Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Facebook, Twitter and Google: Johnny come latelies

Facebook, Twitter and Google: Johnny come latelies

Facebook, Twitter and Google defended their security measures and promised to do more to stop the misuse of their platforms by a foreign power. Richard Salgado, director of law enforcement and information security at Google, said: “We take this seriously. We’ve made changes and will continue to get better.”

But some senators were sceptical. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, called the companies “Johnny come latelies” and said: “There’s a lot that I think you could have done earlier.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein highlighted fake pages such as “Black Matters US” and “United Muslims of America”, which Russians used a custom audience tool to target. Stretch described such attempts to exploit divisions in society as “vile” and “cynical” and said there have been changes to ad targeting policies with added layers of review.

Senator Chris Coons struck a similar tone to Franken and again Facebook bore the brunt. He drew attention to an advert that claimed Hillary Clinton, along with Barack Obama, was despised by Americans and the army should be withdrawn from her control. Another advertised a non-existent “miners for Trump” rally. People were “duped”, Coons said.

Stretch responded: “That advertisement has no place on Facebook and we are committted to preventing that sort of behaviour happening again on our platform. You’re right to surface it. It makes me angry, it makes everyone angry.”

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Facebook too big to work?

Facebook too big to work?

When I say Facebook, I don’t mean exclusively the corporate entity, Facebook Inc. While Facebook has built the system, it now contains vastly more actors contributing to its functioning than Facebook employs or directly controls.

No one has ever seen a system like this because none has ever existed. It’s software and interfaces and tools. It’s a social network. It’s an advertising vehicle. It’s the key media distributor. But, like a city or a nation, it’s also human behaviors, habits, norms. Because much of it is built on machine learning, which transforms user behavior into new software adjustments, users and algorithms drive each other by design.

If everyone stops clicking on something, soon the software will stop showing it to anyone. If Facebook pushes video into feeds, people will watch more video. These feedback loops are what Facebook is as an attention-gathering machine. They ensure that the system is always calibrated for you and you and you. In the lethal struggle between Silicon Valley’s most valuable companies, which are also America’s most valuable companies, this ability to hold human attention as well as any invention since television is Facebook’s competitive advantage.

Read more > Facebook too big to work?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Nine Great Camera Drones

Nine Great Camera Drones

It‘s no secret that rotor drones and aerial-camera systems are a match made in heaven. With the increasing quality of cameras and downlink video links and the amazing developments in flight controller and stabilization systems, getting those exciting bird’s-eye-view images is easier than ever before. This camera drone guide highlights nine of our top-rated picks, including price and spec information, so that you can see how they all stack up to help you make your purchasing decision. Whether you are looking for a basic “selfie” drone or you’re in the market for a topend professional rig for production-quality imaging, this guide has something for you.

DJI Inspire 2

Improving on the popular, well-built, and tested Inspire design, the Inspire 2 is a little bigger and faster than its predecessor. We tested out the package that came with the Zenmuse X5S and two transmitters.


The Inspire 2 comes in a nice case that holds everything you need for a successful flight: the Inspire, two transmitters, a Zenmuse X5S camera and case, up to four batteries, a charger, and extra props. Setup only involves powering up the transmitters, installing the two battery packs (one of the updates is that the Inspire 2 uses two flight batteries), pressing the start button five times to get the quad from storage configuration to landing configuration, and finally attaching the X5S camera and props. One of its new features is an obstacle-avoidance system that can detect obstacles up to 30 meters ahead, which means protection at up to 35mph. The Inspire 2 also has much larger motors and props to lift the larger overall bird, and it has a top speed of 58mph in Sport mode. Recorded video can now be stored simultaneously on the DJI Cine SSD (inside the fuselage between the batteries) and an easily accessible micro SD card.

The Zenmuse X5S camera is right up there with some of the best. It is compact but still able to produce some impressive stats. It has a micro 4/3 sensor and mount that can support up to eight professional lens from different manufacturers. It can shoot 5.2K video at 30fps and 4K video at 60fps, plus up to 20.8 megapixel stills.

Aerial Recap

Flying the Inspire 2 is a lot of fun. It’s precise, and it’s easy to get it from one point to the other. Then there is the impressive speed at which this bird can fly. In most cases, you don’t really want that much speed because the shot will look rushed, but the gimbal does an excellent job of maintaining a nice level and smooth video, even when in Sport mode and while doing some very aggressive flying. Flying with a dedicated camera operator allows you to concentrate on a nice, smooth flight, working around your subject and getting the drone precisely in the right position. The new flight modes also make it easier to fly as a single pilot while capturing great video. Even flying close to the ground at high speed, the Inspire 2 has solid feel and control. Even if you should lose your orientation on the drone, the Return to Home function requires just the push of a button and the Inspire will come back, avoiding obstacles along the way as it returns.

DJI Mavic Pro

Preassembled and ready to go out of the box, all you have to do to get the DJI Mavic Pro into the air is charge the battery and controller, download the app, and you’re ready to go. It is constructed well; when the arms are snap into place, they feel very solid. The Mavic Pro’s clever design keeps it small with all four arms folding up underneath and to the   sides. The compact size makes it easy to transport in nothing more than a large jacket pocket, but the big advantage is the ability to keep the props on all the time.


The unit, ready to fly, with battery has an all-up weight of only 1.62 pounds. The remote is one of the smallest ones we’ve used and is just a little bit bigger than a smartphone, with a small screen in the center to relay all of the essential telemetry information for flying and navigating. To maximize the full functions of this bird, you just connect your smartphone to the transmitter and download the DJI GO app. The bottom of the remote unfolds and allows the phone to fit into the housing of the transmitter. The phone provides a live video feed and access to the more complex autonomous modes along with a wide array of camera functions.

Aerial Recap

Flying the Mavic Pro is easy, and the automatic takeoff and landing function makes it simple to get the Mavic into the air. From there, piloting is straightforward, and the Mavic is quite responsive. The stabilization works well, and we have flown in some heavy wind conditions without adverse results. The obstacle-avoidance system works well, but the Mavic will not avoid small things like tree branches, ropes, or wires, so be careful around those. When it encounters a solid obstacle, the Mavic will stop its forward movement and wait for a command to send it around the obstacle.

Be careful of your takeoff and landing locations as the Mavic Pro’s camera barely clears the deck. The blades could hit tall grass or cause loose gravel to be kicked up. The Return to Home function is impressive; even from great distances, the Mavic Pro will always come back and land within a foot or two of its original takeoff point.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Origin by Dan Brown

Origin by Dan Brown


AS THE ANCIENT cogwheel train clawed its way up the dizzying incline, Edmond Kirsch surveyed the jagged mountaintop above him. In the distance, built into the face of a sheer cliff, the massive stone monastery seemed to hang in space, as if magically fused to the vertical precipice.

This timeless sanctuary in Catalonia, Spain, had endured the relentless pull of gravity for more than
four centuries, never slipping from its original purpose: to insulate its occupants from the modern

Ironically, they will now be the first to learn the truth, Kirsch thought, wondering how they would
react. Historically, the most dangerous men on earth were men of God … especially when their gods
became threatened. And I am about to hurl a flaming spear into a hornets’ nest.

When the train reached the mountaintop, Kirsch saw a solitary figure waiting for him on the
platform. The wizened skeleton of a man was draped in the traditional Catholic purple cassock and
white rochet, with a zucchetto on his head. Kirsch recognized his host’s rawboned features from
photos and felt an unexpected surge of adrenaline.

Valdespino is greeting me personally.

Bishop Antonio Valdespino was a formidable figure in Spain—not only a trusted friend and
counselor to the king himself, but one of the country’s most vocal and influential advocates for the
preservation of conservative Catholic values and traditional political standards.

“Edmond Kirsch, I assume?” the bishop intoned as Kirsch exited the train.

“Guilty as charged,” Kirsch said, smiling as he reached out to shake his host’s bony hand. “Bishop
Valdespino, I want to thank you for arranging this meeting.”

“I appreciate your requesting it.” The bishop’s voice was stronger than Kirsch expected—clear
and penetrating, like a bell. “It is not often we are consulted by men of science, especially one of your
prominence. This way, please.”

As Valdespino guided Kirsch across the platform, the cold mountain air whipped at the bishop’s
cassock.“I must confess,” Valdespino said, “you look different than I imagined. I was expecting a scientist, but you’re quite …” He eyed his guest’s sleek Kiton K50 suit and Barker ostrich shoes with a hint of disdain. “‘Hip,’ I believe, is the word?”

Kirsch smiled politely. The word “hip” went out of style decades ago.

“In reading your list of accomplishments,” the bishop said, “I am still not entirely sure what it is
you do.”

“I specialize in game theory and computer modeling.”
“So you make the computer games that the children play?”

Kirsch sensed the bishop was feigning ignorance in an attempt to be quaint. More accurately,
Kirsch knew, Valdespino was a frighteningly well-informed student of technology and often warned
others of its dangers. “No, sir, actually game theory is a field of mathematics that studies patterns in
order to make predictions about the future.”

“Ah yes. I believe I read that you predicted a European monetary crisis some years ago? When
nobody listened, you saved the day by inventing a computer program that pulled the EU back from the
dead. What was your famous quote? ‘At thirty-three years old, I am the same age as Christ when He
performed His resurrection.’”
Kirsch cringed. “A poor analogy, Your Grace. I was young.”
“Young?” The bishop chuckled. “And how old are you now … perhaps forty?”
The old man smiled as the strong wind continued to billow his robe. “Well, the meek were
supposed to inherit the earth, but instead it has gone to the young—the technically inclined, those who
stare into video screens rather than into their own souls. I must admit, I never imagined I would have
reason to meet the young man leading the charge. They call you a prophet, you know.”
“Not a very good one in your case, Your Grace,” Kirsch replied. “When I asked if I might meet you
and your colleagues privately, I calculated only a twenty percent chance you would accept.”
“And as I told my colleagues, the devout can always benefit from listening to nonbelievers. It is in
hearing the voice of the devil that we can better appreciate the voice of God.” The old man smiled. “I
am joking, of course. Please forgive my aging sense of humor. My filters fail me from time to time.”
With that, Bishop Valdespino motioned ahead. “The others are waiting. This way, please.”
Kirsch eyed their destination, a colossal citadel of gray stone perched on the edge of a sheer cliff
that plunged thousands of feet down into a lush tapestry of wooded foothills. Unnerved by the height,
Kirsch averted his eyes from the chasm and followed the bishop along the uneven cliffside path,
turning his thoughts to the meeting ahead.
Kirsch had requested an audience with three prominent religious leaders who had just finished
attending a conference here.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Since 1893, hundreds of spiritual leaders from nearly thirty world religions had gathered in a
different location every few years to spend a week engaged in interfaith dialogue. Participants
included a wide array of influential Christian priests, Jewish rabbis, and Islamic mullahs from around
the world, along with Hindu pujaris, Buddhist bhikkhus, Jains, Sikhs, and others.
The parliament’s self-proclaimed objective was “to cultivate harmony among the world’s
religions, build bridges between diverse spiritualities, and celebrate the intersections of all faith.”
A noble quest, Kirsch thought, despite seeing it as an empty exercise—a meaningless search for
random points of correspondence among a hodgepodge of ancient fictions, fables, and myths.
As Bishop Valdespino guided him along the pathway, Kirsch peered down the mountainside with a
sardonic thought. Moses climbed a mountain to accept the Word of God … and I have climbed a
mountain to do quite the opposite.
Kirsch’s motivation for climbing this mountain, he had told himself, was one of ethical obligation,
but he knew there was a good dose of hubris fueling this visit—he was eager to feel the gratification
of sitting face-to-face with these clerics and foretelling their imminent demise.
You’ve had your run at defining our truth.
“I looked at your curriculum vitae,” the bishop said abruptly, glancing at Kirsch. “I see you’re a
product of Harvard University?”
“Undergraduate. Yes.”
“I see. Recently, I read that for the first time in Harvard’s history, the incoming student body
consists of more atheists and agnostics than those who identify as followers of any religion. That is
quite a telling statistic, Mr. Kirsch.”
What can I tell you, Kirsch wanted to reply, our students keep getting smarter.
The wind whipped harder as they arrived at the ancient stone edifice. Inside the dim light of the
building’s entryway, the air was heavy with the thick fragrance of burning frankincense. The two men
snaked through a maze of dark corridors, and Kirsch’s eyes fought to adjust as he followed his
cloaked host. Finally, they arrived at an unusually small wooden door. The bishop knocked, ducked
down, and entered, motioning for his guest to follow.
Uncertain, Kirsch stepped over the threshold.
He found himself in a rectangular chamber whose high walls burgeoned with ancient leather-bound
tomes. Additional freestanding bookshelves jutted out of the walls like ribs, interspersed with castiron
radiators that clanged and hissed, giving the room the eerie sense that it was alive. Kirsch raised
his eyes to the ornately balustraded walkway that encircled the second story and knew without a
doubt where he was.
The famed library of Montserrat, he realized, startled to have been admitted. This sacred room
was rumored to contain uniquely rare texts accessible only to those monks who had devoted their
lives to God and who were sequestered here on this mountain.
“You asked for discretion,” the bishop said. “This is our most private space. Few outsiders have
ever entered.”
“A generous privilege. Thank you.”
Kirsch followed the bishop to a large wooden table where two elderly men sat waiting. The man
on the left looked timeworn, with tired eyes and a matted white beard. He wore a crumpled black
suit, white shirt, and fedora.
“This is Rabbi Yehuda Köves,” the bishop said. “He is a prominent Jewish philosopher who has
written extensively on Kabbalistic cosmology.”
Kirsch reached across the table and politely shook hands with Rabbi Köves. “A pleasure to meet
you, sir,” Kirsch said. “I’ve read your books on Kabbala. I can’t say I understood them, but I’ve read
Köves gave an amiable nod, dabbing at his watery eyes with his handkerchief.
“And here,” the bishop continued, motioning to the other man, “you have the respected allamah,
Syed al-Fadl.”
The revered Islamic scholar stood up and smiled broadly. He was short and squat with a jovial
face that seemed a mismatch with his dark penetrating eyes. He was dressed in an unassuming white
thawb. “And, Mr. Kirsch, I have read your predictions on the future of mankind. I can’t say I agree
with them, but I have read them.”
Kirsch gave a gracious smile and shook the man’s hand.
“And our guest, Edmond Kirsch,” the bishop concluded, addressing his two colleagues, “as you
know, is a highly regarded computer scientist, game theorist, inventor, and something of a prophet in
the technological world. Considering his background, I was puzzled by his request to address the
three of us. Therefore, I shall now leave it to Mr. Kirsch to explain why he has come.”
With that, Bishop Valdespino took a seat between his two colleagues, folded his hands, and gazed
up expectantly at Kirsch. All three men faced him like a tribunal, creating an ambience more like that
of an inquisition than a friendly meeting of scholars. The bishop, Kirsch now realized, had not even
set out a chair for him.
Kirsch felt more bemused than intimidated as he studied the three aging men before him. So this is
the Holy Trinity I requested. The Three Wise Men.
Pausing a moment to assert his power, Kirsch walked over to the window and gazed out at the
breathtaking panorama below. A sunlit patchwork of ancient pastoral lands stretched across a deep
valley, giving way to the rugged peaks of the Collserola mountain range. Miles beyond, somewhere
out over the Balearic Sea, a menacing bank of storm clouds was now gathering on the horizon.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Robotics Revolution Is Changing What Machines Can Do

The Robotics Revolution Is Changing What Machines Can Do

When David Stinson finished high school, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1977, the first thing he did was get a job building houses. After a few years, though, the business slowed. Stinson was then twenty-four, with two children to support. He needed something stable. As he explained over lunch recently, that meant finding a job at one of the two companies in the area that offered secure, blue-collar work. “Either I’ll be working at General Motors or I’ll be working at Steelcase by the end of theyear,” he vowed in 1984. A few monthslater, he got a job at Steelcase, the world’slargest manufacturer of office furniture,and he’s been working at its Grand Rapidsmetal plant ever since.

Stinson is now fifty-eight. He has a full, reddish face, a thick head of silver hair, and a majestic midsection. His navy polo shirt displays his job title—“Zone Leader”—and, like everyone else in the plant, he always has a pair of protective earplugs on a neon string draped around his neck. His glasses have plastic shields on the sides that give him the air of a cranky scientist.

“I don’t regret coming here,” Stinson said. We were sitting in the plant’s cafeteria, and Stinson was unwrapping an Italian sub, supplied by a deli that every Thursday offers plant workers sandwiches for four dollars instead of eight. “There’s been times I’ve thought about leaving, but it’s just getting to be a much more comfortable atmosphere around here. The technology is really helping that kind of thing, too. Instead of taking responsibility away from you, it’s a big aid. It’s definitely the wave of the future here.”

William Sandee, Jr., a sixty-four-year-old worker on the paint line, sat down next to Stinson with a carton of fries and a cup of ketchup, and tossed his safety goggles on the table. “We try to have some fun with it,” he said in a low near-growl. “It can get intense.”

Sandee, who has neatly combed gray hair and an alert, owlish face, began working at Steelcase in 1972, after waiting in line with six hundred people just to put in an application. “They made it very lucrative to be a Steelcase employee, back in the day,” Sandee said. Plant managers were known to drive fancy cars and have second homes on the lake; the company paid the college tuition for employees’ children, who often spent summers working at the local plants; and there were company picnics and a bowling tournament, which once had fifteen hundred players. (The tournament is still held, now with around three hundred participants.)

In the nineties, Steelcase employed more than ten thousand workers in the United States and operated seven factories around Grand Rapids, making chairs, filing cabinets, desks, and tables, and the screws, bolts, and casters that went into them. Packed shoulder to shoulder, workers polished and painted wood and assembled steel parts by hand. Today, there are only two Steelcase plants in Michigan—the metal factory, which makes desks and filing cabinets, and a nearby “wood plant,” which produces wood furniture. In total, they employ fewer than two thousand workers. The company’s only other U.S. plant, in Athens, Alabama, employs a thousand full-time workers.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Time To Get Under-involved With The Children

Time To Get Under-involved With The Children 

Welcome to the neontocracy: a world that revolves around the needs of children far beyond the basics of food and material comfort. Here, it is considered vital to maintain children’s happiness, status, self-esteem and protection, and for parents to do their own childcare and schedule life-enhancing activities for their kids, providing constant stimulation. The neontocracy is increasingly the ideal for the WEIRD world of Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic societies. For anthropologist David Lancy of Utah State University (who coined the term neontocracy), this aim is an outlier that bucks the historical and ethnographic record, and in Raising Children, he picks apart the good and bad in WEIRD parenting.

Abandoning harsh practices (sending the kids into the forest in hard times, or enslaving them) is surely good, but progressive virtues carry their own risks. The new ways, says Lancy, can leave many as kidults, ill-prepared to enter acomplicated, adult world.

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The Next Supercontinent

The Next Supercontinent

Sleep the good sleep

Sleep the good sleep

I don't mean to pry, but how much sleep did you get last night? What about over the past week? I ask because the answer could have serious consequences for your future mental health.

More than 44 million people worldwide currently have Alzheimer’s disease, including members of my own family. The health, economic and personal impact is staggering. There has been a marked acceleration in the number being diagnosed with the disease as the human lifespan has increased, but importantly, as total sleep time has decreased.

As a sleep scientist, I became interested in this connection some years ago. What I have found is striking. Not only does sleep disruption play a role in the declining mental abilities that typify Alzheimer’s disease, but getting enough sleep is one of the most important factors determining whether you will develop the condition in the future.

The implications are huge. We are quickly filling in missing pieces of the Alzheimer’s puzzle, and now we also recognise that sleep offers a route for diagnosis, therapy and even prevention.

As we age, our sleep gets worse. This is especially true for the quality of our deep, non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep (see chart). Unfortunately, this is the very type of sleep that we now know helps fix new memories into the architecture of the brain, preventing you from forgetting.

But if you assess a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, the disruption of deep sleep is exaggerated. More telling, perhaps, is the fact that sleep disturbance

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Drone Magazine November 2017

Drone Magazine November 2017

To Issue 26 of Drone Magazine !

Given how far UAV technology has come over the past few years, it’s quite a sobering thought to consider that there’s still some way to go before drones could be considered truly ‘mainstream’. Some could argue, and with good reason, that they already are and that the revolution is already upon us, but this issue raises a few interesting areas where there’s clearly more work to be done.

Speaking with William Reddaway for our article on the construction industry, it’s clear that there’s still a sense of trepidation about accepting and embracing drones for what they can do, as well as a scepticism based on what they can’t. Years of negative press have likely had an impact here, but it’s also about proving to big business the value that UAVs can offer, and turning all that positive talk about saving time, money and risk into cold, hard cash. There’s little doubt that the technology will continue to adapt and evolve, and likely more tailor-made solutions will emerge to better resolve some of those concerns.

That said, I have found it interesting that Parrot’s latest announcements are both  upgraded versions of existing models – following on from DJI doing likewise last month. It could be easy to dismiss these as minor steps forward, with a Phantom 5 or a Bebop 3 being where the real innovation lies, but I’m quite content to see these major players simply improving on what they have, rather than feeling compelled to wrap up a ‘new’ model with a host of enforced bells and whistles just to meet a preprescribed marketing window.

Having previously worked in videogames, I’ve seen too many gaming franchises  suffer as a result of an obligatory annual update – and perhaps we should feel grateful  that we’re not being pressured into spending another chunk of cash on a brand new and possibly half-baked drone we probably don’t need…

Enjoy the issue!

Ian Collen , EDITOR

New Scientist Magazine 14 October 2017

New Scientist Magazine 14 October 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Jeff Bezos: The King of Amazon

Jeff Bezos: The King of Amazon

It’s the most recent news that took us all by surprise. Everyone, from housewives to everyday grocery shoppers, was stunned when Amazon.com purchased Whole Foods. According to Forbes magazine, Jeff Bezos didn’t waste any time figuring out how Amazon will integrate its biggest-ever, $13.7 billion acquisition. Amazon put price cut wars into motion when Whole Foods stores nationwide planned to integrate the grocer within its larger e-commerce platform. Once more, Amazon’s relentless growth shook Wall Street. Meanwhile, we all started to think of everything we’d order and wondered if a drone would be arriving at our home now to deliver fresh organic products.
Late this past summer, Whole Foods cut prices on everything from bananas and avocados to eggs, Tilapia, beef and baby kale in its existing stores nationwide. After a technical integration, Amazon Prime became a part of Whole Foods’ rewards program, offering Prime members savings and other in-store benefits. Eventually, popular Whole Foods private label products such as 365 Everyday Value, Whole Catch and pet foods-oriented, Whole Paws, will be integrated with Amazon. com, Amazon Fresh, Prime Pantry and Prime Now. Finally, Amazon Lockers for e-commerce pickups will become available in some Whole Foods stores.

The Whole Foods purchase by Amazon.com rang a bell affecting “all of us,” says Boca Raton housewife Allison Myers who frequently shops at Whole Foods. “With three kids, I have no time to shop and Amazon.com has changed everything for my free time. But, now with Whole Foods being a part of the mix, it may even get just a little easier each day. Saving time each day is important to us. While I’m drinking my morning coffee, maybe it’s a fact that a drone can deliver our breakfast?” While we envision all the perks, it’s going to be a one-step at- a-time approach but it seems the tracks are laid for a new roadway.

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon.com in 1994 after making a cross-country drive from New York to Seattle, writing up the Amazon business plan on the way. He had left his well-paying job at a New York City hedge fund and initially set up the company in his garage. Bezos is known for his attention to business details. As described by Portfolio.com, he “is at once a happy-go-lucky mogul.”

At age 53, Jeff Bezos was born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His maternal ancestors were settlers who lived in Texas and over the generations acquired a 25,000-acre ranch near Cotulla. As of March 2015, Bezos was among the largest landholders in Texas. His maternal grandfather was a regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Albuquerque before he retired early to the ranch, where Jeff spent many summers as a youth, working with him. Apparently, at an early age, he displayed mechanical aptitude—as a toddler, he dismantled his crib with a screwdriver. Bezos often displayed scientific interests and technological proficiency; he once rigged an electric alarm to keep his younger siblings out of his room.

However, Jeff’s mother married her second husband, a Cuban who immigrated to the United States, and Jeff was then adopted by him at age four, with his surname changed to Bezos. Eventually, the family moved to Houston, Texas and then on to Miami, Florida where he attended Miami Palmetto High School in Pinecrest. While in high school, he joined the Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida, receiving a Silver Knight Award in 1982. He was high school valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar.

In 1986, Jeff graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. While at Princeton, he was also elected to Tau Beta Pi and served as the president of the Princeton chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. After graduating, Bezos worked on Wall Street in the computer sciences field. He then worked on building a network for international trade for a company known as Fitel. Later, he worked at Bankers Trust before moving on to Internet-enabled business opportunities at the hedge fund company, D. E. Shaw & Co.

Today, Amazon’s business is not without its challenges. The company’s imperative to deliver more products faster has ratcheted up its annual shipping costs north of $11 billion, reinforcing the pressure to wring efficiencies out of the company’s processes and its people. Amazon is working to counteract this legacy.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Surprising things that may improve breast cancer treatment

Surprising things that may improve breast cancer treatment

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can make a person feel powerless, but there are some things women can do to potentially improve how they feel throughout the process. Here are some strategies recommended by experts—and others that are still being explored—which may help improve the effectiveness and symptoms of treatment.

Physical activity

Exercising during treatment won’t be easy for everyone, but it can be worthwhile when women feel up to it. “Exercise is one of the best things women can do for themselves,” says Dr. Ann Partridge, director of the Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Walking three to five times a week can make a huge difference in how you feel during treatment.” It’s good for the brain too. A study of 87 breast-cancer survivors found that those who did 12 weeks of exercise scored better on some cognitive tests than women who didn’t exercise.

Healthy eating

A healthy diet filled with lots of fruits and vegetables, which contain fiber and antioxidants, is good preventive medicine. When researchers in a 2016 study asked women what they had eaten as teenagers, those who reported eating about three servings of fruit a day as teens had a 25% lower risk of developing breast cancer later on than those who ate less. Eating well throughout treatment is also helpful, says Partridge. “Take care of your temple,” she says. You don’t necessarily have to start juicing, but “don’t overdo it with carbs or comfort foods.”

Read more > Surprising things that may improve breast cancer treatment

An Individual Approach to Breast Cancer

An Individual Approach to Breast Cancer

The announcement from Julia Louis-Dreyfus that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer came with both a revelation and a warning. Her tweet revealing her diagnosis also contained some important reminders: that breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the U.S., affecting 1 in 8 over their lifetime, and that while the disease does not discriminate, screening and treatment strategies, especially in the U.S., often do.

A cancer diagnosis is one of the most personal
experiences a woman can go through. Yet the
strategies that doctors have used for detecting
and treating the disease are only just beginning
to be optimized for individual women. It wasn’t
until 2009, for example, that recommendations
for breast-cancer screening with mammograms
were changed from ones that broadly called for
most women over 40 to get tested every year. Now
most expert groups agree that women should start
getting mammograms at age 45 or 50, repeating the
process about every other year. The exact schedule
should be determined after women and their
doctors consider risk factors like family history
and smoking habits. It became clear that screening
advice needed to become more personalized after
data failed to show that the previous guidelines
led to fewer breast-cancer deaths or even helped
women live longer with the disease. Broader
screening, it turned out, often contributed to a high
rate of false-positive readings, which prompted
many women to get unnecessary testing and
biopsies that came with serious complications. It
simply doesn’t make sense to apply the same advice
to all women about when and how often they
should get mammograms, when the risk for breast
cancer varies depending on who the woman is.

Treatments and cancer care are also becoming
more bespoke, reflecting what doctors are learning
about who benefits, and who doesn’t, from certain
therapies. Women now have more information
about their disease—down to the very DNA of
their tumors—than ever before, so they can make
more informed decisions about how aggressively
they want to be treated. Scientists also have an
evolving understanding of how women can better
endure treatment with fewer side effects—and they
have plenty of options to do so, from getting more
sleep to practicing yoga or eating healthfully. As
breast-cancer care gets more personal, women are
becoming empowered to make better decisions,
and research is even revealing what they should
know about the potential biases of the doctors who
treat them. A breast-cancer diagnosis is still a lifechanging
journey. But now women have more of the
custom tools they need to effectively navigate it.

Read more > An Individual Approach to Breast Cancer

Career Advice For New Digital Talent

Career Advice For New Digital Talent

I still remember the heady thrill of excitement and anticipation I felt back in 1997, when someone sat me down and guided me through the convoluted process of logging in to AOL to use the Yahoo! search engine for the first time. The internet was a golden land of opportunity, a playground of promise that has led to my career in digital design over the last 17 years.

I’m not suggesting I’ve seen it all, but through that time I’ve witnessed software and hardware trends come and go, web innovations that have streamlined work processes, and of course, I’ve made all the usual mistakes that come with the territory. “If only I knew then what I know now” I often find myself thinking, and this attitude has prompted me to help the next generation make the most of their opportunities. At the risk of sounding like the old dude from the Werther’s Originals ad (“Now I’m the grandfather…”), I’ve spent a lot of time helping young people get started in their careers. I’ve mentored school students on work experience, university students on their block placements and given talks in association with local digital innovation groups.

Young people today have a huge advantage when it comes to digital - as natives who have grown up surrounded with the internet, Wi-Fi and smartphones, they live and breathe mobile communications. But being properly equipped to get a job in digital doesn’t always come so naturally. I’m often asked what skills are needed to work in a digital agency, and how can one go about  preparing for a career in this rapidly evolving industry?

A career in digital doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a Photoshop genius or that you can code in your sleep. Successful teams are made up of all sorts of disciplines, and people come from all sorts of backgrounds with complementary skill sets. Some of the skills that I prioritise when looking to take on new individuals.

* Good listening skills
* Clear communication
* Able to manage own time
* Proactive idea suggestions
* Problem-solving skills
* Good listening skills

We don’t look for all of those skills in everyone we take on, of course. More than anything, we’re looking for individuals who are passionate about what they do. You can teach skills like programming, front-end development and project management, but passion is just something that’s there. You can cultivate it,

Read more > Career Advice For New Digital Talent

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I Treated Breast Cancer for Years as a Doctor. Then I Was Diagnosed

Read more > I Treated Breast Cancer for Years as a Doctor. Then I Was Diagnosed

I WAS A CANCER EXPERT LONG BEFORE I WAS A PATIENT: in control and invulnerable. Yet all of that changed with one phone call. Seeing the familiar number from my university’s radiology department, I knew it would be a “finding of concern.” With a pang of sadness, I wondered which of my patients I would soon be calling with bad news.

But the bad news was about my recent mammogram. Nothing prepared me for the sickening sense of foreboding and fear that gripped me that day. At 48, I was not ready for breast cancer. For me, unlike most of my patients, the decisions about which treatments to choose were the easy parts. I never doubted that a double mastectomy was the right choice, since I had a strong family history of the disease. Yet as a woman, I still wrestled with the need for such a drastic step. When I thought it was all behind me, after almost a year of tests, frequent visits to the doctor’s office and multiple surgeries, I found out that I carried the BRCA gene. This inherited gene is likely going to affect other family members and made me worry about my 10-year-old daughter. The BRCA gene puts me at high risk for ovarian cancer, which meant I needed to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes. The night before the surgery to remove y ovaries, I asked my friend and patient how it would feel to have my ovaries removed. She stared at me with bewilderment. “How can the thief of so many ovaries ask a question like this?” she asked. Although I could explain the surgery and its medical and emotional consequences, I had no idea how I would feel about losing more precious body parts and going into menopause overnight.

Doctors live in a world of statistics and probabilities, and we often use numbers to reassure patients. These numbers feel very different when it is your cancer. I knew there was already a 2%-3% chance of finding ovarian cancer during that surgery. As a doctor, I interpreted this to mean that there was a 97% chance of being cancer-free—something I thought should be reassuring to patients. Yet none of the favorable statistics let me rest until I got the call from the pathologist that I was cancer-free.

Read more > I Treated Breast Cancer for Years as a Doctor. Then I Was Diagnosed

The Chinese government plans to judge the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion residents with its Social Credit Score

The Chinese government plans to judge the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion residents with its Social Credit Score

On june 14, 2014, the state council of china published an ominous-sounding document called “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System”. In the way of Chinese policy documents, it was a lengthy and rather dry affair, but it contained a radical idea. What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were? Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It’s not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.

A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it’s already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance “trust” nationwide and to build a culture of “sincerity”. As the policy states, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial   sincerity, social sincerity and theconstruction of judicial credibility.”Others are less sanguine about itswider purpose. “It is very ambitiousin both depth and scope, includingscrutinising individual behaviourand what books people are reading. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist,” is how Johan Lagerkvist, a Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, described the social credit system. Rogier Creemers, a post-doctoral scholar specialising in Chinese law and governance at the Van Vollenhoven Institute at Leiden University, who published a comprehensive translation of the plan, compared it to “Yelp reviews with the nanny  state watching over your shoulder”.

For now, technically, participating in China’s Citizen Scores is voluntary. But by 2020 it will be mandatory. The behaviour of every single citizen and legal person (which includes every company or other entity) in China will be rated and ranked, whether they like it or not.

Prior to its national roll-out in 2020, the Chinese government is taking a watch-and-learn approach. In this marriage between communist oversight and capitalist can-do, the government has given a licence to eight private companies to come up with systems and algorithms for social credit scores. Predictably, data giants currently run two of the best-known projects.

The first is with China Rapid Finance, a partner of the socialnetwork behemoth Tencent and developer of the messaging app WeChat with more than 850 million active users. The other, Sesame Credit, is run by the Ant Financial Services Group (AFSG), an affiliate company of Alibaba. Ant Financial sells insurance products and provides loans to small- to medium-sized businesses. However, the real star of Ant is AliPay, its payments arm that people use not only to buy things online, but also for restaurants, taxis, school fees, cinema tickets and even to transfer money to each other. Sesame Credit has also teamed up with other data-generating platforms, such as Didi Chuxing, the ride-hailing company that was Uber’s main competitor in China before it acquired the American company’s Chinese operations in 2016, and Baihe, the country’s largest online matchmaking service. It’s not hard to see how that all adds up to gargantuan amounts of big data that Sesame Credit can tap into to assess how people behave and rate them accordingly. So just how are people rated? Individuals on Sesame Credit are measured by a score ranging between 350 and 950 points. Alibaba does not divulge the “complex algorithm” it uses to calculate the number but they do reveal the five factors taken into account. The first is credit history. For example, does the citizen pay their electricity or phone bill on time? Next is fulfilment capacity, which it defines in its guidelines as “a user’s ability to fulfil his/her contract obligations”. The third factor is personal characteristics, verifying personal information such as someone’s mobile phone number and address. But the fourth category, behaviour and preference, is where it gets interesting.

Under this system, something as innocuous as a person’s shopping habits become a measure of character. Alibaba admits it judges people by the types of products they buy. “Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,” says Li Yingyun, Sesame’s Technology Director. “Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance  is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.” So the system not only investigates behaviour – it shapes it. It “nudges” citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.
Read more > The Chinese government plans to judge the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion residents with its Social Credit Score

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Escape To The Countryside

Escape To The Countryside

Since I can remember, the concept
of a weekend away at a friend’s house
in the country has had immense
charm—the romanticism of arriving
by train, passing rolling hills and
trickling brooks to eventually be
collected and ensconced in a private
estate, sheltered from the realities
of the outside world. Along the way, this was reinforced by fi lms such as Brideshead Revisited and Peter’s Friends but the reality of a stately escape was not so easy to realise. The irony of it all was that I actually lived in the country so a weekend away to the country seemeda little pointless.

Escaping the madness of the city has
historically been seen as de rigueur. But with
the availability of cheap travel, visiting the
country fell out of fashion; however, luckily for
an old romantic, this seems to be changing and
country sojourns are once again trending.
If you want to truly experience the traditional
country escape, you need a friend with a stately
home—think Downton Abbey. Nowadays, most
of these places are unviable to run as homes and
are fast getting converted into cookie-cutter
hotels with a veneer of history to make them
respectable. So discovering a place that doesn’t
feel like a hotel but more like a friend’s retreat is
nigh on impossible, I thought.

Then to my delight, we discovered the muchtalked-about Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
outside Oxford this summer. Exiting the
motorway for Oxford City Centre always feels
slightly anticlimactic as you pass row upon row
of unassuming and uninspiring houses. As you
get closer to Oxford, the architecture begins to
hint at the cornucopia of styles that stamp their
personality onto the city. The mishmash of
periods is what gives Oxford its charm.
The most glorious elements of Oxford are
about Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
outside Oxford this summer. Exiting the
motorway for Oxford City Centre always feels
slightly anticlimactic as you pass row upon row
of unassuming and uninspiring houses. As you
get closer to Oxford, the architecture begins to
hint at the cornucopia of styles that stamp their
personality onto the city. The mishmash of
periods is what gives Oxford its charm.

Read more > Escape To The Countryside

Land Of Pain And Promise

Land Of Pain And Promise

The day I moved back to Mississippi after living in New York for 15 years, I drove into a full-fledged Confederate funeral procession. On the corner of North Lamar Boulevard and Price Street in Oxford, I got out of my car and stood under magnolia, maple, and live oak trees that shaded throngs of sweaty white men dressed up like the soldiers of Lee's army. Some marched with guns holstered, hoisting a battle flag that took up two lanes of the road.

Near the front of the procession, behind a gray hearse, was the brown face of Paula Tingle Hervey, wife of Anthony Hervey, the author of a book called Why I Wave the Confederate Flag, Written by a Black Man, who'd been killed in a car crash two weeks earlier. The whole pitiful spectacle, fueled by a longing for a time when neither the Herveys nor I would have been free, was the kind of demonstration that had prompted me to run away from the Deep South 22 years ago. And yet it was also part of why, 22 years later, I decided to run back home.

After leaving Mississippi for college in Ohio, graduate school in Indiana, and ultimately a professorship in New York, I wasn't sure how much home I'd find when I returned to the Deep South — nor how much home the Deep South might find in me. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, I spent summers and far more weekends than I wanted to with my grandmother in the small poultry town of Forest. Located 45 miles east of Jackson and 55 miles west of the Alabama state line, Forest was what demographers call a minority-majority community. Most of its citizenry was black, but most of the political, economic, and social power rested with the town's white residents.

When Grandmama was young, most of our family, along with more than 3 million other black Americans from the Deep South, moved to cities in the Midwest in search of decent jobs and less terrorizing forms of oppression. Rather than join the Great Migration, Grandmama chose to remain, working first as a domestic and later as a buttonhole slicer at a chicken-processing plant, which meant it was her job to cut open the bellies and pull out the guts. Even though she was legally forbidden to drive down certain roads, to enter certain stores, to use the bathroom of her choice, or to vote freely until she was middle-aged, she insisted that the region rightfully belonged to black Americans, too. "We worked too hard on this land to run to Milwaukee," she told me. "Some of us believed, and still believe, this land will one day be free."

As a child growing up in the Deep South, I found nothing speculative or surreal in asserting that all who worked the land should have equal access to quality food and housing, equal access to transformative education, and equal protection under the law. We descendants of those who refused to run saw corpses hanging, but to us, they looked like angels flying. We watched the gray tears of the hanging moss trees dripping over the land. When we think of those trees, even more than the gray of the moss we think of the dark, bleeding-red brown of those trees' creased bark. That same brown saturates the soil, birthing cotton, soybeans, collard greens, and purple hull peas in Greenwood, Mississippi. It coats our hollowed manufacturing plants in Memphis, Tennessee. It peeks out of the open doorways of haunted plantations, mansions, projects, trailers, and shacks in Little Rock, Arkansas. It lines the cracks of the hastily built Confederate monuments commemorating bruising parts of yesterday we've yet to reckon in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Charleston, South Carolina. We see, smell, and feel the residue of that dark, bleeding-red brown in our region's music and literature, our classrooms and country stores, our churches.

Read more > Land Of Pain And Promise

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Body, Heal Thyself

Body, Heal Thyself

Ever since a Savanna dweller first slapped mud on a wound to ward off flies—and infection—our frail human bodies have relied on creative intervention to survive. Science has since come up with all manner of potions and procedures (from aspirin to organ transplants to bionic knees) to keep us from falling to pieces. But it turns out the body might be its own best pharmacy; each one of us possesses internal stores of life-extending remediation. Scientists are now learning to access those once locked and guarded inner warehouses to nudge us toward durability.

Witness the frontier of using the body to fix itself. From supercharging our immune systems to bolstering protective microbes in our guts to tweaking our genes, medical research is now enhancing our own defenses and selfrepair mechanisms. And not just in terms of immediate threats but future ones too—in some cases protecting generations down the line.

Nowhere is this more evident than in   the booming immunotherapy field for cancer treatment, in which geneticists soup up the body’s own defense system to fight off life-threatening illness. In August, the FDA approved one of the most advanced techniques, Kymriah, making it the first gene therapy to reach the market. With it, doctors can extract T cells from a patient, train the cells in a petri dish to fight cancer, then re-inject them into the body where they go to work as world-class tumor bullies. The newly armed immune system could remain a lifelong powerhouse, preventing that cancer from coming back.

But wielding immunotherapies is still tricky. For now these tools can defeat certain cancers but not others, cure some patients but not all. This year alone, researchers undertook an astonishing 1,000 or so clinical trials to address these and other challenges. “The reason a thousand trials are going on is because they’re mixing and matching everything they can get hold of,” says Jeff Bluestone, an immunologist at the University of California at San Francisco and head of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. These trials will eventually identify more-specific targets. “We’ll see a much more scientific approach to learning from people who failed treatment.”

This year also saw the culmination of the Human Microbiome Project, a decade-long effort by 53 research groups to assemble something like an Audubon guide of all the microbes inhabiting our mucosa. This newfound knowledge about all the bacteria, yeasts, parasites, and viruses that live in our guts, on our skin, in our mouths and nasal passages, and in our urogenital tracts is helping researchers devise fixes for things that once took years of medication.

With that knowledge, scientists are trying to go one step further. They are attempting to reprogram microorganisms to release natural antibiotics, anti-inflammatory molecules, and protective proteins. For example, lab researchers have engineered a benign E. coli strain to detect specific lipids found in a form of bacteria called P. aeruginosa, a drug-resistant pathogen that can infect humans and cause pneumonia. The harmless E. coli finds and kills these invaders. In concept, such “smart bacteria” could remain in a    person’s body for life, detecting and preventing disease.

Read more > Body, Heal Thyself

Popular Science Magazine November & December 2017 USA Edition

Popular Science Magazine November & December 2017 USA Edition

Read more > Popular Science Magazine November & December 2017 USA Edition

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Visitor Management in Tourism Destinations

Visitor Management in Tourism Destinations

This book considers VM as a component of destination management at all levels of a destination and involving a wide range of stakeholders. It aims to demonstrate current knowledge on VM and to provide insights into conceptual issues rather than providing merely descriptive case studies. This book is primarily aimed at postgraduate students and researchers as it seeks to provide specialist perspectives on the state of the art of important aspects of and issues within VM.

The introduction and foundation chapters in Part I provide the context for the book as well as the broader topic of VM. Part II considers critical concepts and influential factors in VM while Part III illustrates current issues. Where case studies are included these are research-based and they contribute to our overall understanding of core issues in VM. Part IV of the book covers the state of the art in guiding and interpretation, followed by concluding thoughts and an overview of current issues and future research directions.

The fact that VM is seen as part of overall destination management rather than a management task in its own right may arguably account for the relative lack of VM-specific research. Chapter 2 systematically explores this relationship by investigating and comparing the goals, policies and implementation activities associated with destination and visitor management. By bridging the two streams of literature, this chapter thus lays an important foundation for the appreciation of VM research at the different levels of a destination in this book. In providing the foundation for the consideration of visitor experiences, Chapter 3 has a similar role in this book. Arguing that visitor attractions comprise objects, people and places that are perceived differently by the various target markets, the authors emphasize the challenging nature of visitor attraction management. Several conceptual frameworks relating to visitor experience management are examined with a view to identifying beneficial factors. Chapter 4 is the final chapter in the foundation section. It examines factors that are simultaneously part of the external and internal business environments, namely social and political aspects of the host culture, destination and community. Demonstrating how social and political conditions influence the selection of VM interventions, it addresses factors that, to date, have been largely neglected in VM research. Furthermore, Chapter 4 is one of the relatively few studies of tourism management in the Middle East – Iran specifically – published in the English language.

Read more > Visitor Management in Tourism Destinations

Friday, October 6, 2017

Backing The Blockchain

Backing The Blockchain

When the price doubled in price from mid-July to early September, Bitcoin could no longer be ignored. Regarded as variously a scam, a joke or at best a curiosity since its creation in 2009, Bitcoin now occupies the thoughts of government regulators and mainstream investors alike. But is it just another pump - and- dump get rich scheme, or are Bitcoin’s true champions - those who call it nothing less than the future of money - about to be proven right?

The solicitor begins reading  from the old, yellowed card. “Autumn,” he says. “Firelight. Baker. Lounge.  Density.”  He pauses and glances as his paralegal - the younger man is keeping up, typing in each word. “Hasty. Awful. Caramel. Accident...” The solicitor finishes reading  a list of 24 words, and then  looks expectantly at the paralegal.

The younger man taps a few more keys, clicks the mouse, stares intently at the screen... and then nods.

The small group of people in the solicitor’s office exhales in relief. Tension drains from the room, and everyone starts hugging or shaking hands, congratulating each other.

No, they didn’t just activate a sleeper agent with a code phrase. This was the retrieval of a Bitcoin wallet, left by the estate of the group’s mutual grandfather. With this key, granddad’s balance of Bitcoins can now be used, split up amongst the family, and of course some of it handed to the solicitor as legal fees.

Could this kind of thing become common, 30 or 40 years from now, as Bitcoin’s first wave of “hodlers” - speculative investors who buy coins just to store them - begins to die off ? Perhaps. If the events of August and September 2017 are anything to go by, Bitcoin is poised to become a big part of everyone’s lives.

License to Email Money
Bit coin is a strange thing. Traditional economists first dismissed it as “made up money”, then insisted it was just another fad like tulip bulbs or the South Sea Company or the Dot com  boom . Then, they  said government regulators would shut it down as an “illegal currency”. And finally, the finance industry just started tracking it, like any other stock, security or commodity.

Life moves fast in the sphere of so-called cryptocurrencies. As I wrote the first draft of this article, Bitcoin had just retreated from its all-time-high of US$5000 set on 1st September, to a still astonishing US$4190.

Then  as we were preparing  to send the magazine to the printer, a wave of fear, uncertainty and doubt swept the market, intiating  what some saw as an overdue  dip down to $3800. So I had to make some edits.

Trying to keep curren though, is pointless. The price will change again before I finish this paragraph, and many times before I reach the end of this article. Bitcoin trades 24/7, globally, and the exchanges never rest.

The recent  price  retre at  first  began because on a Friday afternoon, rumours began circulating  that China would ban the trading of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in exchanges. Debate raged over the next 72 hours about whether this was, inevitably, “fake news”, or whether China was only going to ban trade of non-Bitcoin  crypto, or whether exchanges were going to be shut down while person-to-person trading remained legal.

Or whether indeed this was just what pop- psychologists call FUD - fear uncertainty and doubt - spread deliberately by China, to cause the price of Bitcoin to fall, thus allowing the Chinese government to buy cheap coins.

On the Monday,  JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon saw his chance, and gave an interview in which he described Bitcoin as “a fraud”. Others piled on, calling it “a classic pyramid scheme”. The market’s indecision deepened. The price fell, but hardly  crashed, partly because of a pervasive belief that Dimon’s comments, along with Chinese uncertainty, created an opportunity for “cheap coins.”

Around and around the theories and counter-theories went, while on the sidelines, an alternative to Bitcoin - called Bitcoin Cash and distinguishable from Bitcoin only to the heavily invested - maintained a campaign of subtle harassment, both psychological and perhaps  even technological in the form of crafty mining practices..

Ah yes, mining. Because beyond internet forums and social media threads, large scale “mining” operations continue to chew through megawatts of electricity keeping  Bitcoin functioning, influencing its price, and directing (or at least trying to direct) future development of the technology.

Money has never been so fun.

Satoshi Who?
It’s all a far cry from the original vision of Bitcoin’s... well, creator  isn’t quite the right word.  Instigator?  Progenitor?  Whatever - Bitcoin first met the world in November 2008 with the publication of a whitepaper on a cryptography mailing list. Signed by the obviously pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, it described how proof- of-work systems, originally designed to combat  email spam, could be adapted to create a digital peer-to- peer currency, free of a central bank.

In January 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto “mined the genesis block”, as the cypherpunks say, launching the Bitcoin network. An open-source Bitcoin client was made available for anyone to download, and the first Bitcoins were issued.

From there, the network grew organically, spreading around the world. Geeks in university dorms slept with their PCs roaring as they “mined” for “free” Bitcoins. For most of 2009, the system worked as little more than an exercise in crypto-wonkery, and as a working example of a blockchain.

You Blockheads!
Blockchains are distributed databases. Every computer running a blockchain client - in this case, Bitcoin - has a copy of the blockchain. Of course, clever coders can get into their copy of the blockchain and mess with database, giving themselves 10,000 Bitcoins, or whatever.

So how does the system know the blockchain is “true”? By consensus. As computers mine for Bitcoin, they create blocks of data. These blocks are stacked on top of the existing blocks. The chain grows longer and longer.
When you want to send or receive Bitcoins, the system checks the blockchain for validity. Which of the potentially many versions is the true one? Quite simply, the longest one.

The idea is that the overwhelming majority of honest miners keep the blockchain growing too fast for any single malicious actor to replace it with a doctored version.

So if a bunch  of hackers  created a fake blockchain that assigns 100,000 of the world’s finite supply of Bitcoins to their own “private keys” (thus giving them ownership of the coin), and tried to copy it over the “real” blockchain, they’d have a problem.

By the time their fake blockchain was ready, the real one would have grown longer, and so the system would reject their shorter,  fake version. This is one half of what makes Bitcoin plausible as real money. The other half is its finite supply.

Inflated Opinion
Critics of state-issued currency call it “fiat”, as in, it’s created by decree rather than accurately reflecting the amount of work being done by an economic  system. They say the problem with fiat is that governments can just order the printing of another billion dollars. While this can keep a struggling economy afloat, it’s just kicking the can down the road. Someone has to answer for all that magic money, at some point.

The extent to which you agree with this reflects your view of economics.

Gold, by contrast, has a finite supply. It needs to be dug out of the ground, cleaned up, melted into bullion, whatever. Its scarcity is part of why everyone agrees it’s valuable. The actual price of gold, to the last dollar, is set by the market.

Bitcoin, like fiat currency, was created “out of thin air”. But like gold, it can only be created in a certain way, and it has a finite supply.

Satoshi Nakamoto designed Bitcoin so that there would only ever be 21 million Bitcoins issued,  ever. New coins are created when miners do compute  work on a block, which confirms transactions on the network.

Their reward for doing this mining - which the system needs to allow Bitcoins to be “spent” - is a small fee from each transaction and, in certain conditions, the issuing of new Bitcoins. When  the Bitcoin network  first started up, the reward for mining a new block was 50 Bitcoins (now worth $250,000, give or take). Every four years though, the reward halves. Right now, the block reward is 12.5 Bitcoins, and based on the amount of computing power being dedicated to mining, the reward will next halve in June 2020.

The difficulty of creating  a block on the Bitcoin blockchain is determined by the speed at which new blocks are being created. The system constantly adjusts so it takes roughly 10 minutes to create a new block.

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