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  • A representative of the European Central Bank (ECB) has slammed Facebook‘s quasi-cryptocurrency Libra, referring to its proposed ecosystem as a “siren call.” Yves Mersch, Luxemborgian lawyer and ECB executive board member, even told attendees of the European System of Central Banks’ legal conference the Libra ecosystem will be “cartel-like.” After prefacing his concerns with a history lesson on trust (which unimaginatively centered on the notion that the only “trustworthy” money is the sort backed by the state), Mersch actually painted a realistic picture of Facebook‘s intention for its funny-money: centralized governance, centralized issuance, centralized control. “To begin with, Libra coins will be issued by the Libra Association – a group of global players in the fields of payments, technology, ecommerce, and telecommunications,” said Mersch. “The Libra Association will control the Libra blockchain and collect the digital money equivalent of seignorage income on Libra.” “The Libra Association Council will take decisions on the Libra network’s governance and on the Libra Reserve, which will consist of a basket of bank deposits and short-term government securities backing Libra coins. Libra-based payment services will be managed by a fully owned subsidiary of Facebook, called Calibra,” he added. Even the ECB can tell Libra isn’t a real cryptocurrency Mersch then (rightly) asserted that Libra ‘coins’ will be exclusively distributed through authorized resellers of Facebook‘s choosing, which centralizes control over access to Libra — a supposed “global” cryptocurrency. Ironically, this makes Libra entirely similar to public money (fiat), which is highly centralized. Quite literally, Facebook and its raft of blockchain buddies are set to act as “quasi-sovereign issues of currency,” which certainly seems to openly shit on Satoshi Nakamoto‘s vision of a borderless and openly accessible digital currency immune to the control of any single entity. Yet still, Facebook is keen to latch on to the “cryptocurrency” moniker for...
  • Fire consumes a forested area near Jaci Parana in northern Brazil last week. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres/) Fires in the Amazon rainforest have captured attention worldwide in recent days. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in 2019, pledged in his campaign to reduce environmental protection and increase agricultural development in the Amazon, and he appears to have followed through on that promise. The resurgence of forest clearing in the Amazon, which had decreased more than 75 percent following a peak in 2004, is alarming for many reasons. Tropical forests harbor many species of plants and animals found nowhere else. They are important refuges for indigenous people, and contain enormous stores of carbon as wood and other organic matter that would otherwise contribute to the climate crisis. Some media accounts have suggested that fires in the Amazon also threaten the atmospheric oxygen that we breathe. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Aug. 22 that “the Amazon rain forest—the lungs which produces 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen—is on fire.” The oft-repeated claim that the Amazon rainforest produces 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen is based on a misunderstanding. In fact nearly all of Earth’s breathable oxygen originated in the oceans, and there is enough of it to last for millions of years. There are many reasons to be appalled by this year’s Amazon fires, but depleting Earth’s oxygen supply is not one of them. Oxygen from plants As an atmospheric scientist, much of my work focuses on exchanges of various gases between Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. Many elements, including oxygen, constantly cycle between land-based ecosystems, the oceans and the atmosphere in ways that can be measured and quantified. Nearly all free oxygen in the air is produced by plants through photosynthesis. About one-third of land photosynthesis occurs in tropical forests,...
  • The BBC is helping non-native English speakers sharpen up their cryptocurrency language skills and knowledge with a 6-minute primer on Bitcoin. In today’s episode of BBC Learning English hosts Catherine and Sam discuss cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, and Facebook’s controversial digital currency Libra. If you’re a seasoned Bitcoin boffin, don’t expect to learn anything new. This 6-minute conversation serves as nothing more than an introductory conversation to the topic for non-English speakers to listen to and get to grips with some basic terms. The episode opens with a basic overview of cryptocurrency, where the word comes from and what it is. And poses a quick question to listeners, “When was Bitcoin created?” Listeners are kept waiting until the end of the show for the answer. The conversation then turns to Libra. But this is a language lesson about cryptocurrency! I hear you cry. Don’t worry though, the language hosts make a case of pointing out that Libra is not actually a cryptocurrency. Mostly because it is backed by fiat currencies, an atypical characteristic of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Back to that question, though. The host says Bitcoin was created in 2009, which depending on your outlook, isn’t necessarily true. Indeed, Bitcoin‘s genesis block was mined in 2009, so on one hand, Bitcoin‘s blockchain began in 2009. However, Bitcoin‘s creator Satoshi Nakamoto published the cryptocurrency‘s white paper in 2008, thus giving birth to the concept. Either way, I’m probably splitting hairs, this is a quick language course using cryptocurrency as a topic, not a deep dive into the technicalities of Bitcoin. Some might use this as another example of Bitcoin adoption, and the topic going mainstream. If it helps some non-native English speakers learn get to grips with the technology it doesn’t matter what it is. But let’s not forget that universities around the...
  • For decades, experts have observed that melting ice in the Arctic (caused by climate change) coincides with unusually bitter winters at lower latitudes. (Flickr/) Climate change skeptics often point to recent, record-breaking winters as evidence against global warming. But in reality, greenhouse gases may be just as responsible for extreme winters as they are for heat waves. For decades, experts have observed that melting ice in the Arctic (caused by climate change) coincides with unusually bitter winters at lower latitudes. Sea ice forms in the fall and thickens through the winter, creating a barrier between ocean and air. But as the Arctic warms, some climate scientists have suggested that the melting ice sends our weather into the extremes. The logic is that heat from the ocean could more easily travel into the atmosphere without ice to block its path. Warming Arctic air could create a high pressure cyclone that sends a stream of cool air south, ultimately changing global air circulation and altering weather patterns. In that way, an ice-free Arctic could ostensibly unleash brutal winters around the world. But new research suggests it might not be a simple case of cause and effect—there could be something bigger at play. In a new paper published in Nature Climate Change, Russell Blackport, a mathematics fellow who studies climate modeling in the Arctic at the University of Exeter in England, and his colleagues demonstrate that even though the loss of sea ice and harsh winters coincide, the first isn’t causing the latter. This relationship between Arctic ice melt and continental cooling has “been controversial for over 10 years,” says James Overland, a climatologist who researches the Arctic at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and was not involved in the current study. With this paper, the authors claim to have laid...
  • It’s no secret that Android tablets are in an awkward position. While Apple’s iPad remains an important part of its product line-up, even Google has given up on making an equivalent. But Samsung hasn’t given up on Android tablets just yet. Today it announced the Galaxy Tab S6. It’s clear the tablet has taken some inspiration from the new iPad Pro, but it has a few tricks of its own too. First, the specs: 10.5″ Super AMOLED Display 6GB + 128 GB or 8GB + 128GB RAM and storage configurations Snapdragon 855 or Exynos 9610 7,040 mAh battery (15 hours battery life claimed) 8MP front camera 13MP + 5MP rear cameras Four AKG speakers with Dolby Atmos technology Optical fingerprint sensor New Bluetooth S-Pen It’s the usual spec bump here – smartphone specs stuffed into a larger frame. That’s one advantage Apple has: it’s iPad Pros are always significantly more powerful than its iPhones, allowing you to manage significantly greater workloads on its tablet. That’s not to say the Tab S6 is a slouch – are smartphones specs are plenty powerful as it is, and a tablet’s true power comes from the larger frame. Samsung is known for stuffing its devices with features, and the Tab S6 is no different. Key among the improvements over the Tab S4 (there was no Tab S5, only a midrange Tab S5e) is the new remote control S-Pen Samsung first introduced with the Galaxy Note 9. This allows you to do things use the S-Pen as a remote shutter or skip songs. The S-Pen does need to be charged now, but it does so when attached to the body magnetically, and a 10-minute charge will get you through a full day of use. Speaking of the body, the Tab S6 has an all-new design that takes a page...
  • Marcus Hutchins, the hero who helped stop the WannaCry ransomware attack which crippled much of Western Europe, including the NHS’ computer systems, isn’t going to jail. At a sentencing heading in Milwaukee, a federal judge sentenced the British security expert to time served. He was also given one year of supervised release, although he is free to return to the United Kingdom. No fines were imposed. Sentenced to time served! Incredibly thankful for the understanding and leniency of the judge, the wonderful character letter you all sent, and everyone who helped me through the past two years, both financially and emotionally. — MalwareTech (@MalwareTechBlog) July 26, 2019 Hutchins is regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on malware, and was credited for halting the rampage of WannaCry, which is believed to be a creation of the secretive North Korean government in an attempt to gain funds. But in a previous life, he was a shadowy malware developer, who helped create the Kronos banking trojan. It’s a happy ending for Hutchins, who also goes by the moniker MalwareTech. The researcher had been trapped in the US since 2017 while his trial unfurled, after he was arrested in Las Vegas while trying to board a flight back to the UK. His arrest came shortly after he was doxxed by the UK media. Prosecutors, who argued for a harsher sentence, are unlikely to be happy, however. In a sentencing to Judge Stadtmueller, they wrote: “Like a man who spent years robbing banks and then one day came to realize that was wrong, and even worked to design better security systems, he deserves credit for his epiphany, but he still bears responsibility for what he did.” In April of this year, Hutchins agreed to a plea deal with the US government where he accepted...