitting the burton to release it.  It is this information that Facebook has lately being trying to harvest.

That concerns me.

Imagine what other tech might think of pulling the same trick...  Imagine your phone is recording all those times you enter a phone number but don't hit the dial button?

There's a reason we self censor - to add context, clarity, etc. The last thing we want is unclear, erroneous or out of context information being used to quantify and qualify our behaviours.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Is a good Klout score important?

My Klout scout is not impressively high, but I do pay attention to it to stay above the average (depending on which Klout page you ask, it's either 20 or it's 40). I normally wobble along in a band between a score of 56 and 60.  People sometimes ask if Klout scores are important?  My answer is still what it's always been, which is "If people externally are judging me by a score, then that score becomes important".  However, this is not to say that I obsess about it.

But, my answer is about to change: it's still going to be deemed important to me to keep an above average score, but for new reasons.

One of the shifts that has been underway for a while is to get brands and marketing out of the "Coca Cola" sized global reach initiatives and back to the community.  You see this in some big brands like McDonalds who are now going to great pains to drop their American-Only image of the 80s and 90s and become identifiable with their host countries. They're trying to say in Canada that they're 100% Canadian, which is markedly different from Other American brands which address us like they're shouting over the garden fence (the USA/Canada border) with "Hey, Canada! Check out the new Ford <model>", or Burger King's irritating "Have it your way, Canada" slogan.

Smaller brands (National and provincial level and smaller) are taking this a step further by "embracing the fandom".  This is something that will likely get to take off in a much bigger way in a year or more from now, but the seeds are sown already.  Basically, it's a re-hashing of "word of mouth" philosophies, but online. So now we can come back to the Klout score.

Having a higher score will become important, not because I want to be a "fan" or ambassador of a brand - I want it so I can be taken seriously when that brand needs to fix something that affects me.

In short, it's a type of online insurance because big business is less likely to ignore a person with an engaged audience.  A public that giveth can taketh away too.

That's why the Klout score will remain important.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Designing whilst taking things into account...

North Americans that visit London quite often have a similar complaint: "It's not very accessible".

Indeed, Christopher Wren didn't plan in the 1670's for hundreds of thousands of modern people larger than himself to trek regularly to the top of the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, let alone guess that we'd invent the lift/elevator, but this is something that comes down to future-proofing, which is somewhat different to planning for something that is already well known and very much anticipated on a regular basis.

This morning I entered the concourse of my local subway station. It's in a country that gets lots of cold weather, and it is prone to snow and ice being on the floor. So what choice of flooring did they choose for such an environment? Terrazzo.  Polished terrazzo at that, too.  With no drains, grills, or any other measures designed to take the slushy/ice-water off the surface.

Naturally, the if you hang around there long enough, you can witness scenes like something out of geriatric break dancing movie.  
This type of oversight annoys me. It's like the designers were not thinking of the weather...

We see this type of design oversight everywhere;  Cars and vans often have their exhaust designed to point at kids in strollers, even though the entire continent drives on the same side of the road so they could've pointed it to the middle of the road.  We know slush gathers on corners of streets, so they made sure there is no drainage there.  Electrical sockets are designed so you can't turn them off if someone is being electrocuted by an appliance.

I would ask "what were they thinking?", except it's clear they weren't thinking.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The disappearing postman...

The recent announcement from Canada Post, that they're stopping door to door delivery is something that really has gotten me thinking.

It's been a number of years since something that is supposedly integral to the community has disappeared, the last one I remember was the milkman in the 1980s.  However, I do remember the switchover because it's not just the one core service that disappears, but other things (good and bad) change with them.  As the milkmen disappeared, "Neighbourhood Watch" schemes popped up more frequently.  The milk moved to the supermarket, the "Christmas Club" hampers went to mail order, frequently through the newspapers.

So what changes with the disappearance of the postman? Well, first my lawn will be happier.  So, too, will my mailbox.

The amount of junk mail we receive is absurd - and when you consider most of our bills are now electronic, you have to question the value that the mail service brings.  Add in the fact that they are paid to dump this rubbish on me, and I'm then paying the city to take it away, and I'm really quite glad that this will be dumped at some community box - that'll fill up long before I go and empty it.

The big thing is I can use Canada Post as a stick to now get everyone else to send to me electronically.  I can tell people to email me bills or they won't be received.

This means we save the environment, save time, save money and everyone is happy.  Except for those who haven't moved over from mailing bills to sending them electronically, who are now hitting the postal version of Y2K.

I for one will be happy to dump this service.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Banking Comedy

So today at around 09:45am I went to login to my bank (CIBC) and the first thing I noticed was this:

Now, I know for a fact that I was not doing any online banking this morning at 04:12AM, and was definitely in bed, sleeping.  My first reaction was that my CIBC account with their website was breached, so I asked their twitter team as to whether this was working or not. (As of 13:40, this still hasn't been answered)

I quickly determined through repetitive logins and logouts that this login time information is just another fabrication of actual events to add to the litany that I've reported this year. Just to prove it was wholly broken, I tried again at 13:37 and this is what I was greeted with.

You'd think my 09:45 login would have shown up here, right?

The funny thing here is CIBC will likely just point to their website terms and conditions - and if you haven't seen them, there's this highly comical nugget which I'd like to draw your attention to:

Click Image For Full Size

So all the information on this banking website is general only, and provided as-is, and no accuracy is warranted?

If you can't trust your e-statements or anything on the site, and nothing is guaranteed accurate, what is the point of the site?

Carbon Eating Initiatives

Yesterday, I spotted this article about a carbon negative bicycle that takes polluted air and cleans it.

This reminded me of an idea I had some years ago which still doesn’t seem to have reached fruition:  Putting carbon filters on skyscraper elevator shafts.

In short, an elevator shaft has to equalize pressure at the top of the shaft, as the elevator moves up and down - otherwise it would create a vacuum.  When you consider that standard 5000lb passenger elevators have hoistway dimensions of about 8ft by 11ft, you’re moving a column of air that’s 88 sq ft in size.  Assuming 40 floors at 10ft per floor that’s 400ft.  From here, we can calculate that 400 x 88 is 35,200 cubic feet of air being shifted every time an elevator goes to the top of a skyscraper.  Multiply that by four elevator shafts and you see that’s a lot of air basically being pumped about by a piston (the elevator itself).

So if this is being sucked in, then blown out again, why not put a carbon filter over it?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Taking a step backwards to make leaps going forwards

One of the things I've noticed in recent years is that I'm buying less and less into "modern convenience at the cost of lots of money".  Having taken this step backwards in time to drop the modern conveniences, I then find a lack of knowledge surrounding me to help me make this transition properly.

What started me down that path was razors;  I used to use the Gillette Mach 3 - which now costs a whopping $30+ dollars for 8 cartridges.  This means I was spending a lot of money annually on shaving before we take into account shaving cream.  
So I switched to using a straight razor. (actually, I started with a cheaper "shavette", before deciding I would stick with it long term and make the investment in a proper straight razor).  

If it wasn't for the fact I had one friend using them already, I would have been totally reliant on YouTube and to learn something that at one point in time every guy learned from their father or peers and was common knowledge.  This was because my father and grandfather didn't use a straight - and we've become totally reliant on disposable blades.  Thus, the knowledge was lost.

When I finally made that switch, it cost me near $90 for a decent razor and another $80 for brush, strop and shave cup but in the years since this move has paid itself off over numerous times and continues to do so.

Another example is cast iron;  I'm now a huge fan of cast iron, but this started because I was buying a new Teflon frying pan every 18 months. Once it became a joke that our Christmas tradition was to have a frying pan wrapped up under the tree, I decided it was time to change.

Now, I collect and restore cast iron skillets as yet another hobby on the side, but the big issue initially was even this knowledge had been lost in my friends and family.  Again, this was despite it being such a common thing just 80 years ago.  As such, once I'd gotten myself up to speed through research, the biggest issue I quickly faced now was explaining how to use a cast iron pan to family so they didn't start wrecking my restoration efforts (no soap, acidic cleaners, etc) when cleaning it.

Now my oldest Teflon pan is approaching two years old, and yet my youngest cast iron pan (for cast iron aficionados, it's a Griswold #6 "big block" skillet) is at least 70 years old.  My oldest (a McClary #6 Spider) is between 92 and 142 years old.

Again, the money saved is quite big: If a $25 teflon frying pan lasts 2 years, that's a $12.50 a year cost of ownership.   A good antique cast iron skillet might cost $45, but should last another 200 years no problem if cared well for, so this is $0.22 per year when you look at the cost of ownership.  

Sometimes it does pay to go and take a step backwards.  The greatest thing you can do after making that leap is making sure you pass on the knowledge you gain to your kids and family.  That way, when they decide that certain modern conveniences are just a money-grab for disposable items, they are armed to make the switch.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What does advertising really say to you?

In the mid 1800s as Victorian industrialization of food production meant that the guy who milled the flour no longer baked the bread, food adulteration became a huge problem as the new "supply chain" sought to increase profits at each stage.  

The things you bought were basically advertised at making you feel higher up on the social scale, or made claims about their function.  But the problem that was making many sick or ill was the adulteration of the purity of items being sold.

By the late 1880s, things got so bad that the public needed assurances that they were getting unadulterated items, so things were starting to be marketed as "Pure" ... Soaps, flours, milk, etc, all needed to advertise their purity.  The USA went a little longer before they addressed the issue in 1906, but they also needed to address the issue for the same health reasons.

If marketing things as "pure" was a result of things not being pure before, today we can look at current advertising and extrapolate what the manufacturers perceive us to be worried about.

Things today are marked:

*Best of breed
*Energy efficient
*Low fat/salt

Just looking at this quick list, you can see that advertising is trying to tell us things are not fuel guzzling, fat/salt laden, unnatural, all looking the same, cheap or probably not healthy for you.

By looking at what advertising is saying to you now, allows you to see into a products past, and also see the product's bosses perception of what they think you think of them and their product.  So next time you see a car advert telling you about their "all new, stand-out-from-the-crowd" vehicle, you know that they are probably aware it's perceived as just another same-as-before/like-the-competition vehicle.

Just think about this for a while.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Blue Field Entoptic Phenomenon - Blue Sky Sprites

I love looking at things that are right before my eyes and which I haven't seen for a while.  This morning I was watching "Blue-Sky Sprites" which are caused by the Blue Field Entoptic Phenomenon.  

In short, I was watching my own white blood cells as they traverse the capillaries in my eyes.  Pretty cool, eh?  Good news is you can do this, too.

Like most things that we 
usually fail to notice, these things are there in plain sight all along and you just have to go looking for them.  All I had to do in this case is look up to a blue sky for about three seconds and actually pay attention to what I saw before me - then these little white dots appeared, prancing and zapping about in strange patterns.

The explanation for this phenomenon is simply that the brain edits out the shadows caused by your capillaries in your eyes (so your vision doesn't look like you're looking through a fishing net), and whilst the red blood cells absorb the blue light from the sky, the white cells don't.  This means the red cells are invisible in the "shadow" of the capillaries whilst the white cells are there for you to see - if you actually pay attention to them.

I've often said that people just don't pay attention enough to what they see and hear, and this is one of those cases where most people you know have probably never seen this thing that is literally right before their eyes.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Southampton Drink Recipe

This is one of my favourite non-alcoholic drinks that I have a few times a week, but due to its bitter style, it's not to everyone's taste.

To make it how it's supposed to be made is very simple:

  • Take a tall glass and fill with ice.
  • Add a splash of Angostura bitters.
  • Add a splash of lime juice.
  • Fill with tonic water.
  • Top off with a lime slice if you want.
Between the bitters, lime and quinine, this is already a very tart drink.  Even so, I personally take it further in that direction, and usually go a little heavy with the lime and bitters, and I skip the fruit on top. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Extreme Events and Social Media

As you may have heard, yesterday, Nelson Mandela died.  The BBC heard this just as a major weather system was colluding with an already higher than normal (spring) tide event to produce a storm surge like the UK has not seen since the floods of 1953.

Once this pre-recorded juggernaut of an obituary-fest started rolling, it didn't stop for hours and hours.  Not only did it not stop on the TV, but also on social media.  Here's a screenshot I took showing hours of breaking tweets from a national broadcaster that failed to broadcast how thousands of its residents were suffering.   

Whilst I don't want to make light of the event, what we had here was the unsurprisingly anticipated death of a 95 year old man, whose condition wasn't going to change in the coming hours - and a major event that would affect thousands of people if news got to them in a timely manner...  So, the BBC and Sky ignored the people and just let the Mandela juggernaut roll on and on.

After some 5 hours, the BBC finally put out a tweet asking people to send in pictures for the storm event that they'd ignored previously.  

Naturally, this caught the ire of the public who were quite rightly, very angry.  

Meanwhile, the BBC and Sky was still largely reporting that Mandela was still dead.  This was one of those events where Twitter shone through and pointed out the way forward for local news, because in real-life, it's the actual people on the ground that provide the photos and updates.

When Twitter is good, it's really good. 

(Apologies to my non-UK twitter followers that had to put up with the barrage of pictures and updates about a place they probably don't know about).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Getting the news straight

As you know, I'm an avid reader of the news. This means I get news from multiple sources, all with their own unique biases and bents.  This can lead to the same stories being put forth in completely different ways - sometimes contradictory.

The economy is one such subject that constantly suffers from this in the news.

One the one hand, we are told we have banks in Canada and Europe keeping their interest rates very low, in order to help the economy like a shot of energy drinks would help you if you were sluggish. In addition, we have the Fed in the USA buying up bonds and flooding their market with cheap cash - which largely seems to help Wall St, but isn't translating directly into jobs.  This would be like being on a life support machine - it's keeping things going, but it's not improving things by itself.

This indicates that the economy isn't doing particularly well.

On the other hand, the same news outlets are repeating the government releases that things are improving swimmingly.  This is often skewed so that if a quarter is down because the first two months were bad, but a small uptick is seen in the third month, they'll report that "the month was up" and ignore that the quarter is still down.

This makes it sound like things are doing well.  

So, we've got contradictory news.  This confuses people.  I get that the markets are quite irrational right now - being a person that loves to play the precious metals game, I know it's a veritable roller-coaster of crazy moves, but the news isn't helping those that can't see the two sides of the same coin.  At least I'm aware that things aren't going well, so I can play from the pessimistic hymn sheet that says get ready for all hell to break loose. 

What needs to happen is media makes a concerted effort to not just repeat what they hear from any source, but actually cross-reference it all and spit out something that is far more useful using all the information, instead of delivering it piece-meal to a public that doesn't always catch all the pieces.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Commercial Drones In The News

You might have read about commercial drones possibly being deployed soon, delivering everything from your pizza to your order.

It's a fun thing to think about, but it's just not going to happen - at least it won't here in Canada.

In Canada, and most other places I can think of, non-military UAV's (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) require two things; first a special license to allow you to fly them, then second that drone must remain in your line of sight.  In urban areas it gets even more restricted - in my neighbourhood I am not allowed to fly anything above 500ft.

Several months ago, I attended a presentation where a drone was going up to the arctic to film some whales on behalf of the Canadian Government, and you could see a huge "coil" being drawn on the map where the faster drone had to keep circling the slower boat where the operator was, for hours, just to maintain the line of sight rule.  It was painful to see this hindrance in action - and that was still with the Government.  

So coming out of the arctic and back to your town or city - unless you live on the other side of the street from a pizza shop, there's no way a drone can be used because even going around the corner would break the law.  A similar set of restrictions apply for underwater drones.  Which is why we don't see many of those either.

The stories in the papers make for fun reading, but it just isn't going to happen for a long, long while.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Boxes. We live in them.  We think in them.  If there's not a box to classify something, we can't help but generate one.

If I see a bus, my mind is classifying it; transportation, mass transit, car alternative, etc.  If I see four people in suits and bow ties walk onto a stage, I'm instantly going to classify them as either classical musicians or classical choral singers.

Boxes are mental models that are built using our past experiences. Often, they can last for a long time, usually until new experiences cause us to reflect and update them.  For instance all the fluffy kittens in the "cute" box can soon become "danger" to the kid that just got attacked by sharp claws and tiny teeth.

But what happens when boxes go stale?  This is where bad biases set in...

I can only see one reason for this to happen:  People aren't experiencing new things in life that would cause them to update their boxes.  They're just not being affected by life.

Maybe the bigot, who still acts like this is the 1980s, still only hangs out with other like-minded people.  Maybe the pensioner who is astounded by basic city amenities still has never taken a vacation from their tiny hamlet they were born in.

We're often told to "think outside the box", but for some people, they don't even know what the box is that they're in.  

I'd be interested in other peoples takes on this.

Monday, December 2, 2013

How To Buy and Install Windows 8.1 for Use In Parallels For Mac

 WARNING:  It has been brought to my attention that this process may have been broken yet again.  Please proceed at your own risk with extreme caution.  

The following is how you obtain and install Windows 8.1 on Parallels for Mac, as this has some potential pitfalls if you don't know the entire process, or are just starting out and are unclear about what to do.   The process is simple, but takes a bit of time.

1.  Purchase your Windows 8.1 license here, from Microsoft.  

TECH NOTE:  Whilst our final copy of Windows is going to be running in a virtualized environment, the Hyper-V functionality for Windows itself to run other virtualized environments is only installed on Windows 8.1 Pro and above, so if you are planning on doing any Windows Phone development, do not download Windows Basic as the simulator requires Hyper-V to be enabled - so get Pro, or Ultimate.

The option you want is the "download" one, shown here.

2.  The Microsoft Store purchase won't show up immediately, so whilst that gets itself ready, install Parallels from here.

3.  Go back to, your Windows key is probably now ready (look on right hand side for menu option marked "Purchases and Downloads") - make a note of it.

4.  Now, here's where it gets a bit convoluted due to Microsoft needlessly creating a "chicken and egg" situation.  They incorrectly assumed that your computer came preloaded with Windows, or you are upgrading from Windows.  Therefore that "Download" option when you purchased Windows isn't actually a "Download" option for Windows.  Surprise!   There's a stub "WindowsSetup.exe" stub available, which runs under Windows (which you don't yet have).  Download the install stub and put it somewhere safe - whilst it's useless right now, we can use it later.

5.  When Parallels is installed, it will ask you if you want to download or install any OS's.  Choose the Widows 8.1 Preview.  This will download 3.5GB of files.  Do not activate it, personalize it, install anything in it, etc.  Just install as a trial for now.

6.  When Windows 8.1 Preview is installed, do not install any Visual Studio 2013 software as it won't work on the preview.  Go straight back to the stub you downloaded earlier and run it from within the Preview desktop.  Enter your new Microsoft license key when prompted.

7. Windows will download and reinstall another entire 3.5GB copy of itself, when done, you now have a licensed full copy you can install your Visual Studio software on.

Technical Conclusion:  
Ask yourself this:  Why would someone purchase a full copy of Windows in download form, rather than a cheaper upgrade in download form?

Once you've wrestled with all of the possible permutations, you can't help but realize Microsoft was being lazy here.  When selling their OS it's all packaged visually and textually like you're going to purchase a download copy of the OS - a disc image, or at least something that can be booted from.  

Unfortunately, they incorrectly assumed that you were not purchasing the OS to bootstrap a clean drive or to install on a VM, so they assume the only other viable option - you already have Windows and ergo, they create a needless "chicken and egg" situation.

Compounding this logic failure, I personally ran into two failures by auxiliary staff.  One is here, where they clearly misunderstood what virtualization is with comical effect:

...and the other was when I was told by sales support to "Download the disc", which is not an option.

All of this could have simply been avoided by doing one thing:  When you have a choice of the physical DVD or a download (remember, this is not an upgrade copy, but a fresh/full install), make the download a full download.

Of course, this now begs the laughable question:  If you purchase the physical DVD, does it too come with just a single stub file that you can't boot from either?