Monday, May 21, 2018

Not a word from Yulia Skripal since her hospital release or from her father Sergei

(May  5) It is now about three weeks since Yulia Skripal was released from hospital and taken to a "safe place" after her being poisoned along with her father Sergei on March 4th in Salisbury. There has not been a word about either her or her father.

The two must have been both interviewed long ago by authorities about what happened. One would think that their testimony about the event was crucial. However, everything is being kept under wraps. If the two had implicated Russia there would not be this silence. The mainstream press seems quite uninterested in such questions as to the condition of the father now or where the daughter is and why neither has been interviewed. I discussed the issue in a Digital Journal article a week ago but since there is no information at all about them. There have been new developments that I will discuss in this article.
Czech lab synthesized tiny amounts of Novichok type agent
The Czech government
 said the agent was used to help train the army against chemical warfare. Russia had listed the Czech Republic as one among several countries that could have been the source of the agent used to poison the Skripals.
The Czech Defense Ministry admitted it had carried out a microsynthesis of several micrograms of potential chemical agents and that included Novichok and sarin gas. The ministry said that this did not represent production as understood under international law and could not have leaked.
The statement by Ahmet Uzumcu of the OPCW
Just to make sure no one might think that the Czech Republic could have been the source of the Novichok that poisoned the Skripals we have a statement by Ahmet Uzumcu, the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) who said that the amount of novichok used to poison the Skripals was significantly more than that needed for research purposes which indicated it was likely created for use as a weapon.
In an interview with the New York Times, Uzumcu said that he had been told that about 50-100 grams of the nerve agent was though thought to have been used in the Salisbury attack.
The OPCW repudiates Uzumcu' statement
Some chemical experts were surprised at the Director-General's statement and this apparently included some at the OPCW because the OPCW issued a statement in fact disowning the Uzumcu's statement.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — 4 May 2018 — In response to questions from the media, the OPCW Spokesperson stated that the OPCW would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the nerve agent that was used in Salisbury on 4 March 2018. The quantity should probably be characterised in milligrams. However, the analysis of samples collected by the OPCW Technical Assistance Visit team concluded that the chemical substance found was of high purity, persistent and resistant to weather conditions.
So why did Uzumcu make such a statement in the first place? Surely, it was useful as showing that the Czech Republic could not have been the source of the Novichok that poisoned the Skripals. No doubt someone pressured him to make the statement in order to bolster the official narrative.
The UK government also tried to pressure the lab at Porton Down to claim that the novichok came from Russia. A Digital Journal article back in April discussed this showing that Boris Johnson a UK cabinet minister actually claimed a scientist at Porton Down told him this.
When it comes to sustaining the official narrative we have lots of press but when it comes to revealing anything about the condition of the Skripals or what they know about what happened to them we get no information at all.
No new suspects in the case
When asked by a UK MP at a Commons defence committee hearing whether the authorities knew who was responsible for the Skripal poisoning, UK National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill said they did not yet know. However Sedwill expressed no doubt about Russia being responsible and is the biggest threat to the UK. Sedwill told the committee that Russia is an existential threat to the UK: "Russia is the primary strategic threat to the United Kingdom."
Is there a D-notice about reporting info on the Skripals?
A D-notice has undergone several changes but Wikipedia describes it as follows: "A DSMA-Notice (Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice)[1] — formerly a DA-Notice (Defence Advisory Notice), and before that called a Defence Notice (D-Notice) until 1993—is an official request to news editors not to publish or broadcast items on specified subjects for reasons of national security. The system is still in use in the United Kingdom."
There may be no D-notice with respect to reporting on the Skripals but there might as well be. If Skripals supported the official narrative then this would have been reported. However, if the Skripals' would provide testimony that conflicted with the official narrative then this must be kept from the public in the interest of UK security. Not only the UK press seem to voluntarily accept that they should be silent about this but international mainstream media as well. Exceptions are Russian media such as RT and Craig Murray or Moon of Alabama but the latter two are marginal and no doubt to be characterized as dupes of a Russian misinformation campaign. When it comes to suppression of criticism of the official narrative, silence is golden.

Published previously in Digital Journal

Sunday, May 20, 2018

You Tube CEO claims it has 1.8 registered users watching videos each month

Susan Wojcicki the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of You Tube claimed that 1.8 billion registered users are watching You Tube videos each month and this does not even include those watching who have no account.

Wojcicki made the announcement at You Tube's Brandcast presentation. She announced some of You Tube's other successes as well.
Record setting views
Beyonce had a record 41 million livestream views at Coachella. A video of the event is appended.
Another music video "Despacito" had more than 5 billion views as of the end of April. Variety reports: "The official video of the catchy Spanish-language track, featuring Puerto Rican rapper Daddy Yankee, on Wednesday surpassed 5 billion views on YouTube — becoming the first video in the platform’s history to hit that watermark." The video, in Spanish, is appended. The company claimed to have had 1.5 billion logged in viewers as of the middle of last year.
Wojcicki indirectly discusses problems with You Tube
There have been critics of You Tube allowing inappropriate kids videos on the platform as well as conspiracy theories.
Wojcicki said: “This is the impact of an open platform: it brings the world together in ways that were just not possible before. But we’ve also seen that with openness comes challenges, as some have tried to take advantage of our services. It is incredibly important to me and to everyone at YouTube that we grow responsibly.”
The inappropriate kids videos
Wojcicki mentioned that she is making changes for a You Tube Kids option and promised to hire 10,000 moderators. However, that still seems to be in progress. Wojcicki said: “There is not a playbook for how open platforms operate at our scale. But the way I think about it is that it’s critical that we’re on the right side of history.”
Conspiracy theories
You Tube is also home to wild conspiracy theories. A Verge article of February 21st this year notes that the number one trending video in the morning was based on a false conspiracy theory which suggested that a survivor of the Parkland high school shooting is an actor. After the video received more than 200,000 views the company finally removed the video.
In an interview with CNN, David Hogg the 17-year-old victim of the theories noted that he was simply a witness to the events, contrary to the allegations in the theories populating YouTube. "I'm not a crisis actor," Hogg told CNN's Anderson Cooper on AC360. "I'm someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that."

Previously published in Digital Journal

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Loblaws expands online shopping business and raises dividend

- Loblaws is planning to extend its on line grocery shopping services and also expand home delivery services. The company says that it plans to "blanket the country" with online grocery services in Canada.

 1 of 3 
As reported in a Digital Journal article last November it decided to close 22 stores and begin home delivery to become more competitive.
The company has a chain of over 2,000 stores in Canada with headquarters in Brampton and is Canada's largest food distributor. At one time it operated stores in some US states but they were sold off.
Loblaw's delivery service to be expanded
The delivery service which started last year will be expanded to five more areas this year including Montreal, Halifax and Regina. It is currently available in 11 markets including Toronto and Vancouver. The supermarket chain is partnering with California-based Instacart to provide delivery service. The company chose this rather than attempt to build up its own delivery service.
The click-and-collect program
Another online option is the click-and-collect program. Customers can order groceries online and then pick them up. Loblaw is adding 500 new pickup sites this year. By the end of this year the company wants to have more than 700 pickup locations. The new locations will include more grocery stores, GO train stations in Ontario plus Shoppers Drug Mart locations. The first new locations should start in the coming weeks.
In a conference call with analysts Loblaws president Galen Weston said that the company is looking for ultra-convenient spots for customers to pick up their online orders.
By the end of this year, the company expects that fully 70 percent of the country will have access to the company's click-and-collect and home delivery services.
Amazon is the big competitive threat
Amazon acquired Whole Foods last year giving it access to the Canadian food market. Canadian retail grocers have been reacting to the challenge of competing with the giant.
Other Canadian grocers such as Metro Inc. has bolstered its e-commerce options launching new services in Ontario.
Sobeys Inc., both a retailer and wholesaler, has signed a partnership deal with the U.K. Ocado Group to help it build its online shopping business. The company will build a customer fulfilment center in the Greater Toronto Area and launch the service in about two years. Some experts claim the time period is too long and Sobey's will lose customers to more nimble chains. However, Sobeys claims it is confident in its plans.
Michael Medline, CEO of Sobeys, said its first e-commerce fulfilment centre will not be built for another two years or so. He claimed it will take years to turn a profit. But he said that, long term, the robotics systems for home deliveries will be the most profitable online grocery solution in Canada. “If you don’t believe in growth or e-commerce, this is not the deal for you.”
As mentioned, Loblaw has decided to partner with Instacart and not build its own distribution center. Customers can use the Instacart website or app to order and Instacart will pick up and deliver the order from Loblaw stores.
Weston noted with interest that different grocers were choosing different ways to meet the challenge and said: "The thing is, none of us can really predict, you know, where things are going to end up." However, he had confidence in the path Loblaw had taken.
Founder of Retail Prophet Doug Stephens said: "I think that every grocery store including Loblaws has to not only just make some linear improvement in what they do, they really have to make a quantum change in their ability to serve customers online, to deliver fast to really win over the online customer, because that's definitely something that's going to be in play for Amazon and Whole Foods. I think that a company like Loblaws shouldn't just be saying, 'How can we play online with grocery?' The question is "How can we redefine the online grocery shopping experience?'"
Discount giant Walmart Canada is also expanding its online grocery service in Canada.
Loblaw hikes quarterly dividend
The company is looking after its investors as well as customers with a hike in the quarterly dividend to 29.5 cents from 27 cents per share. The company reported improved earnings for the quarter.
Loblaw earned a profit attributable to common shareholders of $377 million or 98 cents per diluted share on $10.37 billion in revenue for the first quarter ended March 24. That compared with a profit of $232 million or 58 cents a share on $10.40 billion in revenue last year.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Friday, May 18, 2018

CoinMarketCap launches new app that can track cryptocurrency prices

CoinMarketCap has become a prime source for tracking the prices, market caps and trading volumes of cryptocurrencies since it began operation last year.

CoinMarketCap has huge traffic
Alexa, the ranking and analytics company, claims it is the world's 174th most popular website. This outranks important media sites such as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other media. However, little is known about the company. The website listing information on the top 100 cryptocoins can be found here.
CoinMarketCap rolls out its new app
Even though CoinMarketCap has been at the center of the rise of cryptocurrencies and has provided invaluable information, it has done nothing to expand and take advantage of that position. Until now, with the release of its app for IOS, preparation for more news services and a rebranding of its website. This is the fifth anniversary of the firm.
The app has been long expected although there are other apps already in use, often using CoinMarketCap data.
What the app does
Users are able to sort coins by coin market cap ranking, name, price and even price range within 24 hours. You can switch between all top 100 tokens or create a watchlist for specific tokens. The only ad at the moment is a single banner at the bottom of the app. There is no ad-free version that you can buy as yet. The present version is free.
You can track coin prices over 24 hours, seven days or 30 days.
The advantage of the CoinCapMarket app
The company has a strong brand with a good reputation for accurate information. A spokesperson for the company said: “Are there other places where people can get the data and do we have copycats? Sure. However, we are the only site that you can guarantee is sourcing, gathering, and verifying the data itself and we pride ourselves in being the first and best regarded within the industry."
CoinMarketCap has redesigned its website and upgraded its API
The company has not only redesigned its website but has also upgraded its Application Program Interface (API).
The new API will include historical data and the company promises more to com. The addition of the app and the redesigned website provides for a fuller experience. Given the traffic, the company is able to monetize its website through ads.
It says its gets about 15 million unique visitors each month.
Brandon Chez, CEO of the company said: “We keep our eyes on incoming requests from users, paying close attention to what people want to see and how they can get the most out of our data. We’re excited to deliver on many of those requests today.”
The CoinCapMarket app is currently available for free through the App Store and the Play Store.

Published previously in Digital Journal

China is launching an impressive build up of naval resources

A recent Chinese fleet review shows that during the last four years, China has launched naval vessels with a total tonnage equal to many of the world's major established naval powers.

An earlier review of PLAN
Even in the period from 2000 to 2005 the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) had made great strides. An article in February of 2005 states: "In the last five years the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has commissioned more frigates and destroyers than in any comparable period in its history. However, it also now has fewer destroyer and frigate hulls in service than at any point in the last decade." The defect noted has been remedied more recently.
Review of the Plan this April
The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) was reviewed in April of 2018. The review drove home the dramatic progress that has been made in recent years. It also shows the operational potential that the fleet now has.
During the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of this, Chinese naval shipyards produced a large range of vessel type with many improvements on earlier ships However, recent construction has settled on just a few designs which are produced in large numbers. The new Type-052D destroyers have already seen 13 launched since 2012 as many as the previous five destroyer designs. The same thing is happening with other types of vessels.
The size of the new fleet
Since 2014 China has launched more submarines, warships, principal amphibious vessels and auxiliaries than the total number of ships currently in service in the navies of Germany, India, Spain, Taiwan, and the UK in terms of individual hulls. However, Japan and the UK have slightly higher tonnage during the period 2014-2018.
Of individual ships built since 2014, the most prevalent type has been a corvette, Type-056 (Jinangdao I/II) with 28 launched since 2014 out of 46 built to date. These have been built at four different shipyard. They have approximately 1,300 tonnes full displacement. These have been produced at a faster rate than any comparable vessel since the Cold War ended. As well as output for the PLAN, China Coast Guard is also benefiting from its own shipbuilding program.
Recent PLAN vessels much larger than older ships
The larger size of the newer ships is necessary to accommodate modern weapon systems and sensors and larger quantities of them. The size also means the ships have better endurance for undertaking longer and more distant operations. For example the Type-054 series of frigates built from the 1970's right up until the early 2000s had a displacement of about 2,000 tonnes. In contrast, the new Type-054/A has double that displacement.
Output accelerated in recent years
Comparing recent output in the US and China shows some striking comparisons. In the period 212-2014 the United States remained just ahead in total tonnage but that included the launch of the huge 100,000 tonne aircraft carrier, USS Gerald Ford. In 2015-2017 China was significantly ahead and launched its own aircraft carrier.
China's navy still lags behind in some respects
Even though the PLAN results in navies far larger than that of the UK or France the Chinese do not have the same extensive operational experience or even some of the technical abilities of the French or British navies. As an example it is not yet evident that the Chinese navy has precision-strike cruise missiles.
However, it may not be that long before the Chinese naval capability will have developed further and China will have amassed an impressive armada in the South China Sea and even further challenging the attempt of other nations such as the US to dominate the area.
Previously published in Digital Journal

Thursday, May 17, 2018

MacDonald's turnaround plan is working as earnings beat expectations

McDonald's Corp exceeded analysts' forecasts both for revenue and profits in a report on Monday as it clocked higher sales in foreign markets and in the US customers spent more at its outlets.
The stellar performance caused shares to rise more than 5 percent. Sales were strong in mature markets such as the UK and Germany. The fast food chain was the top gainer on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) today.
Turnaround plan is working
CEO Steve Easterbrook has a multi-year turnaround plan that was launched in 2015. The plan was to refresh the restaurant's menus, add technology to stores, and make the outlets more welcoming. It seems to be working. McDonald’s solid showing marked the 11th consecutive quarter of positive comparable sales and fifth straight of positive guest counts.
Change include adding items such as high-margin gourmet burgers to the menu. The burgers use more expensive and fresher ingredients and cost six to seven dollars. At the lower end, $1 to $3 dollar value options were also added.
Some operators worried that the added value items would actually lower the average check but this did not happen. Often those ordering from the value menu ordered more items. Guests were also found to be ordering premium items and classics then adding the new value items as well.
US sales rose significantly
In its most profitable market the US, same-store sales rose 2.9 percent topping analysts' expectations as average check tallies went up. Tigress Financial Partner's analyst Ivan Feinseth said: “The value price menu does bring people in, but people tend to spend more ... people still want a number of key McDonald’s items like the Quarter Pounder and the Big Mac.” MacDonald's and other fast food chains have been enticing customers with the cheap options as they battle for a share of the market that is not growing.
Easterbrook said that there was an initial weak response to the one to three dollar menu leading the company to offer a 2 for $4 mix and match deal on breakfast sandwiches trying to stave off competition in the all-day breakfast category.
Customer visits actually declined in the US but rose in Japan, France, Australia and also Canada resulting in an overall traffic rise of 0.8 percent.
Global sales rise and earnings beat estimates
Global sales at stores which have been open at least 13 months rose 5.5 percent. Analysts' estimates was just an average of 3.94 percent. Peter Saleh an analyst said: “(This) shows the power of the brand ... globally the numbers were outstanding. The results were very impressive, actually more impressive than we initially had anticipated.”
Excluding certain items, McDonald's earned a profit of $1.79 per share as compared to the estimate of $1.69. However, revenue fell 9 percent.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Amazon sales were $51 billion in first quarter of 2018

Amazon's first quarter earnings showed that sales were a huge $51 billion up nearly 43 percent year over year. The net profit was $1.6 billion.

Amazon the US-based electronic , commerce, and cloud computing company based in Seattle Washington was founded by Jeff Bezos in July of 1994. He is still Chief Executive Officer of the firm. Amazon is the largest Internet retailer in the world as measured by revenue and market capitalization and is second only to Alibaba Group in terms of its total sales.
Amazon losing money internationally even as its overall earnings soar
Although earning overall continue to exceed expectations, as it expands into areas such as food delivery, grocery chains, and smart home gadgets — but the company is not doing well in international sales where it is facing stiff competition from local companies.
Even though Amazon's international sales grew 34 percent, it suffered a loss of $622 million in the area. On the other hand, Whole Foods has added to its North American revenue, which rose $30.73 billion. This is a whopping 46 percent increase from last year.
The company also acquired home security company Ring during this quarter. Amazon is expanding into the smart home and appliance market and is providing five different security packages as reported in a recent Digital Journal article.
High growth comes with high spending
Free cash flow has decreased to $7.3 billion from $10.1 billion last year in the same quarter. In its overseas divisions Amazon appears anxious to increase its market even as it fails to turn a profit. The company was more than able to make up the loss through its North American sales and its booming Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud division.
CEO Jeff Bezos said of the AWS division: “AWS had the unusual advantage of a seven-year head start before facing like-minded competition, and the team has never slowed down. As a result, the AWS services are by far the most evolved and most functionality-rich. AWS lets developers do more and be nimbler, and it continues to get even better every day. That’s why you’re seeing this remarkable acceleration in AWS growth, now for two quarters in a row. A huge thank you to all our AWS customers, and you can be sure we’ll keep working hard for you.”
Overseas loss increasing
In 2016 Amazon suffered a loss of just $121 million but now it is almost six times that. Blowing through cash to gain markets does not appear to be working, as Amazon goes head to head with local favorites such as Alibaba in China, Rakuten in Japan, Mercado Libre in Latin America, and FlipKart in India. Other U.S. tech companies have nevertheless been successful in international regions. However, overall the situation for Amazon looks bright.
Previously published in Digital Journal

Monday, May 14, 2018

Amazon offering five new home security packages

Amazon now is offering home security services through a new portal. There are an array of smart security packages, including items such as entryway sensors, sirens, and a video doorbell all installed by Amazon workers and with no monthly contract.

There are five different tiers to choose from. The cheapest version costs just $240 . It is designed to make it appear that you are home. It includes a number of motion-detecting light, smart indoor lighting, plus a wireless waterproof speaker.
The most expensive package costs $840 and comes with smart sensor that can detect flooding and leaks. There is a Wink hub, everyday sensors and a Ring doorbell. Every package contains the Amazon Echo Dot and two visits from an Amazon smart home expert. The first identifies your needs and the second installs and configures all your devices.
Wink hub
Wink is a brand of software and hardware products designed to connect and control smart home devices from one consolidated interface. Wink connects with third-party smart home devices part of the Internet of Things (IOT). This includes such items as thermostats, door locks, ceiling fans, Wi-Fi enabled light and other devices. Wink provides a single user interface on either a mobile app or a wall-mounted screen called Relay.
Ring doorbell
Ring Video Doorbell is a smart doorbell device. It allows users to monitor and operate, front, back, and garage doors remotely. When the doorbell is pressed, the Ring application begins a VOIP video call to a connected device so that the house owner or whoever else is answering can see and speak to visitors.
Ring is owned by Amazon who bought it for somewhere between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion in February of 2018. However, Reuters valued the deal at more than a billion dollars.
Amazon Echo Dot
The Echo Dot a voice-activated speaker with assistant Alexa, who wakes up in response to her name, can do multiple things for you as described in a recent cnet review: "You can ask Alexa to do all sorts of things. For starters, she can stream music from Amazon Prime Music, Pandora, or Spotify. She can can play podcasts from iHeartRadio or TuneIn. She can set kitchen timers. She can look up facts. She can wake you up in the morning. She can tell your kids painfully bad jokes. She can read off the day's headlines from whatever news sources you like (including, ahem, CNET). All you have to do is ask. "
Blink is a home automation firm that makes battery-powered home security cameras and also a video doorbell. Blink makes an outdoor security camera, a home security system, as well as the video doorbell.
In December of 2017 Amazon announced it had acquired Blink. However, the company has continued to operate as an independent subsidiary of Amazon.
Amazon Key
You can buy an Amazon Key Kit that among other features allows couriers to unlock your front door to place packages inside your home. You can opt out if you think this is too much of an invasion of your property. Amazon Prime members in select cities and the surrounding areas can opt in to the system that ensures that Amazon packages are securely delivered inside your front door. You can watch the delivery happen on video or view a video clip later. Notifications are sent the morning of the delivery just before and right after.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Bitcoin Cash(BCH) to have hard fork on May15

Bitcoin cash(BCH) is facing a major software upgrade and a hard fork on May 15 that should help the network process many more transactions. The update was announced last November,

A bitcoin hard fork
A hardfork is a change to the bitcoin protocol that makes previously invalid blocks/transactions valid, and therefore requires all users to upgrade. An alteration which changes the block structure of the chain including block hash, or increases the set of valid transactions is a hardfork. If users do not all agree on the upgrade then a new coin will be produced with a new blockchain. The appended You Tube video explains what a hard fork is. It uses the creation of bitcoin cash as an example. It also explains the difference between a hard fork and soft fork.
The creation of bitcoin cash

In mid-2017 some developers were not satisfied with the changes planned to the bitcoin code and as a result on August 1 of 2017 they split the bitcoin blockchain in two forming bitcoin cash while bitcoin carried on with the original suggested changes.
A list of bitcoin hard forks can be found at this site: Bitcoin Cash: Forked at block 478558,[7] 1 August 2017, for each bitcoin (BTC), an owner got 1 Bitcoin Cash (BCH).
The appended video from early August of 2017 describes the birth of bitcoin cash. Since that time, the coin has done much better than the person on the video predicted although it comes nowhere near the price of bitcoin.
Among the main changes bitcoin cash made to the bitcoin blockchain was an increase in the maximum block size to 8 megabytes from one. The transaction signature hashing algorithm was changed so that it prevented replay protection for bitcoin cash transactions from the original chain. Finally, the original bitcoin difficulty algorithm (adjusted ever 2016 blocks) was replaced with a new emergency difficulty adjustment (EDA) algorithm. This was designed to respond more quickly to any drastic drops in the hash rate that might happen after the fork.
The new proposed changes to the bitcoin cash protocol
Some of the new changes are quite radical. The size of the block will change from 8 MB to 32 MB. This will allow vastly more transactions per block. Some of bitcoin cash's seasoned developers have suggested that moving ahead too fast with the changes could jeopardize the situation where the market cap of bitcoin cash was $24 billion and a single coin was going for a little less than $1,500.
However, that viewpoint seems not to be prevalent now. Joshua Yabut , a contributor to bitcoin cash's main protocol software implementation, BitcoinABC, said he doesn't expect any protest when users are finally given the choice on May 14 to upgrade their software. Yabut said to CoinDesk: "Block size increases are kind of non-controversial at this point, but it's nice to see on-chain scaling happen."
The return of smart contracts
The developers of bitcoin cash have now added in new kinds of smart contracts. These had been stripped from the chain because of security concerns that have now been addressed. The addition of the contracts will add even more functionality to users of the bitcoin cash system.
Steve Shadders, nChain developer said: "Essentially out of an abundance of caution and lack of time to fully explore and fix the edge cases that needed to be addressed, the decision was taken to simply disable any opcodes around which there were doubts or even hints of doubts. Seven years have passed and the edge cases around these opcodes are much better understood now. Additionally, the decision to disable them was taken hastily and under duress. The [bitcoin cash] community now has had the luxury of time to address these issues thoroughly....It's the first step for enabling smart contracts with the protocol which will allow us to compete with ethereum later on."
Some critics of the changes
A minority of users have complained that the sweeping changes being made should have been put to a community-wide vote before being adopted. The critics complain that there has been no chance to debate on the merits of the specific changes.
However, the disagreements are not deep enough or extensive enough to cause a new coin to come into existence when the planned fork takes place.
A few critics also are concerned that data-heavy projects such as Memo a recently launched censorship-resistant social network might even require even larger block sizes.
Present price of bitcoin cash
As of 19:50 UTC April 29th the price of bitcoin cash was $1437.38 a far cry from its larger brother bitcoin but it has been doing relatively well. A weekly analysis can be found here. The low in the last 24 hours was $1,374.85 and the high $1482.43. The price is up about 2.9 percent on the day at present.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Mainstream press is completely silent about both Yulia and Sergei Skripal

(April 28)It is over two weeks since Yulia Skripal was released from hospital and reportedly taken to a safe place. There have been no further reports on her condition or on that of her father who was also said to be recovering but more slowly.

The two were discovered unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4th, according to the official narrative having been poisoned by a Novichok type nerve agent that was alleged to have been produced by Russia. At first it was thought both would die but as it turned out both survived.
Yulia was released on April 10. A statement by the police was released on her behalf but as I pointed out in a Digital Journal article at the time everything was kept under wraps. Yulia had been conscious and talking for some time and even had an alleged phone call with a relative, Viktoria in Russia. The Russian embassy has tried in vain to gain access to Yulia as she is a Russian citizen. Victoria too wanted a visa to come to the U.K. to see Yulia but was refused a visa.
Authorities must have interviewed both Sergei and Yulia about what happened
If reports are to be believed, Yulia has been fit for interrogation for ages. It is beyond belief that no such questioning has taken place. What were the results? Surely she and her father are key to help understand what happened. After all, they were directly involved. Yet we have not received one bit of information about what she said.
The father too could be well enough to answer questions. There is evidence from the phone call of Viktoria that he was out of his coma and asleep. However, we have not received a single update and reporters are not up to asking questions about his condition apparently. Reporters who are usually demanding interviews have remained silent and are not clamoring for more news to be released. Even when Yulia was released from the hospital, the announcement was made without allowing any reporters to ask questions.
We do not know where Yulia is or the condition of Sergei. Presumably he is still in the hospital but who knows. Perhaps both have been whisked off and given new identities some have suggested could be done.
Instead of dealing with these questions, there are articles dealing with the negative effect on tourism the poisoning has had on the tourism industry in Salisbury as in this DeutscheWelle article and on decontamination as in this BBC article.
The Moon of Alabama and Craig Murray
A recent post by blog Moon of Alabama explains why we may not be receiving any information about what Yulia and Sergei told authorities about the issue. The post notes that a former senior servant Clive Ponting is quoted by former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray as suspecting that the UK government issued a D-notice to desist from reporting on Mr. Skripal's handler. Murray also noted that Alex Thomsen on March 12 also mentioned a D-notice related to Mr. Skripals M16 handler. Whether there is such an order or not with respect to reporting on what the Skripals have said to authorities, the situation is as if there were such an order.
A D-notice is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as a British government instruction preventing particular information from being made public in order to protect the country.
What a complicated web!
The Moon blog post points out: "The D-Notice attempt Thomsen mentioned was too late as some media had already reported the name of the Skripal's MI6 handler. We spelled it out on March 8. One Pablo Miller, a British MI6 agent, had recruited Sergej Skripal. The former MI6 agent Christopher Steele was also involved in the case. Skripal was caught by the Russian security services and ewent to jail. Pablo Miller, the MI6 recruiter, was also the handler of Sergej Skripal after he was released by Russia in a spy swap. He reportedly also lives in Salisbury. Both Christopher Steele and Pablo Miller work for Orbis Business Intelligence which created the "Dirty Dossier" about Donald Trump."
The Moon blog wonders if Steele got Skripal to help make up the dossier about Trump. Did Skripals' old connections try to contact people in Russia to ask about Trump dirt? Of course these are not questions which authorities are likely to answer. While we could easily drift into conspiracy theories at this point, at the very least if what the Moon blog says is true there are certainly those other than the Russians who might have motives to poison Sergei although it is not clear why Yulia should be involved.
Changing official records
On April 26 Dilyana Gatandzhiev tweeted: "Dilyana Gaytandzhiev @dgaytandzhieva - 21:24 UTC - 26 Apr 2018
The #Skripals were allegedly exposed to the drug #Fentanyl, not the #Novichok nerve agent, according to information obtained from the UK Clinical Services Journal"
The original version of the report from March 5 said: "Salisbury District Hospital declared a “major incident” on Monday 5 March, after two patients were exposed to an opioid. ...It followed an incident hours earlier in which a man and a woman were exposed to the drug Fentanyl in the city centre. The opioid is 10,000 times stronger than heroin."
On April 27, a day after the above tweet Gaytandzhiev noted that the passage had been redacted. Moon of Alabama blog verified that the text has changed. The text now reads: "Salisbury District Hospital declared a “major incident” on Monday 5 March, after two patients were exposed to what is believed to be an opioid.It followed an incident hours earlier in which a man and a woman were exposed to a substance in the city centre." All reference to Fentanyl as a cause of the illness has been removed.
Strange that a small journal should change its text in this way but it may simply be to be consistent with official findings. However, the local Salisbury Journal gave a similar report on March 5th and that report is still up: "Police declared a major incident after a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s were found unconscious on a bench in the shopping centre on Sunday. Emergency services at the scene suspected the substance may have been a powerful drug called fentanyl, but nothing has yet been confirmed." Of course it was not confirmed.
Another local news site also headlined on March 5: "Major chemical incident declared after 10 people vomited fentanyl and two are critically ill."
There have been plenty of technical studies of whatever the agent was and they show that it was a type of novichok nerve agent. That the early reports indicate it was fentanyl should hardly count for as much as the official analysis although it remains puzzling why the two did not die and why others saw the symptoms as of fentanyl.
As the appended video shows a Swiss lab analysis pointed to an entirely different agent BZ.
Craig Murray along with some others think that there is right now a D-order preventing publication of information about the case. If Russia is indeed the culprit it would seem that a D-order is the last thing necessary. However, a U.K. order, if it exists, does not prevent the remainder of the press outside the U.K. from investigating and reporting. Yet there is silence elsewhere as well.

Previously published in DIgital Journal

Friday, May 11, 2018

Shorter air routes may be served in the future by hybrid electric airplanes

Because of the time spent in travel to important air hubs then waiting in line to pass security, board and then waiting for takeoff, and finally traveling from the airport at the destination many people avoid using air transport for shorter trips.

In the United States only ten percent of round trips between 800 and 1,600 kliometers or 500 to 1,000 miles are taken by air travel. Under 800 kilometers (500 miles) only less than half a percent are taken by air.
Short haul air travel is expensive
Short hauls are actually more expensive and less efificent than surface transport by car, bus, or train as takeoffs and landings with small jet engines burn huge amounts of costly jet fuel. This contrasts with longer air flights in which larger engines use less fuel while cruising. Even regional operators are offering longer flights with larger planes. In the 1980's regional places averaged 20 seats but now they average 80 seats.
In the 1980's US airline operators made more use of the 13,500 airports throughout the country but now just one percent of all airports carry 96 percent of all air traffic. Regional door to door times are now worse than they were 50 years ago. As more and more communities lose their air services it has a negative effect on the local economies.
Rejuvenating the local air travel sector
Zunum Aero is planning to revive the local air travel business usng hybrid-electric aircraft propulsion. This type of propulsion is made possible by converging battery development, high-power motors and power electronics trends.
The company began working on a project in 2013 before anyone was actually thinking of doing so in commercial aviation. Electric propulsion was not considered feasible accept perhaps in a very light plane. However as trends in battery, motor, and power electronics have rapidly developed as well as regulations supporting the industry it became evident that by the 2020's the appropriate technology would come of age.
Bye Aerospace in Colorado has built a two-seat aircraft the Sun Flyer run by electricity alone as described in a recent article.
This shows that new technology makes it possible to develop all electric aircraft.
Zunum's 12-passenger hybrid-electric airplane.
The development of an aircraft typically will take five years or even longer, hence Zunum Aero started work on the aircraft immediately rather than waiting for the technology to mature first. This may appear somewhat risky for some potential investors as there may be delays in development due to the fact that the required technology is not yet available.
However, Zunum Aero feels that the decision is paying off as they have recently unveiled the design for a 12-passenger hybrid-electric airplane that they are now building. Plans for the first flight are as early as 2019. JetBlue and Boeing are backing the company's efforts. The company plans to sell the planes to airlines.
Costs will be competitive
Zunum Aero believes that operating costs for its plane will be 40 to 80 percent less than those of present regional aircraft, saving passengers money. The noise produced by the plane is also much less than conventional aircraft. The company envisions the planes as helping to invigorate thousands of underused regional airports, and cut down door-to door times for travelers.
This may be rather optimistic. Perhaps many of these airports will need upgrading in order to handle the increased traffic and the airlines using the facilities will be asked to help pay the costs and no doubt fees may be added on to tickets to help finance the improvements or repairs.
The company also touts the environmental advantages of the new propulsion which will lower carbon emissions by about 80 percent. The company sees that planes as going fully electric during the 2030's. Yet there are environmental costs associated with the manufacture of and disposal of batteries.
The company notes that the development of new battery and other technologies for EV's and even boats can to some extent be transferred to the propulsion of electric aircraft. Battery pack costs of lithium ion batteries have fallen from $1,000 per kwh to less than $250 per kwh today. The development of better supercapacitors and power converters have also been improved greatly.
How the Zunum Aero plane will be powered
Lithium-ion batteries will be stored in the wings for supplemental power. The power will be used particularly on takeoff. Cruising power is generated by a gas turbine that is linked to a generator in the back.
The aircraft is powered as follows "Our aircraft is powered by a pair of low-pressure ducted fans, each driven by an integrated 500-kilowatt permanentmagnet motor. The fans provide high static thrust for takeoff, high efficiency for cruising, and—in part because of the ducting—significant reductions in noise. Indeed, this design produces between a third and a fifth less noise than do traditional jet engines and turboprops, allowing our design to serve airports near towns without bothering the residents so much. We call these ducted fans “quiet electric propulsors” (QEPs)."
The QEPs a powered by electricity from the batteries but are supplemented by the 500 kw generator that is driven by a highly efficient gas turbine. The gas turbine does not produce any thrust just the electric power to drive the QEP's. In effect it is indirectly an all electric aircraft but with a hybrid power train.
The batteries are in the wing where normally there are fuel tanks. They are designed for quick swap out should there not be time for an adequate recharge. The battery cells have a minimum power density of 350 watt-hours per kilogram. The planes are designed so that they can accept the latest battery chemistries and form factors.
Zunum's testing plan
Sine the company is intending to deliver its first planes to airlines in 2022 it has developed precise testing milestones for the next year and a half. This includes producing a "copper bird" that models that electrical systems. This will be produced in a facility in Illinois. At the same time a subscale model of the QEP will be put in a test cell to evaluate how it performs and its aerodynamics. Finally, the power train will be take aloft on an existing airframe to gain flight experience. Finally it will be integrated with the Zunum aircraft. The company at present is using computer simulations to determine the size that each component should be an to optimize performance.
Costs of travely by Zunum Aero's 12-seater should be faster and cheaper than conventional flights
The range of the aircraft is said to be 1,125 kilometers which would be appropriate for changing a day to a day and a half road trip into just a few hours.
The trip from Boston Mass. to Washington DC is 640 km or 400 miles. The journey takes more than 8 hours by car. If one goes by air using the hubs Boston Logan International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport estimated door-to-door travel time is around 4 hours and 50 minutes. However, it is estimated that using the Zunum plane out of secondary airports could cut the time to just two hours and a half.
Zunum's economic analyses showed that average fares from regional Mass. airports in Beverly, Hanscom, and Norwood, to regional airports in Marylan and Virginia would cost about $140 one way about a third less than average commercial rates.
Working out regulations for certification of electric aircraft
Regulations governing the certification of electric aircraft are still to come. Zunum Aero is working with the FAA to craft such regulations. It is expected that regulations will be forthcoming later this year. Zunum Aero sees in the not-too-distant future the present hybrids becoming all electric and that the technology will be used even for long-haul flights.
Not surprisingly, Zunum Aero has a very rosy view of the future for all-electric planes: " Following the rollout of hybrid and electric vehicles onto our roads and just now entering our waterways, conventional fossil-fueled aircraft will likewise become relics of the past. Air travel, which has been increasingly relegated to fewer and fewer connecting points, will become personal and local again. In a few years, traveling a thousand kilometers will be as simple as arriving at your nearest regional airport, strolling onto a hybrid plane, and taking a quick flight to the regional airport closest to your final destination.. "
Competitor Wright Electric
Wright Electric is a startup company located in Los Angeles California, aiming to create a commercial airliner that runs on batteries and can handle flights under 300 miles. The company with just ten employees was founded in 2016 but it has received venture capital from groups such as the Silicon Vallley accelerator Y Combinator. The company is named after the Wright brothers. Its plane will feature high aspect ratio wings for energy-efficient flgiht , distributed electric aircraft propulsion and swappable battery packs with advanced cell chemistry. The firm publishes a monthly newsletter on sustainable aviation the Weport.
The are still many hurdles to be overcome before the scenarios set out by Zunum Aero can become reality. So far the plane is still far from a reality let alone in the test phase. So far only quite small planes have been electrically powered. The duct system is also so far untested it would seem. While Zunum Aero seems to have the support of companies such as Boeing the company does not really go into its financing or show that it has the financial resources to carry on a long-lasting and no doubt expensive development program.
While Zunu's Aero vision of the future is enticing it remains to be seen what unforeseen roadblocks may stand in the way of its realization. However, the company is one to watch as it progresses towards its goal If it is successful it will be good for many local economies as well as the environment.

Previously published in Digital Journal

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ripple coin sales increase 83 percent over previous quarter

San Franciso-based Ripple Inc. announces a huge increase in sales of its coin XRP, or ripple, during the last quarter. It sold $167.7 million worth of XRP during the first three months of this year an increase of 83 percent over the previous quarter.

Ripple sales
Compared to the first quarter of last year the increase is a whopping 2,400 percent. Ripple is well known for its XRP ledger. Unlike some cryptocoins Ripple has tried to forge links with business such as financial enterprises and provide services for them, and the XRP ledger has been helpful in that respect.
While direct sales of XRP at $16.6 million actually showed a 17 percent decline compared to the previous quarter, programmatic sales more than doubled from $71.5 million to $151.1 million.
Tom Channick, head of corporate communications for Ripple said that the sales of XRP exceeded the company's expectations and added: "As a company, our strategy remains focused on signing up customers to use our technology and moving those customers into production. If we continue to do that, we will fix how money moves around the world."
Ripple trades and clout increases
The total value of the ripple coin trade globally also increased significantly in the first quarter, growing 68 percent to reach $160 billion during the period.
In the first quarter ripple's overall share of the cryptocurrency market grew from 5.3 percent at the end of last year to 6.9 percent at the end of March. The company report notes: "While the total market capitalization of all digital assets was the same on both November 24, 2017 and March 31, 2018, XRP's share of that market capitalization doubled, rising from 3.56 percent to 7.57 percent - a continuation of a trend that first began in 2017."
Ripple's roller coaster price ride
At the end of last year RIpple began a huge rally that saw the price rise from 0.25 at the first of December to a high of $3.84 in the early days of January. However, the price dropped steeply and quickly and within a month the coin traded under a dollar.
Ripple is trading now around 0.85 cents a steep rise from the beginning of the month when it was under fifty cents. The report notes the negative effects that a global regulatory crackdown and uncertainty about the future have had on cryptocoin prices.
Programmatic selling versus direct sales
David Schwartz, Ripple's chief cryptographer on Reddit last November explained programmatic sales: "This is done by third parties that Ripple employs to use agreed algorithms to execute sales, usually by market making that is biased in favor of a net sale. Ripple does not have direct control over these sales and cannot adjust their timing on a short-term basis."
Direct sales are conducted by XRP II, LLC registered and license money service company. Buyers are mainly financial institutions.
Ripple has placed 55 billion XRP in an escrow account last December in order to create certainty of supply. In Q1, Ripple released about 300 million which the company claims are being used in a variety of ways to invest in the XRP ecosystem.
New partnerships
David Schwartz, chief cryptographer for Ripple explains how useful the Ripple platform will be for making payments: "Payment systems today are where email was in the early '80s. Every provider built their own system for their customers and if people used different systems they couldn't easily interact with each other. Ripple is designed to connect different payment systems together."
From the very beginning Ripple has linked up with financial and other institutions to aid their businesses through use of the Ripple platform.
Five new partnerships have been announced by the Ripple company. The company says that the new partnerships will help the company expand the adoption of its xVia payment Application Program Interface (API). This is an application developed by the company to allow financial institutions and other businesses to send and receive money globally through the Ripple blockchain.
Earlier the companies had been using traditional transfer and remittance methods.
Businesses are using various ways of sending and receiving payments worldwide as e-commerce fluorishes especially in emerging markets. The entire world is moving towards digitalization which makes sending and making payments much easier due to blockchain technology. Ripple's vision is to unify a fragmented system and allow money to be moved as quickly and seamlessly as information is spread across the globe.
Official sources say of the xVia system that it is for indivduals as well as corporations who want to send money across the world though a standard inferface. As it stands now, different countries are using different methods to do so. The xVia system hopes to be cheaper and faster with less of a chance of error
The new partners
The five company partners are: FairFX (UK); RationalFX (UK), Exchange4Free (UK); UniPay (Georgia) and Money Match (Malaysia). The five will adopt xVia to use for fast, reliable, and secure global money transfers. Foreign exchange platforms and e-wallet platforms are now adopting the system. Earlier, Ripple had formed partnerships with Santander and MoneyGram to use the system.
Ripple hopes to form new partnerships and eventually become a leading financial network. These expanding partnerships should help the XRP coin gain more in market value.
Previously published in Digital Journal

Not a word from Yulia Skripal since her hospital release or from her father Sergei

(May  5) It is now about three weeks since Yulia Skripal was released from hospital and taken to a "safe place" after her being p...