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The rise of the cryptocurrency

We live in a cashless society, but are we on our way to a universal digital currency? Bitcoin may seem like a digital currency for a digital age, but is it really? We investigate in this week’s round table discussion.

Transcript


Amanda: We’ve talked about Bitcoin before at the P4Digital Blog. It’s a topic that fascinates us, but 2014 was a rough year for it. In this week’s discussion, we talk about the rise of the cryptocurrency, how it works and speculate on whether or not we’ll all be paid with it in a few years.

Jeremy: Hello, today we’re talking about Bitcoins. Do they now have a legitimate trading exchange?

Archana: Yes, the topic we’re talking about today is the roll out of a new US-based exchange called Coinbase, which hopefully does legalize the cryptocurrency. What are your thoughts?

Shaheerah: Okay, so basically just to define Bitcoin in very basic terms, it is virtual cash that is generated, or rather mined by computers. It is a very sophisticated process. And Bitcoin lives on the internet, and you can use it to buy stuff both online as well as offline. In late January of this year, the Coinbased Bitcoin exchange went live. And this is actually the first one in America. And it could make Bitcoin more of a reality for the average Joe, as well as the corporate financial role. So as of now the exchange has been approved in 24 American states, and previously in the US the Bitcoin traders had to use exchanges that were based outside of the USA. And those exchanges did not have adequate regulations or security and so it made it pretty risky. So for example in February of this year, a Japan based Bitcoin exchange collapsed and they lost 750,000 customer Bitcoins, as well as 100,000 Bitcoins of their own. There are also all these problems with the security hacks. So for example recently Bitstamp lost 19,000 Bitcoins worth 5 million dollars, so that’s a lot. But now what’s going to happen is the Coinbase exchange is set to be a game changer because it is better regulated. They do have better security including insurance, which the other exchanges did not have. They have encryption, and the Bitcoins are actually kept offline so you won’t be able to hack them. There is also a one-time use passcode that you have to use, it’s texted to your phone and every time  you want to log in you have to use that one-time passcode, and you have to use the same computer every time as well.

Jeremy: Yeah, the Japanese exchange that Shaheerah mentioned is called Mt.Gox, which apparently is short for Magic the Gathering, which is a Role Playing – some type of Role Playing Dungeons and Dragons type game. So that’s not really the most credible way to be trading your Bitcoins.

Amanda: Speak for yourself! I’ve played Magic the Gathering and it’s an intense game!

Archana: Again, sort of going back to what Shaheerah mentioned, primarily the lack of regulation, inadequate security and the difficulty in getting US dollars in and out of these exchanges being the primary reasons why Bitcoin hasn’t really taken off. Coinbase really seeks to make a difference because it’s being backed by some thoughtful investors and financial venture capitalists, including the NYSE and the Citigroup CEO and Thompson Reuters ex CEO as well, so it obviously does lend a huge deal of credibility. And like what Jeremy mentioned, the Japanese company – a lot of luster was lost of Bitcoin amidst all these scandals and different scams. Case in point would be the Japanese Bitcoin exchange. And also more recently a Slovenia Bitcoin exchange also collapsed. So Coinbase does seek to differentiate itself from the rest of the crowd. What remains to be seen is how successful they’ll be.

Jeremy: And right on the heels of Coinbase is another exchange that is going to be launched later this year, which is backed by the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame, called the Gemini exchange. So they’re not narcissistic at all! Anyway, this exchange is going to be partnered with a major US bank, which means your US cash deposits will be eligible for FDIC insurance, although I’m sure the Bitcoins held in there will not.

Amanda: It’s interesting. Amazon and I believe PayPal also are accepting Bitcoins as of last year for payment for certain transactions.

Archana:  Yes, just like what Amanda just mentioned, apparently Coinbase also already accounts for about 2.2 million consumer wallets, and nearly 40,000 merchants already use their services. So from this point on it’s really a matter of them consolidating their position and building the business.

Shaheerah: Yes, and I also wanted to share some other facts about Bitcoin, which were published in an infographic from whoishostingthis.com. The FBI actually owns 15% of all the Bitcoins in the world. 65% of the world’s bitcoins are inactive – so they’re just left in the Bitcoin ewallets, and the remaining bitcoins are what are actually used for the transactions. You can get stuff like Pizza and plane tickets and university tuition using your Bitcoins. And even former Spice Girl Mel B, she was the first artist who started accepting Bitcoins as payment for her music. There’s also a maximum number of Bitcoins that can ever exist. The last Bitcoin is predicted to be mined in the year 2040.

Amanda: Make myself sound like a bit of a Geek here, but Mel B was always my favourite Spice Girl.

Laughter

Jeremy: Jim too

Laughter

Jeremy: Well, the problem with Bitcoins is they’re really too volatile right now to be used as an integral part of our trading economy. I mean, it would be kind of foolish to ask for your pay cheques in Bitcoin because the value fluctuates so much. I really think that if they built a good, secure system and a means of transactions- I think they’re going to around for a while, it’s not going to be worthless, it’s always going to be worth something. But to make the jump between something that you horde and something that you use to spend money on, the question is when that’s going to be.

Amanda: I have a general question for the executives here. If it was more secure, would you ever consider accepting your salary in Bitcoins.

Jeremy: I would not accept my salary in Bitcoins right now – not the way it fluctuates.

Archana: Not right now, but really whether we like it or not I think digital currency is definitely going to be a part of our lives in the coming future. Whether its Bitcoin o some other form of digital currency, I don’t know but for sure, salary one day would be in the form of Bitcoins.

Shaheerah:  And I just wanted to add, that actually Bitcoin has been known to lose up to 80% of its value in just a few days, so yes it is very volatile. And in fact both Thailand and China had put bans on Bitcoin back in 2013 for this reason.

Amanda: So that’s a no on accepting it on your salary, huh Shaheerah?

Shaheerah: Yup, that’s right.

Amanda: I have to say, after hearing that last statistic, I have to agree.


 

That was the P4Capital team discussing the rise of Bitcoin and Crytopcurrency. Apparnetly, none of us want to get paid with it in the near future. Want to know more? Check out our website  and previous posts about Bitcoin at http://www.planet4it.com or follow us @p4capital. Thanks and see you next time.

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YouTube Celebrities

I’m sure that you’ve heard of YouTube by now.

But for those of you who haven’t, here’s a quick recap that we talked about on our blog last year.


 

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This is where the Viral Video really got its start. Forget images and text; Youtube is all about sharing videos.

YouTube-is-aFrom family videos to vlogs to feature length movies, Youtube brings interaction to a whole new level. Registered users are allowed to upload whatever they like (within Copywrite laws, of course), and you don’t have to be a registered user to watch them.

Today, the Youtube video search is the second largest search engine in the world, coming in just behind Google.

Like most social media sites, YouTube allows you to build followings, follow people, favourite and like the videos they have uploaded.


 

More Popular than You

All caught up? Awesome.

Here’s something maybe you don’t know about YouTube: some of its stars are making more money and are more popular than the biggest Hollywood celebrities out there. Don’t believe me?

In July 2014 Variety magazine conducted a survey of teens all over North America.

1,500 respondents were asked a range of questions about their feelings towards 20 top celebrities. 10 were Hollywood, while 10 were YouTube stars.  The result?

The top five most influential figures were online stars.

  • Smosh
  • TheFineBros
  • PewDiePie
  • KSI
  • Ryan Higa.

Take a look at the graphic below to see the results.  Jennifer Lawrence, who is one of the hottest movie stars right now thanks to The Hunger Games, is all the way down at number 7.  Katy Perry is at number 9 and Daniel Radcliffe – the Harry Potter –  is all the way down at 11!

The survey also found that YouTube stars “scored significantly higher than traditional celebrities across a range of characteristics considered to have the highest correlation to influencing purchases among teens.”

 

WHY?

It’s all about the Digital Revolution!

YouTube stars are experts on the Internet. They know all about online audience building and engagement, and they use those skills to build up their following one person at a time. They have a strong branding, are consistent in their posting and videos, and remain conversational with active social media presences.

You have a comment – they will answer it.

They seem real, while Hollywood is about telling lies to tell stories.

Let’s put this into perspective. By Googling the first season of Game of Thrones, I can estimate that it had an average of 2.5 million viewers for its season premier screenings, and an average audience of 9.3 million viewers per episode including all repeats and on-demand viewings.

Now compare that to Felix Kjellberg. Better known as PewDiePie, he is a video game commentator with roughly 33.5 million subscribers on YouTube. One of his latest online videos got over 3.5 million views. And it has recently been revealed that he received more than 4.1 billion views of his videos in 2014.

Kind of leaves The Mother of Dragons in the dust, huh?

A One on One with the President

It isn’t just celebrities that YouTube is conquering either – the video sharing services has its eyes set on politics as well. Case in point – President Barack Obama was interviewed in the East Room of the White House in a livestream broadcast by three YouTube “stars” last week.

 

The president sat down with GloZell Green, Hank Green (no relation), and Bethany Mota.

 

Don’t forget to be Awesome

Who are these infamous YouTubers who sat down with the President?

Hank Green: Hank Green by Gage Skidmore.jpg

One of the co-founders of the VlogBrothers (Don’t forget to be awesome is their slogan) he is known for his YouTube channel VlogBrothers where he and his brother, John Green, regularly upload videos.

Personally, I love this channel. It’s smart, informative and funny. Hank is also the co-creator of VidCon the world’s largest online video conference/convention.

Bethany Mota:

Bethany Mota by Gage Skidmore.jpg

Mota began her YouTube series in 2009 with make-up and fashion advice aimed at teenage girls. Since then, she has become one of the most popular channels on YouTube, and in January 2014 Business Insider estimated she makes $40,000 a month on her videos.

Glozell Green

Easily recognizable with her green lipstick, Glozell is the most unusual of the bunch. She has dubbed herself the “Queen of YouTube” and her slogan is a little less articulate than Hanks with  “Is you OK? Is you good? ‘Cuz I wanted to know.” She shot to stardom by trying and failing the Cinnamon challenge a few years ago.

The Interviews were surprisingly well done

Don’t assume that these interviews were all Memes and LOL Cats. There was real talk on policing, and several hard issues were addressed. 

 

  1. Real issues were discussed such as the North Korean Regime, and the fallout from the Mike Brown shooting last summer.
  2. State of the Union Address: Hank discussed this, asking the question that many were thinking: is any of what you said feasible?
  3. The interviewers were refreshingly honest. Mota had a confession: she admitted before her interview that, “I never really followed politics that much.”
  4.  The questions personalized policy. While the sit-downs touched on news events, the questioners did a nice job of making complex policy issues accessible and personal.
  5.  The moment that wasn’t. During Glozell’s interview with the president, there was a jar of cinnamon, a ladle and a glass of water on a table behind them. Unfortunately – or perhaps luckily Obama did NOT do the cinnamon challenge.

More YouTube Celebrities

There are hundreds of famous personalities just a click away. We all have our favourites. Some of mine are:

  • Michael Santaro
  • Just Kidding News (a little crude but great social media news)
  • The Game Theorists
  • VSauce

Who are yours? Add them to our list in the comments below!

 

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Is Google being Undone?

That is a bit of a misnomer – Google is not really being undone, but there is a very real chance it could be unbundled in Europe by early next week.

What does Unbundled mean?

In this context, unbundling refers to the Google search engine being separated from its other commercial services.

Think of it this way; Google has its fingers in a lot of pies – 90% of the search market in Europe alone to be exact. These ‘pies’ include:

  • Maker of Android – the operating system on many smartphones
  • Enterprise services
  • Mapping
  • Chrome Web browser (it’s the one I use as well!)

A lot of Google’s services are integrated together. Do you use Android? Well, you need a Google account (Gmail) to use it. Don’t worry though, the app is preloaded onto the phone and programmed to run on Google’s services.

There is evidence to suggest that Google uses its search engine to give an advantage to their commercial products.

How is this happening?

Last week, the European Parliament voted in favour of proposals to break up Google.

This proposal wants to separate Google’s search operations from the rest of the company. That would in theory, eliminate or greatly reduce any unfair advantage Google may have.

Now these proposals, regardless of the outcome, don’t have the power to break up Google itself. They will work in a more round-a-bout fashion – if they pass, the motion would apply pressure on the European Commission, which in term sets the region’s legislative agenda.

 

Why can’t the European Commission just investigate Google on its own? Well, at this time it is showing no interest in examining Google’s competitive practice, so the roundabout method is necessary.

So, this headline-grabbing vote is not binding, but politicians are increasingly sure that they will successfully put an end to Google’s perceived monopoly.

Consequences

If this vote is approved, it will probably have further reaching consequences than just unbundling Google.

A precedent will have been set in Europe. As our CEO here at Planet4IT always likes to say, a lot of law is built around precedent setting.

If the motion passes, the European Commission will get a green light to ask questions of Google. From that, they can lodge antitrust investigations that could, in turn, force Google to change how it does business in Europe.

In short, the British government will be given more control and power over Google. And if Britain gets that kind of power, a precedent will be set for other countries to follow in its example.

Why vote at all?

We all know a little competition is healthy, right? Well, only if the game isn’t fixed. What’s the point of racing if you know the other competitors are getting unfair advantages and will probably win?

That’s what Google’s competition is saying. In 2010, they alleged that Google was favouring its own products and services over those of rivals in search results.

What does that mean? Well, if you search ‘smartphone’ in Google, the search results would have all the Android phones as the top results (Google’s own smartphone) while all the competitors, (Blackberry, Apple, etc.) would be much lower in the results. A higher number of people would click the top results and never even see the competition pages near the bottom.

The competitors say this isn’t fair – and European officials agree.

The European Commission has been investigating Google since these complaints were first made in 2010. A proposed settlement was reached in February of this year, under which Google agreed to display search results for its own services the same way it does for rival companies. Unfortunately, this settlement was not really enforced and didn’t require Google to pay a fine or change its corporate structure. And it didn’t spread to Google’s other commercial search engines – like YouTube or Google shopping.

In theory, this unbundling would be enforceable, and prevent Google and its other commercial services from benefiting from the company’s dominance in search.

Not everyone is happy

Obviously Google’s competition is happy with this decision, but that joy doesn’t seem to reach us in North America.

The United States especially doesn’t like this proposal.

The US Mission to the European Union responded to news with a disapproving tone.

Many in America seem to believe the neutrality of Google and other search engines in regards to their commercial endeavours is already assured under existing EU competition law.

Guenther Oettinge, European commissioner for Digital affairs,  was quoted last week as saying there would be “no break-up and no expropriation”, claiming these were not appropriate tools for a free market economy.

The ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) group of parties, also voted against this resolution, stating that it was not the role of the European Parliament to “interfere” with individual businesses.

“Parliament should not be engaging in anti-Google resolutions, inspired by a heavy lobby of Google competitors or by anti-free market ideology, but ensure fair competition and consumer choice,” the group said.

Tom Cruise in Minority Report

It knows your face!

I remember going to see Minority Report when I was in high school. The movie was lacklustre, but one thing stuck out in my mind – the custom advertisements that reacted to Tom Cruise’s eyes.

Tom Cruise in Minority Report

For those of you who don’t remember or skipped the movie, the premise was this: advertisements (or billboards in this case) would scan Tom Cruise’s eyes as he walked by to identify him. After identification, these ads would give custom recommendations to our hero based on his data and previous purchases.

Futurist real time data at its finest.

However, headlines in recent weeks have been covering stories that seem like they could have be ripped straight from this dis-utopian world.

Real time data and facial recognition are no longer science fiction- they have become science fact.

What is it?

An individual’s face can be as unique as a fingerprint. It might even be more reliable, as a face won’t smudge or streak on surfaces.

Every face has numerous, unique features. There are the surface identifiers, like scars or skin tone, but there are also deeper, structural landmarks. These include:

  • Distance between the eyes
  • Width of the nose
  • Depth of the eye sockets
  • The shape of the cheekbones
  • The length of the jaw line

Most of us can recognize our friends and family by a quick glance at their faces. It happens so quickly most of us don’t even think about it. (Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but for the sake of length we’re going to skip them for now).

What Facial Recognition technology does is try to give that ability to a computer or algorithm.

Beginnings

As with most innovations we discuss on this blog, this isn’t a new idea.

It began in the mid 1960s. Scientists began to work on using computers to recognize human faces. Since those first tentative steps, the technology has come a long way.

Until recently, facial recognition software used a 2D image database to identify individuals.

Image courtesy of BBC.co.uk

For this to work, the subject needed to be looking directly at the camera. There could be little variance in light or facial expression between the database image, and the one that was being identified.

Obviously, very few pictures met this strict criteria, so facial recognition failed more often than it succeeded.

But technology never truly remains stagnant, and that’s doubly so in the digital revolution.

Facial recognition technology just made the leap from 2D to 3D. New software uses a 3D model, which allows for much looser criteria when comparing photos.

Image courtesy of Smithsonian.com

3D software uses the distinctive features of a face – the eyes, nose, and bone structure – to identify the subject.

Instead of relying on lighting or expression, this new technology relies on the structure of the face itself. It makes the software more reliable and less fallible.

Robocop?

Although these police divisions are not being led by Tom Cruise, law enforcement agencies the world over are using this technology to their advantage.

FBI

Take the FBI for example. They have just finished developing the Next Generation Identification System.

This system is now fully operational and is being used.

The FBI announced two services last fall that completed the system.

  • Rap Back allows officials to receive “ongoing status notifications” about reported criminal history of people “in positions of trust, such as schoolteachers.”
  • Interstate Photo System. This is the big one. This is a facial-recognition program that allows law-enforcement to cross-reference photographic images with criminal databases in real time.

In short, the Interstate Photo System lets the FBI use facial recognition.

Privacy groups don’t like The Next Generation Identification system for obvious reasons. They have repeated time and time again that this system ignores privacy laws.

They claim the lack of oversight raises serious civil liberty and privacy concerns.

Also, This system is largely untested. A report from 2010 found that the Interstate Photo System could potentially fail one in every five times it was used. That could lead to a lot of false positives. As it stands, that is a rate of failure higher than traditional fingerprinting – smudges and all.

Dubai

Dubai is another example of facial recognition being used by law enforcement. That Dubai is using this highly experimental technology should come as so surprise – this is a culture where the police use top of the line sports cars to keep up with the rich population.

Reports indicate  they have moved one step closer to achieving real time facial recognition by adding it to Google Glass.

Did I mention that the Dubai police department will get to use Google Glass? I hope they don’t have to buy their own uniforms!

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According to a Dubai Police representative,  this software allows police to identify criminals’ faces and alert the detective through the glasses.

This initiative will be rolled out in two phases.

  • In the first phase, the technology will be used to fight traffic violations and any other vehicular offences.
  • In the second phase, the police Detectives will get a chance to use the wearables in their day to day crime solving business.

The New York City police department is also testing this. They began using Google Glass at the beginning of 2014, but have not yet posted the results of their tests.

Science fiction or  science fact?

This technology has far reaching implications as well. It is becoming present in many different companies – not just law enforcement. Check out some of the ways that this technology is being used by businesses right now!

Mastercard

Mastercard claims it has completed a “successful” facial recognition payments trial.

Mastercard tested a beta mobile app on over 140 000 transactions. These tests involved Mastercard employees from around the world using both iOS and Android devices.

 

Barcelona

Every laugh at the Teatrenu comedy club in Barcelona will cost you 0.30 euros, with a price cap of 24 euros.

Stand-up idea: A comedy club in Barcelona is betting you can't, and it is even basing its ticket prices on how often comedians can make its audience laugh

That’s right! Facial recognotion is being used to charger per laugh at this comedy club. The software is installed on the back of the seat in front of the customer.

The project was developed to combat falling audience numbers.

Partnering with advertising agency The Cyranos McCann, the experiment was a reaction to increased government taxes on theatre tickets, which in turn led to drops in audience numbers.

The results of the experiment have so far proved positive with ticket prices up by 6 euros, according to the theatre.

The system was so successful, it is now being copied in other theatres around Spain.

A number of people have tried, and reportedly failed, to sit through a comedy show without laughing in an attempt to get a free ticket.

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Augmented Reality and Our Reality

A few weeks ago I went to the local Cineplex to watch a movie. The name of the film I saw is eluding me (must not have been that good), but the walk up to the theatre and back again stuck in my mind.

 

As I walked towards the ticket booth, I noticed several screens sporting animated photographers looking at their cameras and talking amongst themselves. Then, as I walked passed them, they snapped to life and started trying to snap my photo, begging me to strike a pose.

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A few more steps to a second screen revealed the purpose of this nice ego boost.

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It’s an advertisement for the Cineplex Magazine. You can go up to one of these screens and let one of these many photographers take your photo. A few more seconds, and the picture will be put on a digital cover of the magazine and emailed to your inbox. Of course, ads and promotions about the magazine are included in the package.

That’s right – coming soon to a theatre near you; augmented reality!

Augmented Reality

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Plain ordinary reality is boring. At least, that’s what the providers of augmented reality products want you to believe. And really, who wouldn’t want to have access to the games and information that this medium claims to have?

When you think about it, dating app Tinder is really just a piece of augmented reality as well.

Augmented reality products aren’t restricted just to entertainment or the social scope. Many companies and brands are jumping on to this bandwagon as well. If advertisements can entice people to watch them out of enjoyment, rather than necessity well, branding would be a piece of cake!

With smartphones becoming so popular and affordable in the last few years, augmented reality campaigns have become a very effective way for brands to do just that.

Unlike conventional forms of advertisements, augmented reality ads allow consumers a high level of interaction with the brand.

Check this Ikea example out.  People could place Ikea furniture in their own homes using an augmented reality App. No assembly required.

Still, augmented reality advertisements are difficult to master. There are many examples of companies just missing the mark with this new form of innovation.  Moreover, these apps can be difficult to use. and they are hard to develop. Even small errors lead to lack of quality and coordination.

But when they work, they work well.

Advertising and branding opportunities not with standing, how does augmented reality change how we entertain ourselves, and how we live our daily lives?

Not New

Let’s look at the history first.

This technology is not new.

It was first alluded to in 1901. Then, in 1968, the first augmented reality headset was invented by Ivan Sutherland.

It probably isn’t something you’d want to wear. Called the Sword of Damocles, this head mounted display system was suspended from the ceiling while the viewer experienced computer fed graphics.

Image courtesy of Mashable

For creating this horrifying looking device,  Sutherland is commonly referred to as the “Father of Graphics.”

Since then, the technology advanced very slowly until it bloomed in the 2000s. In the new millennium,  the technology began receiving more attention as a way to, quite literally, change the way people see and experience the world around them. In the past few years, augmented reality has come to play a major role in the tech field, especially when it comes to mobile technology.

Even print ads have augmented reality components with those lovely QR codes. Want to see more? Scan the image with your phone to make it come alive.

There have been amazing advances in AR technology in the last 14 years. So what’s coming in the next few?

Out of touch with reality? New augmented reality tools coming our way.

Let’s look at some technologies that are coming our way

Roomalive

For those of you familar with Star Trek, the first item might sounds familar.

Microsoft is developing augmented reality technology that transforms an entire room.

Using projectors and depth cameras, players can dodge and interact with content displayed within the room. It’s an extensive set-up using projectors and Kinect units.

Roomalive doesn’t focus on a single wall. It uses several projectors to cover an entire room. There is software built in to it to detect surfaces, where they are and how they relate to the floor in the room. So don’t worry about tripping over that table.

Of course, there are tools for developers to build their own content.

Unfortunately it is just a prototype for now. There has been no mention of commercial availability, so it could be a while yet before we’re exploring space with the crew of the Enterprise.

 

FlexSense

This next bit of technology sounds like something out of Minority Report or Avatar.

Microsoft has again taken Science Fiction and made it into reality. Named FlexSense, it is a flexible smart surface that connects to mobile devices and is, essentially, a transparent digital piece of paper.

According to Techcrunch, this technology is based on printed piezoelectric sensors that can detect deformation of the plastic sheet and translate it to software without the need for cameras or any kind of external tracking.

Which, as far as I can translate, means it is a digital piece of paper.

The Microsoft team hopes that FlexSense will connect with existing technology and Apps to perform 2.5D interactive tasks.

Time Traveller 

Want to see what a place looked like a hundred years ago? A company called Timetraveler Augmented recently announced the Timetraveler application.

It uses Augmented Reality on smartphones and tablets to view historical content about locations near where they used to stand.  Content includes historical film footage, reconstructions of demolished sites, and stories about the impact on the location.

Right now it is only working around the Berlin wall, but they hope to expand it to other locations shortly.

LAYAR even added the ability to show a superimposed Berlin Wall as far back as 2010!

It looks like it might only be available in the German iTunes store right now, however Google Play seems to have the link available regardless of location. There are free and paid versions of the app.

NoAd

We’re all sick of advertisements, but NoAd is trying to bring a little culture back to our rotting brains.

Based in New York right now, specifically the subway lines, it is digitally replacing all of the ads with artwork.

The free app  is simple to use. Just launch it and, using the device’s camera, position it over an ad. Onscreen, you can see the physical billboard transform into a digital static or animated artwork – turning your wait for a subway train to arrive into a cultural experience. No Ad has collaborated with 50 artists, but it is planning to expand that on a month to month basis.

The app won’t work if an ad has been altered or there’s graffiti on it – which, as the app’s creators see it, has become a form of artwork on their own. And as of now, the app will only work on the “100 most popular horizontal subway platform advertisements…often for movies, TV shows, and popular products.” The app will also not work if there’s a single, dominant advertiser, or if the ads have not yet been catalogued in its system.

So, looking at all this Augmented Reality technology coming our way, I only have one thing to say.

Make it so  Make it so

 

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Credit and Cell Phone calls in Africa

The third in our series of Technology in Africa by our talented Anonymous blogger!


bfafrica

So now you have all the stats and many facts about cell phone companies in Burkina. Hopefully you’re not bored stiff, but just in case –  let’s move to a more ‘fun‘ aspect of cell phone (yes, I’m saying that sarcastically), the cost structure for the users.

Dollar Clip Art

I always say that I wish I had the same package in Canada as I have here.  In Canada, I need to either pay for a package with a contract, or pay a monthly fee without a contract.  Either way, I pay.  Regardless of my usage.

Frankly, a cheap monthly plan with a limited number of minutes per month between 9 and 5 is about as useful as a hole in the head to me.  It does not take many phone calls to go over the limit and bang, I have a lovely  bill at the end of the month.  On the other hand, having unlimited call and text is not perfect for my needs, which includes getting in touch with a child in another country.  And I am not constantly on my phone!

But here in Africa, I pay as I go.  I buy a recharge card for 5,000 FCFA, which is about 12$ Canadian, and it lasts me a month or a week, depending on my use.

But, all companies offer free credit bonuses! That means fairly regularly, all three main companies available here will offer a 100% free credit with any recharge.

Now, pay attention.  It does not mean that you have 10,000 FCFA worth of credit in your phone  to call whomever you want for 5000 FCFA.  Nope.  That would be paradise and too good to be true.  It means that you have the initial 5,000 FCFA credit to call whomever you want, and then another 5,000F CFA credit to call any, in my case, Telmob user. (Telmob is the company I use. Want a recap – check out my last post HERE)

So my credit last longer because every time I call another Telmob number, it is debited from my Telmob bonus.  Confused yet? It’s similar to the ‘MyFive’ plans in Canada

Lady, Talking, Phone, clip

For example,  right now, after having recharged my phone three weeks ago for 7,000 FCFA, I still have close to 3,000 FCFA of credit and over 5,400 FCFA of bonus credit (the bonuses can carry over between promotions.)  The bonus will expire on Sept 14, so it’s time to call my friends on Telmob to use it, or I will lose it.

Well, except that there is a slight problem.  I never know who is with Telmob.  You see, the beauty of having your friends saved in your contact list means that when you call, you don’t really check if the number is a Telmob or belongs to one of the other companies.  Once upon a time, when there were fewer numbers and cell phones in Africa, you could tell by the phone number’s first two digits.  But now, with the proliferation of numbers, you can no longer do so with certainty. Using the bonus credit can be hit or miss at times.

Bonuses and Two Phones

Last week, my Masseur was home (I have a very bad back these days and he works miracles!) and I asked him, as he emptied his pockets and prepared to work, why he had two phones. One wasyour basic phone, nothing fancy and the other one wasa smart phone, also known as the intelligent phone, a French translation for the English word ‘smart’.

In any event, in the last article I mentioned that many Burkinabè have two phones.  Well, my masseur explained that it is to take advantage of the bonuses offered by the companies.  This has been confirmed by friends since then.   I have seen this over and over, here and in Senegal where I lived before.  You go for lunch with friends and they have two phones on the table… weird!

Alternatively, people may own a phone with two sim cards, allowing you to have two numbers with different providers to take advantage of their bonuses.  Sometimes, one is the professional phone, and the other the personal one.

Not only do most Africans have cellphones – many of them have two!

How do you put more credit on your phone?

So, since pretty much every phone I have seen (and that is a great many) is essentially a ‘pay as you go,’  the issue becomes, how to make sure you don’t run out of credit?  Technically, you shouldn’t run out of credit if you’re proactive. It’s easy to check the state of your credit,  you just have to dial *101#. Which I admit I often forget to do.

If you run out of credit, the call will drop right then and there.   And I get a message on my screen, something about my credit not being sufficient for the call, or the sms I am trying to send.  Frustrating, but it is my own fault.  I would have just had the prescience to call *101# and bingo, I would know if it were time or not to recharge.

The company also is kind enough to let me know how much that phone call has just cost me after each call.  So, I can either work out the debit as I go… or call *101# to get my balance. Easier.  But credit no credit, I still can get calls because I don’t pay for receiving calls.  Just when I make them.  That was a welcome novelty for me!

 


Stay tuned for the conclusion of technology in Africa next week.

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Facebook and the real name controversy 

Is Facebook setting a dangerous precident? Or is it just looking out for the safety of its many users?

That’s right – another post about Facebook. The only topic we seem to broach more frequently is Amazon activities! Regardless, whenever you think nothing is happening in the world of digital or technology, just check out Facebook. Odds are, they are doing something controversial.

This particular issue revolves around the concept of real names versus pseudonyms, and if people should be allowed to self identify their digital presence. And it all began with a Drag Queen.

Meet Sister Roma

Several weeks ago, Facebook began suspending the accounts of people’s whose names didn’t fall under their ‘real name’ policy.

This has been a rule at Facebook  a while now, but it was rarely enforced. (This ‘no fake names’ isn’t the only rule – did you know it’s against the rules to have more than one account at Facebook under the same name? Yet my elementary school account remains open and unused.)

 That's more of a guideline than an actual rule. -  That's more of a guideline than an actual rule.  more of a guideline

The fact of the matter is, these rules were pretty much unenforceable, and if an account was deleted well – it’s difficult for a single person to raise a fuss against a power like Facebook.

Until the Drag Queens sauntered into the fray.

Facebook Warns Drag Queens They Will Delete Every Profile In Two Weeks

Sister Roma, whose real name is Michael Williams, is a drag queen. She is also a member of the San Francisco-based Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence advocacy group.

 

Now, she has been identifying herself as ‘Sister Roma’ on Facebook without a problem for six years. Recently though, Facebook gave her an ultimatum. She had to switch her username to her legal name Michael Williams, or risk having her account suspended.

facebook

As I already said, this policy is not new, but was  rarely enforced before now.

Why now?

Facebook is claiming that this is about safety. Forcing people to use their legal names apparently protects users from stalkers, jealous exes, and others who might want to hide behind a pseudonym.

Which is true. It’s good to know who you’re talking too online. Most of us have heard enough horror stories about this issue to last us a lifetime.

“We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you’re connecting with,” says the policy.

I personally have no desire to be caught by a Catfish.

However, would a fake name really stop that? There are thousands if not millions of ways for hackers, thieves and criminals to get access to people online. Look no further than the celebrity photo stealing scandal for an example.

So, can Facebook really be hoping to protect its users safety by enforcing a name change policy?

Realistically? Probably not.

More likely this is about money. Facebook now admits that “performers” should establish pages, rather than profiles.

It’s in the interest of Facebook’s bottom line for its users to use fewer profiles, and more pages.

This crackdown comes as Facebook’s revenue continues to soar. A big part of that success is because of its marketing initiatives.

 

Why are people so upset?

I was chatting with my boyfriend the other day about this issue, and he couldn’t understand why I was so upset about it. I claimed it was a violation of rights, and he said:

“If you’re using Facebook to make money, you should spend money on it.”

If it was just about profits, I might agree with him. But it’s not;  it’s about identity. With this policy in effect, it is virtually impossible for anyone who self-identifies with a name that isn’t legally documented to have a profile on Facebook.

Yes, that effects Drag Queens and performers, but what if you’re trying to hide from that aforementioned angry ex, so you refer to yourself by a different name? Or you are from a different country and you want to be known by a different title where you’re living now. Or what if you are LBGT and you don’t self identity with your birth name?

Check out this illuminating article over at the Washington post by Jade Sylvan, and her real world experience with pseudonyms. She does a fantastic job explaining the personal side effects of Facebook’s decision.

Jade Sylvan

 

Will Facebook Change its mind?

Well, that remains to be seen. But it’s not looking good.

Drag queens and transgender activists started a protest campaign against Facebook for forcing them to either register with their real name or get off the site. Facebook did agree to meet with them, but it didn’t really change anything.

After the meeting, Sister Roma posted the following statement on her Facebook page.

Shortly after the meeting Facebook announced that they would reinstate profiles of members of the LGBT community that had recently been targeted, suspended or removed. The statement further goes on to say that Facebook hopes that within 2 weeks time the users will either confirm their real identity, change to their legal names, or move to a fan page. While at first glance this seems like a grand show of support for our community it is actually a completely hollow gesture. Basically they offered to give us our profiles back so that two weeks later they could suspend them, demand we comply to their unfair and discriminatory policy, and if not, take them away again. This is completely unacceptable.

Saying you have two weeks to comply is not much of a compromise.

Money, Drag Queens and Social media aside, it seems that Facebook may be forcing us to reassess our sense of self, and what is truly in a name.

It will be interesting to see what happens as this story develops.

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Cell Phones in Africa

The second in our series of Technology in Africa by our Anonymous blogger!


My favourite subject so far.  At least one I can understand.  Somewhat.

I am everyday absolutely AMAZED at the cell phone use in this country, and in West Africa in general.  OK, I derived my comment about West Africa from my two years in Senegal and my three years in Burkina but frankly, I have no information to believe that it is different in the other countries in West Africa.  Quite the contrary.

Let’s start with basic information.  In Burkina, there are three main cell phone providers: Telmob, which is the cell phone leg of the only land line telephone company, Onatel.

Once a government owned shop, it was privatised about five years ago and bought by Maroc Telecom.  They bought the company and the infrastructure.  We’ll get back to that point at a later date.  Disclosure: I am a Telmob client.  It works just fine.  Nothing exotic, but very fine.  Some dropped calls, some SMS don’t reach their destination and I don`t receive some, but overall, decent enough. Telmob has the largest market share with 41.3%.

Then comes Airtel, the company everyone loves to hate.

Well, OK, the company I love to hate… and my many friends here who use it.  It was founded by Sunil Bharti Mittal, an Indian businessman.  It has 39.64% of the market share in Burkina.  Outside India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Airtel is present in 17 West and Central African countries and in the Seychelles (not sure where to put them… Southern Africa? East Africa? South-East Africa? It’s there in the Pacific Ocean, barely an African country).

Finally the last and only Burkinabè company is Telecel.

It is privately owned.  Internal wars resulted in a steadily decreasing market share over the past few years, and it now stands at 19.05% of the market share.  I really cannot comment on the quality of their service as I don’t know anyone who uses it.  But from all accounts, it ain’t the greatest.

A fourth license is being negotiated by Orange, the French multinational telecommunication company.  To be fair, Orange is already present in many African countries.  It was one of the most important companies in Senegal when I lived there.  The interesting element here is that Orange is also negotiating the use of the fiber optic wiring.

Now, some fascinating, at least from my perspective, statistics.  As of December 2013, cell phone penetration was at 65% for the country as a whole.  Obviously, it is higher in the cities than in the country side.  But more fascinating yet is that between 2008 and 2013 what is referred to here as the cell phone density increased from 21.57% to 64,89%.  Not bad for a country that is dirt poor.

This means that there are over 11 million phone numbers in action in a country of 17 million people.  I jokingly said to this chap who is helping me find my way through information to write these articles that only those below 5 years of age don’t have a cell phone.  He looked at me seriously and said, yes, just about.  He was also joking.

In fact, the truth is that many Burkinabès have two cell phones.  Or one cell that takes two cards.  We’ll get back to that.

Airtel is the company that sees its part of the market increasing the fastest.  Indeed, in 2012 the Airtel card was the most sought after.  The other interesting fact is that the government requires that all cell phone companies operating on its territory increase cell phone density every year.  And they do follow with each company to ensure that this requirement is respected.

In a country as poor as Burkina where the installation of a land line can take up to 6 months, unless you are willing to do what is needed to speed up the process (read bribe), it is no wonder that cell phones are selling like hot cakes.  Cell phones are not expensive either.

Cell phone kiosks, or shacks, are a dime a dozen.  Add to this a large number of street vendors that will assault you when you walk out of a store or restaurant to sell you a cell phone.  And honestly, these cell phones, aside from the ‘chinoiserie’, a French play on word referring to products made in China but that have little quality, are decent and solid.  A bona fide Nokia cell phone, really basic (call and text) will cost you about 15,000FCFA or about $31.50 Canadian dollars.  On the other hand, you can get a BlackBerry for less than 50$.

But it is a ‘chinoiserie’ and as my grand-mother used to say, you get what you pay for.  My poor friend Lydia saw her ‘BlackBerry’ die on her less than 24 hours after she bought it.  Evidently, there is no use going back to the kiosk where she bought it to exchange it.  Guarantees do not exist here for most goods bought in stores or in the streets, or are not respected.  Unless you buy at the brand name store.  Then you are covered. Sometimes.  Not always.

bfafrica

From Africa’s Perspective: Burkina Faso

Could Africa be the next hub of technological innovation? After exploring the concept in our article Silicon Savannah, we decided to investigate further.

With that in mind, we are beginning a series today written by an anonymous guest blogger. Although she was born in Canada, she lives in Africa in a position of importance now, and has for several years.

Her blogs will all have ‘From Africa’s Perspective’ in the title.

Enjoy her unique and informative viewpoint!

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 Burkina Faso

I hear you from here… Burkina what?

Burkina Faso.  Capital Ouagadougou.  Come on, it is not that difficult to pronounce.  OUA-GA-DOU-GOU.  There, you got it.

Burkina Faso, the country of the honest man in Mossi, the local language.

A small country in West Africa.  Totally landlocked.  Surrounded by Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Bénin, Togo and Ghana.  Among the poorest countries on the planet.  Ranked 181 out of 187 countries on the 2014 United Nations Human Development Index.  Population 17 million.  Maybe.  In a country where traditionally mothers did not count their children until they reached the age of 5 given the high mortality rate, that number is at best an approximation.  What is known is that the birth rate is only second to Niger, with 6 children per woman.  Nearly 65% of the population is under the age of 24 years old.

The state of the infrastructure is sad.  Water purification plants are obsolete and almost non-existent outside the two largest cities, Ouaga and Bobo Diolasso.  Mind you, even in town, their state of order does not inspire confidence.  You would never, unless you have a Montezuma’s revenge wish, use that water to brush your teeth.

Ditto for the electrical grid, which is experiencing increasing stress thanks to the urban migration.  Power shortages are so common, be it during the rainy season or the hot season that nearly household has an generator.  If only not too loose the meat in the freezer, or getting the bedroom aircon working so that you have a restful night.  I am still amazed to see people at work, relatively productive, when the night temperature does not go below 30 degrees Celsius,  and you know that they do not have an aircon or fan because they cannot afford it.

Outside the main cities, the roads are not paved.  Mind you, they are not grated either.  There is no road equipment for that sort of work.  During and after the rainy season, which was quite generous this year, the state of the roads are impressive.  Not by their smoothness.  By the holes created by the traffic and the rain… well, ok, it is more like small pools, you are right.  Those who can afford it have 4×4.  Not for status, but for necessity.

Small cars get quickly damaged by the state of the road.  Even our 4×4 got damaged by these bumps and holes.  Believe me or not, we hit the bottom of the car and damaged something, not sure what.  Will finally be repaired this week, thank you very much.  That was quite a nasty bump. And no, we were not speeding.  Well, I don’t think that 20 km an hour is speeding.  Could be wrong -happened once before.

For 8 months on the year, the temperature varies between the low and high 30, even at 3 in the morning.  For two months, it varies between the low and high 40’s, hitting 50 in May.  Seriously.  The Mossi say that it is during the month of May that Burkinabè understand that they have a common border with Hell.

The cold season lasts two months or so, December to February.  Temperature can go down to 17 at 3 in the morning.  This is when people wear their winter coat, their toques and mittens.  Oh yes, it is cold on that motorcycle in the morning.  Because motorcycles and bicycles are the most common mode of transportation for the majority of the population.  There are enough cars to make driving a hell raising experience.  Fighting for your place on the road with decrepit taxis and trucks and a large number of 4×4, with motos and bikes zigzagging among the traffic…yes, you do live the African experience.

I still have not determined if I prefer the hot season, without sand, or the cold season with its Harmattan winds, coming from the Sahel and bringing with it heaps of dirty sand and dust.    In a part of the world where toilets are not common, the desert and the countryside are often the public latrine.  The Harmattan brings its lots of disease.  The most deadly is the meningitis, the second killer in young children, after malaria.

There is literally no garbage management of any sort.  Yes, garbage is being picked up … and dumped somewhere.  Mind you, recycling is heavy.  There is someone going through your garbage to recuperate what can be of use.  Plastic bags are everywhere.   I keep joking about the plastic bags trees as the plastic bags often get caught in tree branches.  Not funny, I know.

Life expectancy at birth is 56.34 years.  Literacy rate is 28%; much lower in women.   School attendance at high school is 26%, mostly boys as girls need to help in the house.  The quality of education is poor.  The average class size is 48.  Larger in the country side.  81.1% of the population life below 2$ a day; 44.6% below 1.24$.

Burkina has been my country of temporary residence for the past three years.  And is spite of these statistics and these facts, and many others, what impresses is the resilience of its people.  Système D as we say in French, Système Débrouille.  Vaguely translated as System Make it Work.  And their use of technology.

I was asked if I would be willing to write a few articles on the state of technology in Burkina Faso.  I thought it could be interesting.  These will be based on my observations, my discussions with friends and people who know the area and are generous enough of their time to help me.  It is by no means a serious analysis on the state of technology in the country and the region.

I don’t understand technology like those of you who will be reading these articles.  But I will do my best to make them interesting and relevant… and they will be even more so if you help me identify subjects of interest…

The first couple of articles will focus on internet and telephone, both land lines and cell phones.  Miracles are being worked here every day with the use of cell phones…

See you soon…

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Do Canadian trading platforms need to be modernized for global purposes?

Is Canada falling behind on global trade?

In a world in the throws of the Digital Revolution, the only constant is change.

There are several major trade regulation changes coming in 2014, unprecedented in both number and magnitude.  These changes affect every company that imports into, or exports from, Canada or the U.S.  Some of these regulations require new licensing, and others mandate significant software updates.

Getting trade right is important not just for the economic growth it can create in Canada, but for the signal it sends to North America’s partners.  If North America fails to show leadership and surrenders the chance to be leading the way in the worlds most significant trade partnerships, others will step forward to fill the void. Now-a-days, thanks to the growing powers of Russia, India, Africa and Asia, that void would be filled within moments and be almost impossible to reclaim

Can Canada keep up in that face of all this competition?

P4Capital

Jim:  Over the last few years our trading software has grown stagnant. Oh sure,  the interface has gotten more colourful and interactive, but the core application hasn’t changed at all since it was bought. It’s like you bought a box with a pink ribbon on it. Eventually, the pink ribbon got tattered, so you but a shiny new yellow ribbon on it – but the repair was strictly cosmetic.  The box is still the same. The software that the Canadian banks bought is that box. It was purchased from the late 1980’s to the year 2000. They were able to do whatever they needed to do in those time-frames, but they’ve been lacking for anything new for the last 15 years. In other words, any changes have been strictly cosmetic.

Now you have “giants on the marketplace that were never there before, and those original trading platforms were never made to handle these new behemoths. So the question Canadian traders have to ask is am I happy making the money I’m making, or will these new competitors push me to the sidelines?”

Jeremy: The Canadian trade foundation was based on the 7.5 hour trading day. That model was based on the New York model. In Shanghai today however,  those building never go dark.

When 7.5 hours was the norm, when the ‘bell ends’ traders would take all the results of that day, sum them up, then batch send them to the accounting department. Everyday they would do the same thing and be told by the start of the next trade day how they were doing. Now there is no break in the day for batch updates;  you have to do it in real time. You don’t have an off hour to calculate – so your risk models are lacking.

Archana: The crash of 2010 is a constant reminder of the need and importance to bolster fall-back mechanisms – where the modern systems can apply a hard stop to free-falling stocks. Business is much more complex now than the antiquated systems that were built several years ago. As Jeremy said, stocks are trading 24/7. There is a race to gain supremacy, be it in terms of the overall market reach, or its impact. Not only that, but we are in the midst of a global economy where exchange is happening in multiple currencies. We need a sophisticated system that can counter faulty trades. For us to stay afloat in all of these emerging markets and to be counted as a viable player, our technology needs to be modernized.

P4Capital

What do you think?

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