Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Bitcoin prices recover after recent slump

(September 16)Within just a few hours the price plunge of the cryptocurrency bitcoin reversed and bitcoin regained $700 US as the cryptocurrency market along with bitcoin recovered some of its value.

A recent article notes that on Friday it looked as if the situation was bleak for bitcoin but said that the price was now back at $3,750 US. However, as I write this the price is down somewhat again to $3,665 a drop of $21.60 from its opening today September 16. The situation still appears unstable with considerable price fluctuation.
The sudden announcement by a major Chinese exchange BTCC that it would stop trading on September 30 and the Chinese government being reported as planning to close all exchanges appears to have created a panic sell off that may have now run its course. Litecoin was also severely impacted by events losing even more than bitcoin as it has many Chinese investors.
Within a 24 hour period there was more than $3.5 billion worth of bitcoin traded. It remains to be seen whether the recovery will continue. Many will no doubt wait and see how things turn out before entering the market. However, it seems that there is still great interest in what JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon called a fraud. According to a recent article JP Morgan among ohers bought bitcoin as its value plunged:According to public records of Nordnet trading logs, the two associated firms JP Morgan Securities Ltd., and Morgan Stanley bought roughly 3M euro worth of XBT note shares. Interestingly after the recent regulatory crackdown in China, and the statements from JP Morgan’s senior executive Jamie Dimon talking trash about bitcoin, his firm bought the dip on September 15. In fact, out of all the companies on the list, like Goldman Sachs and Barclays, the JP Morgan team of buyers purchased the most XBT notes.XBT is the commonly used code for bitcoin. It is interesting that JP Morgan and other establishment financial institutions are hoping to make money from the bitcoin "fraud". I am not sure how reliable the article is but anything seems possible these days!
No doubt Chinese holders of bitcoin are beginning to realize that the currency is not banned. Over the counter individual to individual trading will still be allowed. If it actually happens, the suspension of trading may be a temporary measure until the government determines what regulations to put in place. Regulation will not change the fact that the bitcoin trading system itself is unaffected and is still decentralized and not dependent upon third parties.
Other cryptocurrencies were mixed as this article notes:Other gainers included ethereum’s ether, which also started to climb off the deck to $240; Ripple XRP, up just under two percent to $0.178837; Dash, which was boosted more than 10 percent to $279; and Monero, up to the $95 level, a two percent gainer. Still struggling: Bitcoin Cash (BCC) down nearly two percent to $405; and Litecoin, also down nearly two percent to $46 per single coin.For the near future it appears that the market for cryptocurrencies will be volatile.
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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Russia critical of US decision to ban use of Kaspersky software by the government

Russia has complained that the U.S. government decision to stop government use of Kaspersky Lab software undermines free competition. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security expressed concern about ties between the company and Russian intelligence.

Kaspersky had repeatedly denied that it has any connection to the Russian government or intelligence services. Kaspersky Lab is a huge multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider with headquarters in Moscow. However, it is operated by a holding company in the U.K. The firm was founded in 1997 by Eugene Kaspersky who is the present CEO. It has an excellent reputation and is widely used although some claim the firm has connection with Russian intelligence services. The firm has about 400 million customers worldwide.
Russia said that the U.S. decision "called into question the reliability of the United States as partners" and would undermine the competitive position of Russian firms around the world. Already the large retailer Best Buy has decided not to sell Kaspersky products in its stores. It is not clear why the U.S. government decision has just now been made to stop using the Kaspersky software. The allegations about Kaspersky having cosy relations with Russian intelligence have been around for years.
An earlier statement from the Russian embassy in New York said the move would prolong ongoing diplomatic disputes between the two countries: "These steps can only evoke regrets. They only move back the prospects of bilateral ties recovery." Homeland Security Department Secretary, Elaine Duke, said: "The department is concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies. The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalise on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security."
Kaspersky expressed disappointment at the U.S. decision and claimed the company was being used as a pawn in a political game. The company said: "No credible evidence has been presented publicly by anyone or any organisation as the accusations are based on false allegations and inaccurate assumptions."
In July, the U.S. General Services Administration removed Kaspersky Lab from a list of approved vendors. The U.S. is not the first country to ban the use of Kaspersky by the government. Back in August of 2014 Kaspersky along with its U.S. rival Symantec were banned for use by the Chinese central government. However, local governments, large enterprises and individuals could still use the products.

Major Chinese cryptocurrency exchange to close by September 30

BTCC , one of China's three big exchanges announced that it would cease trading cryptocurrencies after carefully considering the announcement by Chinese regulators back on the fourth of September.
BTCC was one of the earliest cryptocurrency trading platforms in China, indeed the world. The company announced that other operations including its mining operation BTCC Pool would not be affected by the change. China has huge cryptocurrency mining operations. On September 4th, the People's Bank of China announced a ban on all initial coin offerings (ICO's) by which new cryptocurrencies were financing operations as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article. The announcement caused a precipitous decline in the value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
On Thurdsay at 8:13 AM Eastern TIme bitcoin was trading down 6.6% at 3,634.82 to the US dollar. Bobby Lee, the Bitcoin CEO tweeted the announcement on Thursday. Bloomberg, reports that China Business News claims that the City of Shanghai had ordered the closing of all bitcoin platforms. The Crypto Coins News also cited a local newspaper as saying that banning bitcoin exchanges was certain. China is not the only country that is worried about cryptocurrencies. The Financial Conduct Authority , a UK monitor warned investors about the risks and dangers of ICO's. To add to the unease Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan claimed that bitcoin was a fraud and would eventually blow up. While bitcoin's price may have risen in a bubble blown by speculative investment and much hype about the coin, it will probably survive. Indeed it is now being used more often in transactions. The block chain technology that underlies the production of bitcoin will likely revolutionize financial and other transactions. No doubt this may appear as a threat to JP Morgan. Contrast Dimon's reaction with that of China that while seeing independent exchanges as a threat is contemplating its own cryptocurrency. North Korea appears to be amassing the coins and will use them to avoid the global system of which JP Morgan is a part. Early investors in bitcoin could point out that although it is has dropped a quarter from its September 1 high, it is still up almost 300 percent this year, not a bad return on investment. However, many may be deciding to reap some of their profits now and buy back in when the decline stops and a recovery in the price is evident. Many investors avoid purchasing during a decline in hopes that there will be a quick turnaround, or "trying to catch a falling knife as it is called". No doubt there is short selling as well, but that will need to be covered in time, perhaps halting the decline. Although exchanges may be shut in China over the counter (OTC) trading between individuals will still be allowed and no doubt volume will increase dramatically. There is some doubt whether China will actually ban all exchanges or only regulate them as suggested in the appended video from Dubai.


Volkswagen to spend $84 billion on electric cars and batteries

German car manufacturer Volkswagen (VW) has announced that it will spend $84 billion on electric cars and batteries. The company made the announcement at a pre-Frankfurt Motor Show.

 1 of 2 
Earlier in 2017, VW announced it would be investing $10 billion in electric vehicles (EVs) but it has obviously changed its investment strategy. A full $50 billion is being invested in battery production. Toyota, Tesla and others are also battling to be first to discover and adopt new battery technology as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article. The company hopes to create a vast range of different electric cars. Matthias Mueller, CEO of VW, said: “A company like Volkswagen must lead, not follow. We have got the message and we will deliver. This is not some vague declaration of intent. It is a strong self-commitment which, from today, becomes the yardstick by which we measure our performance.”
Last September at the Paris Auto Show, VW introduced its I.D. electric model but planned to put it on the market only by 2020. Earlier this year VW said that it wanted to overtake Tesla as the leader in production of electronic vehicles. As well as the three models of the I.D., VW intends to bring multiple EV's to market branded as Audis and Porsches. VW appears to attempting to change its image after the disaster of the diesel emissions scandal in September of 2015 VW announced it would spend $18.32 billion to rectify the issues and to refit all the vehicles affected as part of a recall campaign.
VW is the worlds' largest automaker by sales. The company claimed that it would roll out a whopping 80 new EV's across its multi-branded group of cars by 2025. Its previous goal had been thirty. CEO Mueller said that VW would be "setting the scene for the final breakthrough for e-mobility", The I.D. model is intended to be competition for Tesla's low end Model 3 that has a starting price of $35,000 and is already coming on the market. Daimler announced that Mercedes-Benz would be offering electric versions for all models by 2022. BMW has had 13 electric models since 2013 and was readying factories to mass produce EVs by 2022 and promised 12 purely electric models by 2025.
In many countries EV's constitute less than one percent of sales. Norway is far ahead of others at over 22 percent in 2015 even though it is in the north of Europe. By contrast in the same year EV's had only 0.73 percent of the market in Germany. This was better than the US at 0.66 percent. China was better than both at 0.84 percent. Canada was a mere 0.35 percent. As some countries plan bans on fossil fuel vehicles in the future, EV's will no doubt claim a much larger share of the market.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

North Korea may be gathering bitcoins to use for financial transactions

North Korea appears to be intensifying efforts to obtain more bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies as it is banned from the global banking system and subject to new trade restrictions and sanctions promoted by the US and passed by the UN Security Council.
North Korean hackers are claimed to be increasing their attacks on crypto currency exchanges in South Korea according to a report from the security researcher FireEye Inc. The researcher also claims North Korean hackers breached a bitcoin news website and also collected bitcoin ransom payments from global victims of the WannaCry malware. A recent Digital Journal article also reports on the issue. Luke MacNamara, a Fire-Eye researcher said: “We definitely see sanctions being a big lever driving this sort of activity. They probably see it as a very low-cost solution to bring in hard cash.”
North Korean citizens do not appear to be using cryptocurrencies although when Dennis Rodman the former NBA basket ball star made one of his many visits to the country the anonymous Reddit user "BitcoinDPRK" claimed that he had sent a bitcoin transfer to a fellow Reddit user using the very expensive Internet option for foreigners. Some tour guides were also given paper wallets although it is not clear what use they could make of them. DPRK are the initials for the Democratic Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.
In the past, North Korean hacking attempts appear intended to steal classified military or government data, but in recent years the emphasis appears to be on raising revenue through stealing currencies. North Korea is suspected to be behind the hacking group Lazarus that last year's $81 million theft from the Bangladesh central bank and also an attack on Sony's Hollywood Studio in 2014. This article discusses some of the alleged relations between Wannacry and various cyber attacks, with the Lazarus group allegedly related to North Korea.
Bloomberg article speaks of North Korea's interest in cryptocurrencies happening at a time of rising prices and popularity. While the coins may be increasing in popularity bitcoin dropped in price by several hundred dollars over last weekend, as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article. The move is partly in reaction to China's issuing strict regulations governing cryptocurrencies and contemplating more. A recent article claims: "As of July 2017, it is estimated that almost 70 percent of all Bitcoin mining is located in China."This may be a bit high but bitcoin holders and investors are obviously worried about the possible negative effects on the mining operations. Wikipedia describes bitcoin mining as follows:Mining is the process of adding transaction records to Bitcoin's public ledger of past transactions. This ledger of past transactions is called the block chain as it is a chain of blocks. The block chain serves to confirm transactions to the rest of the network as having taken place. Bitcoin nodes use the block chain to distinguish legitimate Bitcoin transactions from attempts to re-spend coins that have already been spent elsewhere.
Mining is intentionally designed to be resource-intensive and difficult so that the number of blocks found each day by miners remains steady. Individual blocks must contain a proof of work to be considered valid. This proof of work is verified by other Bitcoin nodes each time they receive a block. Bitcoin uses the hashcash proof-of-work function.
The primary purpose of mining is to allow Bitcoin nodes to reach a secure, tamper-resistant consensus. Mining is also the mechanism used to introduce Bitcoins into the system: Miners are paid any transaction fees as well as a "subsidy" of newly created coins. This both serves the purpose of disseminating new coins in a decentralized manner as well as motivating people to provide security for the system.
There is said to be evidence that North Korea is becoming involved in bitcoin mining. While this would earn the country some bitcoins, mining is becoming ever more expensive as it uses a great deal of power. Perhaps the specialized mining equipment is obtained from China.
North Korea's Reconnaisance General Bureau, that handle cyber operations was estimated in a 2016 reports by the Cyber Policy Centre of the Australian Strategic Policiy Institute to have 6,000 officers. South Korea may see more attacks concentrated on it as it becomes one of the world's busiest trading hubs for cybercurrencies during 2017. FireEye's McNamara said: "As more money goes into cryptocurrency exchanges and more people buy bitcoin and ethereum, exchanges become larger targets for this group,>." So far, only South Korean exchanges have been targeted.
North Korea is no doubt already adapting to continue functioning in spite of sanctions and being frozen out of the international banking system. It is highly ironic that an authoritarian highly centralized powerful government should come to rely on a decentralized financial system designed to frustrate the financial activities of governments that rely on centralized financial systems. Their centralized global system has enabled them to ban North Korea from global banking. However, the cryptocurrency system, designed with the help of many who are libertarians, has come to North Korea''s rescue.


US Homeland Security Department claims that hackers targeted 21 states in last years' election



The United States Department of Homeland Security notifed 21 states that hackers had targeted their election systems in 2016 but none of the systems were used for recording votes. Only a small number of networks were actually breached

Scott McConnel spokesperson for Homeland Security said: "As part of our ongoing information sharing efforts, today DHS notified the Secretary of State or other chief election officer in each state of any potential targeting we were aware of in their state leading up to the 2016 election." 

The  US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a cabinet department of the US federal government. Its responsibilities include public security and its mission involves counter-terrorism, border security, immigration, customs, cyber security and disaster prevention and management. It was created as a response to the 9/11 terror attacks. As of 2017 it had 229,000 employees and an annual budget of $40.6 billion. 

The vote counting systems were unaffected since they are not connected to the internet. However, the news provides one more worry about the security of the US voting system. The news also is released as Homeland Security is continuing its investigation into Russia's intervention in the US election. Many US intelligence agencies claim that Russia tried to intervene in the election in favor of Trump. Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that his organization would hand over to the US Congress thousands of election-related ads believed to be paid for by Russian agents.

Attempts by foreign countries to influence elections is hardly new. The US does it all the time and Russia often does as well. According to [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_electoral_intervention t=_blank]one study[/url] the US intervened in 81 foreign elections between 1946 and 2000 while the USSR and then Russia intervened in 36. Often the US is even more involved in regime change as in the Ukraine. There is the infamous tape of Victoria Nuland speaking with the US ambassador to the Ukraine about the way forward: 
The situation ended up with a Ukrainian government favorable to the US. Natalie Jaresko a US citizen was made Minister of Finance and served from December 2014 to April 2016. To serve she had to become a Ukrainian citizen which she did on the day she took office. However, the Ukraine does not permit dual citizenship so she had to renounce her US citizienship within two years. She didnt. In March of 2016 President Obama appointed her Executive Director of the US Federal FIscal Control Board of Puerto Rico.

The US has long been a country that has forced regime changes on other countries dating back into the 19th century. As Wikipedia notes:" In the latter half of the 19th century, the U.S. government undertook regime change actions mainly in Latin America and the southwest Pacific, and included the Mexican-American, Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars. At the onset of the 20th century the United States shaped or installed friendly governments in many countries including Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic."

This isn't the first time we've heard that hackers tried to get into state election systems before the 2016 presidential elections, which Donald Trump won amid fears the Russian government was trying to influence vote. According to reports from last September, the US government informed election officials that hackers targeted the election systems of more than 20 states, and successfully infiltrated those of four unnamed states. McConnell didn't specify whether the hacking attempts reported today were different from the ones states heard about last year. Perhaps, the new announcements are simply part of a propaganda campaign to boost the fortunes of those in and out of government who want to paint Russia as the enemy and see any attempt to improve relations with Russia as a betrayal. Trump campaigned on a promise to improve relations with Russia but as of now relations of the US with Russia are as bad as  they have ever been and Trump and his campaign are under investigation as perhaps colluding with Russia's attempts to influence the US election.

Friday, September 22, 2017

MIT uses open source platform to map and track flooding in Flordia county hit by Hurricane Irma

(September 11)The Urban Risk Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has launched Riskmap.us an open source platform designed to track flooding from Hurricane Irma in the southern Florida county of Broward.

The project provided citizens and planners updates in real time. People could submit reports via Facebook, Twitter, or Telegram. A chatbot was used by the system that could message directly on any of the three social media sites. A chatbot, also known as a chatterbot or Artificial Conversation Entity, is a computer program that simulates a conversation by auditory or textual means. They are often used in customer service or to gather information. The MIT chatbot sends users a link to which they can upload their location and include the depth of water and a photo which is then uploaded and displayed on the map.
The project is the result of collaboration between county officials and the MIT lab. For now the project is just restricted to Broward |County. The county is just north of Miami and includes Fort Lauderdale. The map is solely designed to gather information on flooding and display it. Individuals needing help, both MIT and county officials warn, should phone the emergency number 911.
Earlier this year, the MIT lab tested out the system during a flood in Indonesia. 300,000 users made reports. The lab is planning a similar project this fall in India. The lab also is hoping to repeat the project in other US countries using additional social media platforms in the future. The map website is here.
Tomas Holrderneess, who is the MIT research scientist who led the project said it showed the important role that citizen data could play in emergencies noting that ".. connecting residents and emergency managers via social messaging, [their] map helps keep people informed and improve response times." In the test in Indonesia the results were integrated in the Uber.app so that drivers could know which roads to avoid.
Google maps is also helping out in the emergency as it promised to mark closed roads in its maps as soon as emergency response teams notify them that a road is closed.

Academics protest as You Tube shuts down North Korean channels

Academics are angry that YouTube has shut down two North Korean news, and propaganda channels and has urged the company to reinstate them as they provided valuable insights about the country including into their nuclear program.
The two channels that were shut down were Stimmekoreas the top-ranked North Korean channel with 20,000 subscribers, and Uriminzokkiri that is also large with 18,000 subscribers. The channels regularly posted state TV news and other footage that attracted millions of hits. The channels were terminated on Friday September 9th for violating community guidelines. They did not explain how exactly they were doing so. Other countries often at odds with the US such as China, Russia, and Iran have channels that are used for propaganda purposes but have not been shut down. You Tube has not been very forthcoming in its explanation as to why the two channels were shut down.
Perhaps the US government put pressure on YouTube or it may be that You Tube is worried that North Korea is receiving ad revenue from the channels and that You Tube could be charged with violating US trade restrictions. Jeffrrey Lewis, an arms control expert said: “I know when I click on the videos I get ads. So perhaps they are nervous about sending that money on to the North Koreans. But honestly the YouTube ad revenues are not going to make or break the missile program.” If this is the reason for shutting down the stations You Tube could have at least said so instead of talking about community standards without indicating exactly what the stations had done wrong. One wonders if any notice were sent to North Korea explaining why the stations were shut down. I have not seen any response from North Korea as yet.
Stimmenkoreas is thought to be operated by a North Korean supporter who does not live in the country but posts high resolution photos and propaganda from the Korean Central News Agency in several different languages. Uriminzokkiri is directly tied to North Korea's propaganda apparatus and posts content aimed at North Koreans living abroad.
Lewis said that You Tube should reverse its decision in the interests of US national security:“North Korea is a country with thermonuclear weapons sitting on ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] that can reach the United States. It is really important to understand them even if we don’t like them. That starts by analyzing their propaganda. Even though it’s tendentious, you can learn a lot about a country from the lies they tell.”Not all propaganda are lies. Some of what is published by North Korean propaganda outlets is true while some of the material published against North Korea is sometimes false. Lewis also tweeted about his concerns: "Dear @YouTube, please stop doing this. Academics rely on this information to monitor and assess North Korea's missile programs."
Academics use official footage from the channels to measure how powerful missiles are by how fast they accelerate. They also glean information from the parts and machinery visible when Kim Jong-un makes factory visits. Lewis said: " When he visits a factory in the middle of nowhere and stares at machine tools it provides an important insight into the progress they are making.” If the North Koreans read this, they will no doubt make sure that Kim Jong-un's visits to factories are closely monitored and if they do show machinery it may be a prop designed to provide false information to US intelligence. The channels also give information about who Kim Jong-un surrounds himself one that can show who is more or less important and how his inner circle may be changing. Lewis pointed out that North Korea used You Tube as a primary distribution vehicle for their propaganda. Sometimes you do not know something was important until after an event has happened and the availability of searchable propaganda archives is quite valuable. Scott Lafoy a Washington-based imagery analyst said: “Tracking and digitally reconstructing events is going to be more difficult as these accounts get deleted".
This is not the first time You Tube has closed down North Korean channels. In November 2016 KoreanCentralTV!, NK Propaganda, and KCTV were also shut down. An article at the time claims it was because the stations could have made money through You Tube's built-in advertising system.
You Tube is headquartered in San Bruno California and is a subsidiary of Google. As of February this year more than 400 hours of content are uploaded to You Tube each minute every day. You Tube website is ranked as the second most popular website in the world by Alexa Internet. There are still many videos from North Korea on You Tube including numerous performances of the popular Moranbong all female marching band shown in the You Tube video below.
There are also numerous dramatic films some of which are very propagandistic as the appended video on one of the famous traffic girls. A famous film the Flower Girl an adaption of an opera whose text was said to be produced by founder of North Korea Kim il-Sung while in prison is available in several versions on You Tube. In spite of the fact that the film is mainly about the terrible conditions most of the population suffered under Japanese rule the film was banned at one time in South Korea:In South Korea, the film was deemed as communist propaganda and a symbol of the enemy, and screening was banned; police were often mobilised when university students were found playing the film on campus, and the students were often accused of being sympathetic with the North.[11] In 1998, the Supreme Court of South Korea ruled that The Flower Girl and six other North Korean films were "not favouring anti-ROK sentiments" in regards to national security laws.[11]Although the Japanese are the enemy in the film, they are not depicted as being as evil as some of those South Koreans who cooperated with them.
To watch on full screen click on the You Tube icon and watch on You Tube.

New technology allows seniors to remain at home longer

Many seniors want to stay in their homes as long as they can rather than go to an old folks or nursing home. New technology helps to make this happen while ensuring that the health and safety of the elderly is not compromised.
A new startup based in Cincinnati, TruSense provides technology that enables the elderly to stay safely in their own homes longer. The company uses smart home technology to help seniors, including motion sensors, temperature monitoring, leak detection, and even voice controls. The company offers a do-it-yourself kit of connected products along with a monitoring service and an app that enables family to keep track of the habits of their aging parents so that they will know if something unusual and dangerous may be happening.
TruSense does not have hardware of its own but depends upon SmartThings for its motion sensors and hub, and Amazon Echo Dot for its voice control. The two hundred dollar U.S. starter kit contains the following: six motion sensors; two contact or door/window sensors; a visitor sensor: a smart outlet; a hub; and an Amazon Echo Dot. You can add to the kit items such as a GPS tracker, a leak detector and a pendant or vehicle tracker.
As a result of all this technology, the TruSense app is able to track which room residents are in, and be able to chart their activity over time. The door or window sensors could be put on your fridge or kitchen cabinet to keep track of their eating habits. A motion sensor will allow the user to know when the occupants are sleeping or getting up in the morning.
TruSense charges $50 per month for its monitoring service. Customers are able to customize which notifications to receive. The Amazon Echo Dot, a speaker that one can control with you voice, can be used by house occupants to call the monitoring service for help.
While the monitoring fee is higher than some other plans, it is on a par with those of others offered by ADT and AT&T. Perhaps some elderly parents will want to place some controls over how much their concerned children monitor them. The appended video shows another device that can help monitor elderly parents.


Cryptocurrency guru Antonopolous explains bitcoin and blockchain technologies

Andreas Antonopoulos is a a Greek information security expert based in California but also a tech-entrepreneur and author. He has also quickly become one of the most ardent champions of healthy bitcoin practices.

Antonopolous has become a key player in the world of cryptocurrency. This article provides takes a closer look at his numerous activities involving blockchain technologies, including his testimony before the Canadian government and a significant speech at a recent conference in Africa. He has also been relentless in his criticism of those whom he felt posed dangers to the development of bitcoin and has refused to participate in activities that he found were not transparent.
Antonopoulos has a degree in Computer Science, Data Communications and Distributed Systems from the University College London. He has acted as a business consultant on open source and open networks as far back as 1990. His writings are extensive with over two hundred articles published. He is a a partner in Nemertes Research. He claims that the greatest threat to computer security is not so much experienced hackers as overly complex systems that are resulting from rapid technological changes in business operations.
Antonopoulos was at one time head of the Bitcoin Foundation's anti-poverty committee but he left in 2014 after disagreements with management of the foundation. Antonopoulos complained that the Foundation completely lacked any transparency in its operation. In January of 2014 he joined the firm Blockchain.info as Chief Security Officer, but later in September he dropped this role but stayed on as an advisor to the board. The company launched in 2011 and provides a cryptocurrency wallet as well as data on transactions and other aspects of the operation of the bitcoin blockchain..
By 2015 Blockchain.info had created over three million wallets for clients using their service. The company offers a dedicated service on the anonymous browser Tor to allow transactions to be carried out with greater privacy and making third party surveillance more difficult. The service claimed that transactions had exceeded one million by August 2016.
Antonopoulos was an early outspoken critic of the Mt. Gox trading platform, saying as early as April 2013 that it was a systemic risk to bitcoin, and a death trap for traders. He added it was run by people who were clueless. The platform was shut down in February of 2014. Bitcoin obviously recovered from its price decline.
Antonopoulos was also active in raising money to help out Dorian Nakamoto who was wrongly identified by a Newsweek article as the mystery creator of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. He was able to raise 50 bitcoins with a value of $23,000 at the time. The first commercial transaction with bitcoin was to purchase two pizzas in Florida that cost a cool 10,000 bitcoins.
On the 8th of October 2014 Antonopoulos testified before the Banking, Trade and Commerce committee of the Canadian Senate and answered questions on how the government could regulate bitcoin in Canada. Antonopoulos advised Canada not to try to regulate the area prematurely. He argued that the government should wait until the technology is better understood as regulation could stifle the technology in its early days.
Chair of the Committee Senator Irving Gerstein claimed that Antonopoulos was considered to be a bitcoin guru and as having virtually written the book on bitcoin. Antonopoulos laid out the advantages and opportunities involved in a decentralized financial system such as bitcoin and the blockchain represented. The current system he claimed was fragile and risks were introduced by the many layers of regulation required. It also created what he called cosy relationships between regulators and industry insiders resulting not only in corruption but to financial crises.
Antonopolous said that decentralization and security were key to the operation of the bitcoin blockchain system. Antonopoulos said: "The ability to innovate without permission at the edge of the bitcoin network is the same fundamental force that has driven internet innovation for 20 years at a frenetic pace, creating enormous value for consumers, economic growth, opportunities and jobs." He claimed that this unregulated ability to innovate would allow for the invention of new decentralized security mechanisms based on such innovations as smart contracts, decentralized audits and hardware wallets.
Some senators asked Antonopoulos about the use of cryptocurrencies for purposes such as funding terrorists or money laundering. He replied that bitcoin is not anonymous and that empowering people to have better access to the financial infrastructure was much more important than the misuse of the system by a few. Athonopoulos warned that digital currencies should not be transformed and contorted into structures adapted to the operation of banks since they were intended to present an entirely different paradigm. A YouTube video of Antonopoulos presentation to the Canadian Senate is appended.
Also appended is Antonopoulos's presentation in 2017 at the Blockchain Conference in Africa in which he distinguishes blockchain from lesser technologies.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

New UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame reveals action plan for Libya's transition period

New UN Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) Ghassan Salame has finally outlined his action plan for moving Libya through the transition period with a new constitution and elections next year for the presidency and parliament.

Salame notes that six years ago Libyans were promised a transition but the transition is continuing with no end in sight unless action is taken. Salame does not explain why. He does not mention that the House of Representatives (HoR) has twice refused to vote confidence in the UN-brokered Government of National Accord(GNA) as required by the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). The last negative vote was on August 22, 2016 and a new cabinet was to be suggested within ten days. Nor is there any mention of the role of Khalifa Haftar the commander of the Libyan Armed Forces who from the first refused to recognize the GNA. He was so obstructive that there were plans to sanction him by the EU:"Two military leaders in the east of Libya, who say their forces will not respect any peace accord, also face sanctions. They are General Khalifa Haftar, commander in chief of the eastern forces and air force head Fakir Jarroushi. " Of course nothing of the sort happened. Haftar continued and met with many foreign leaders. Indeed he is now regarded as an indispensable part of the political solution: "Italy, along with France, the UK and other Western states and the UN have swung round to the view that Hafter, previously seen as an impediment to peace in Libya, has to be part of the political set-up." Salame does not even deign to mention Haftar by name let alone discuss his role in helping the transition to fail by refusing to recognize the GNA. This must be forgotten.
Also forgotten is UN Resolution 2259 of 2015: "Through the unanimous adoption of resolution 2259 (2015), the 15-nation body endorsed the 13 December Rome Communiqué to support the Government of National Accord as the sole legitimate Government of Libya. It called on Member States to cease support to and official contact with parallel institutions claiming to be the legitimate authority, but which were outside of the Political Agreement. " Yet many international authorities have dealt with members of the rival House of Representatives (HoR) government which does not recognize the GNA. There was great press coverage of a supposed crucial meeting and agreement in Paris hosted by France which included Khalifa Haftar who commands not the armed forces associated with the GNA government but those of the HoR parallel government. No one seems to bother to comment on the fact that the agreement is not between two rival heads of governments but between the head of the GNA and a military commander on the other side. It is not toothless UN resolutions that count but power. Supposed supporters of the GNA are led to ignore resolutions they supported. In all Salame's outline of his plan, I cannot find one explicit mention of the GNA except for noting that the advisory Hight State Council must be represented at a conference to consider amendments to the LPA.
The first stage in Salame's plan is described as follows:" The first stage in the process must therefore be to amend the Agreement. There is a broad consensus on the issues requiring amendments. Next week, on the basis of article 12 of the LPA, I am convening, in the UNSMIL offices, a drafting committee to formulate these amendments."
Salame does not explain what article 12 says or how it justifies convening a drafting committee to formulate amendments to the LPA. I am eager to see what the experts on Libya from various think tanks have to say about this. They may face some difficulties. The UN before has been involved in skirting parts of the LPA as illustrated in this post. The links to the LPA or Skhirat no longer take you to the text of the LPA but to the UN Support Mission in Libya website. A search for the text does not reveal the text. Fortunately, I have a copy of the text. The first problem is that there are two articles 12, one in the main text and one in the additional provisions. Here is the one in the main text:Article (12)The legislative authority of the State, during the transitional period, shall be undertaken by the House of Representatives, which was elected in June 2014; it shall practice its competencies based on the Constitutional Declaration and its amendment as per this Agreement.
This would seem to indicate that the HoR not the UN should be calling the conference. Anyway the HoR does not accept the sole legitimate government the GNA and so is not yet the legislative authority until it votes confidence in the GNA. How does this section justify the calling of a conference to make amendments? It does not even mention making amendments.
The other article 12 is in Additional Provisions: 

"Article (12)All institutions stipulated in the Libyan Political Agreement shall derive their legitimacy from the Constitutional Declaration and its amendment as annexed to this Agreement after its endorsement and adoption in its entirety, signing and entry into force. Should it be necessary to introduce subsequent amendment to the Constitutional Declaration that affects, whether directly or indirectly, the Agreement or any of the institutions that emanate from it, the House of Representatives and State Council shall commit to achieve consensus among themselves to agree on the format of such amendment. The final endorsement of this amendment shall be given by the House of Representatives, without amendment, based on the mechanism stipulated in the ConstitutionalDeclaration."

Perhaps this is the section that Salame is using as his basis for calling the group to draft amendments. The amending process referred to is only of the Constitutional Declaration not to the GPA. Notice that before there can be any amendments the Constitutional Declaration must have been amended and added to the agreement. The HoR has not yet done this or even adopted the agreement. The HoR would need to have done this before the amendment process could even take place. Neither article 12 can be a basis for whatever Salame is doing.

 In spite of continuing to spout the line that the LPA is the basis for future developments it would seem that violating the terms of the LPA is what will be happening. Note that Salame does not even bother to tell you who is to be the drafting committee. According to article 12 it should be the HoR and State High Council who draft the amendments by consensus. Salame talks of the two being at a conference to consider the draft amendments but also adds other stakeholders. Salame has simply added the process of drafting amendments but there appears to be nothing about that in the LPA. Note that this process is to be a Libyan process according to Salame but who decides who drafts the amendments and who will attend the conference to consider them? The UN it would seem.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Roku to offer a new free channel on all its devices

Roku which has a number of different streaming media players and also is built into what are called Roku TVs will offer a new free channel that will have no-cost content from existing channels plus new material.

The best free material on Roku will now be available in one channel. For those who are not familiar with Roku it is described by Wikipedia as follows:
The Roku Streaming Player, or simply Roku.. is a series of digital media player set-top boxes manufactured by Roku, Inc. Roku partners provide over-the-top content in the form of channels. The name comes from the Japanese word 六 (roku) meaning "six" and was named so because it was the sixth company that Anthony Wood (CEO 2002-) started.[2][3] A Roku streaming device gets data (the video stream) via a wired or Wi-Fi connection to an Internet router. The data is output via an audio cable, video cable, or HDMI cable. The device can be connected to any television set (or other video display device) with appropriate input connections.Since 2014 the company has also a type of smart TV which uses the Roku interface as the "brain" of the TV. A number of different firms manufacture the TV including TCL and Hisense with RCA also joining the group as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article.
As well as aggregating no-cost content on existing Roku channels the new channel will also offer movies from partners that include MGM, Sony, Warner, and Lionsgate. Roku offers numerous free channels but also has many channels that require some type of fee. The free channels often have advertising but not all of them. I use Roku on one of two TVs I have but do not have cable on either TV. On the second TV I connect an old laptop to the Internet and then run content through an HDMI cable to the TV. The Roku player also can connect through an HDMI cord. As many TV's now have several HDMI ports, you can keep a computer and other devices connected as well as the Roku player. I have a laptop connected to the same TV as my Roku player. It is good for playing content that you have on a USB stick, external hard drive, a CD or DVD. You can keep your cable if you wish. Being frugal, aka "cheap", I cut the cord some time ago. Roku media players are widely available in Canada for around fifty dollars Canadian and even less for the lower end models. They are quite adequate if you have an older TV or a newer one with no special features.
Chief Marketing Officer of Roku, Matthew Anderson said: "We're at our best when helping a family's entertainment dollar go just a bit further. There are no subscriptions, logins or fees, and everything is in one place." To activate the Roku service you must open an account. However, unless you decide to subscribe to some of the channels that charge a fee there are no charges made to your account. The new channel will have movies with titles such as "Legally Blonde", "Up in the Air" , the Karate Kid" , "Monster" and "Ali". Titles will rotate in and out of the channel. Anderson claims that though the service is supported by ads there will be only about half the time spent on ads as on regular TV. He also says that the ads will be relevant and non-repetitive. Roku is not intending to launch its own original content at this time as Netflix has done. Netflix and several other services can be viewed on Roku if you have a subscription. Indeed Netflix has its own special button. The new channel is to be available on streaming devices in the US beginning today. There is no mention of whether it will be available in other countries such as Canada.
Often Netflix content available in the US is not available in Canada and other countries. This has resulted in many non-Americans using VPN's to disguise their addresses and using the US Netflix which has a great variety of material. However, Netflix has cracked down on this practice as noted in thisGlobe and Mail article. Roku in Canada also cannot stream some content that would be available in the US. However, I have found that there is a wide choice of material available here. Even if one does not subscribe to Netflix there are a number of full length movies available on You Tube and there are several free movie channels on Roku in Canada already.
Roku is planning on an initial public offering (IPO) worth $100 million dollars. The stock will list on Nasdaq with the symbol "ROKU". Roku needs an injection of funds as it spends heavily on research, marketing, and staff. In 2016 it had revenue of $398.6 million a significant increase of 25 percent over 2015. Net loss in 2016 was $42.8 million. Almost three quarters of its revenue came from selling its media players. The offering is backed by Twenty-First Century Fox, Fidelity, and Menlo Ventures. The IPO will be underwritten by Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, RBC, and others. The offering should provide the funds needed for Roku's further development.


New technology changes car shopping experience

The automotive sales industry is experiencing a change in the manner in which buyers are perceiving car ownership, use, and operation. Accompanying this are also changes in the way customers' purchasing experience is modified by new technology.

In earlier days the purchase of a car often began at a dealership after searching through the extensive automotive sections in a newspaper. Before there was much chance of comparing options the purchase was often determined by high pressure sales people providing information. Already technology has improved the chances of the consumer making a better buy by the presence of the Internet, websites, and online search capabilities. Websites such as TrueCar, Edmunds and numerous others make information readily available within seconds.
The new social media sites have made it much easier to receive opinions from friends and others about vehicles one is considering. Crowdtap polling found that 87 percent of respondents considered friend's comments when evaluating an auto.
Dealers too are employing new technology using video walls and tabletop touch screens to complement the physical shopping experience. Buyers can explore models before they take one for a test drive. Audi has actually developed a digital showroom that allows visitors to configure a life-sized virtual vehicle that uses a 3-D rendering technology. The appended video describes and shows the showroom. Soon you may be able to take models that interest one for a virtual test drive. A recent Forbes article notes:Virtual reality capabilities allow consumers to open doors, sneak a 360-degree peek inside and out, and even hear authentic sound effects of their potential new model. In response to consumer-driven expectations to research and buy online, companies are likely to begin selling cars and parts directly through their respective websites.
Consumers are already on their own changing the environment in which they shop for cars. 63 percent of those shopping for autos compare vehicles using mobile devices and 75 percent of shoppers would even consider buying entirely online. Dealers must provide a digital experience that allows vehicle comparison, payment details, and the possibility of purchase all online or they stand to lose business to competitors. As consumers do more research and comparisons online they may seek help from bots incorporating artificial intelligence. Carla designed by CarLABS is an example providing car-shopping advice to consumers but also dealers.
Another use of new technology that offers new selling points for cars is the ability of the car to connect to the many gadgets and applications that an owner already has such as a phone, tablet, usb stick, etc. Machine Research predicts that by 2020 90 percent of new cars will have a built-in connectivity platform. Some of these devices allow not only for entertainment but for information that can be used by repair shops to repairs vehicles. A recent article notes:
Connected vehicles that link to mobile devices, RFID readers on the road, traffic lights, and infrastructure provide the opportunity for improved navigation based on driving habits, traffic notifications, and alternate routes. General Motor’s OnStar system, for example, enables users to send an intended destination from their smartphone directly to the car’s navigation system.The connected cars can be tailored to deliver a personalized experience. Jaguar Land Rover has even introduced cars that learn the specific driving behaviors and preferences of their owners.
The bots that will help you through your research will soon seem more like humans as they become more capable of natural language processing (NLP). With the development of natural language capabilities and improved intelligence bots will sound like humans but with super-human research abilities. Gartner, a technology research firm predicts that by 2020, 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed without human intervention.
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Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from t.co, its URL-shortening system....