How should India regulate the ticking time bomb called bitcoin?

Regulators in developing countries around the world have repeatedly expressed concern against the trade of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. The gold rush, however, remains unabated, attracting many retail investors, and most Indian cryptocurrency exchanges are struggling to meet the demand.

Unsurprisingly, the clamour to introduce a regulatory regime for cryptocurrencies is rising.

Since 2013, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has periodically reiterated its concerns over cryptocurrencies but has done little else. Unlike its counterparts elsewhere who have banned or otherwise severely restricted the use of cryptocurrencies, the RBI’s studied silence is arguably progressive in nature, letting the technology play out in the market while the stakes are relatively low.

This has allowed the emergence of a nascent yet vibrant industry in India centred around developing blockchain technology, which underlies cryptocurrencies. However, the RBI’s continued silence (by design it seems), is now stalling the growth of the industry by creating legal ambiguity.

Blockchain technology represents a critical departure from the centralised institutions which currently regulate us today to a more decentralised future. Attempts to gingerly retrofit existing regulations on cryptocurrencies, or other blockchain-based applications, will not only prove to be inadequate but philosophically are an absurd choice.

Today, it is unclear if cryptocurrencies may even be considered financial assets or investments. For instance, India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley clarified in recent weeks that cryptocurrencies are definitely not “currency” or legal tender. Another approach favours interpreting cryptocurrencies merely as “software” and labelling all cryptocurrency transactions as essentially the sale or purchase of software. Although this definition does ring true from a legal standpoint, it is akin to calling currency notes or share certificates paper.

Without clear regulation, the blockchain industry is like a ticking time bomb. Anything from a failed initial coin offering (or ICO, where funds are raised for new cryptocurrency ventures) to a rogue cryptocurrency exchange will result in a public confidence crisis, forcing the government to take a quick decision that may be more politically motivated than it is grounded in reason. This tension has already manifested itself in the form of multiple public interest litigations before India’s supreme court to facilitate state intervention to regulate cryptocurrencies. Court-sponsored interventions, although popular for quick results, are ill suited for a subject like blockchain, which requires considerable original academic thought and investigation.

This begs the question: who should regulate blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, and how should it be done?

Since different cryptocurrencies can exhibit different properties, broad-brush regulation will prove to be inadequate. Multiple regulators such as the RBI and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) will likely have jurisdiction over cryptocurrencies, potentially causing more uncertainty and confusion—and, in some cases, a turf war.

If regulated as a fiat currency, cryptocurrencies will be subject to the control of a central bank as well as, among others, various foreign exchange regulations. Owing to its inherent decentralised nature, enforcing either of these regulations in their current form will be impractical at best. Moreover, regulating cryptocurrencies as a “security” is also a dead-end as very few forms of cryptocurrencies (such as certain ICO tokens) will mirror such features.

Ultimately, being regulated as a “commodity” remains, under extant laws, one of the few viable ways to regulate cryptocurrencies. The US Commodities and Futures Trading Commission, for example, considers virtual currencies as commodities. And its treatment as commodities allows more freedom in dealing with cryptocurrencies as they are regulated less onerously, in comparison to currencies and securities.

This approach, however, leaves much to be desired as the traditional use-cases for cryptocurrencies are more complex and require more nuanced regulation. For instance, there is well-placed concern around blockchain technology being used for money-laundering purposes. And unfortunately for much of the world, bitcoin regulation has been reduced to anti-money-laundering regulation, which as a regulatory response to cryptocurrencies basically misses the plot. In the past ten years it is clear that the cryptocurrency movement has successfully demonstrated both the decentralisation of money as a concept, as well as the durability of the technology that powers it. The cryptocurrency ecosystem is now charging through the mainstream economy, having long grown past its early-adopters. For regulators, therefore, treating cryptocurrencies merely as objects that facilitate money-laundering is an incredibly myopic view of the technological disruption that is well on its way to forever changing our understanding of money.

A progressive example of short-term regulation is being set by Japan and Singapore. The Japanese have quickly shed insecurities around “preserving” the Yen and gone on to declare bitcoin as legal tender without the excess baggage of central bank control on circulation. Having learnt from the infamous collapse of Mt.Gox in 2013 (then Japan’s and the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange), Japan has mandated cryptocurrency exchanges to maintain capital reserves, restricted co-mingling of customer funds, and implemented stringent know-your-customer procedures. In Singapore, its regulator is offering a “regulatory sandbox” to innovative businesses that wish to raise funds in an ICO. The sandbox approach shows the openness of the Singaporean regulator to work with industry stake-holders in jointly figuring-out and solving for regulatory difficulties by experimenting and learning in a closely-controlled setting.

Howsoever inconvenient, the ideal approach to regulating cryptocurrencies in the long term will be to treat them as an asset-class of their own. While some may be given the status of legal tender, it is unlikely that all the 1400-odd “cryptocurrencies” on the market today will gain acceptance that is comparable to bitcoin. It then becomes imperative to decide what should be the legal status of these other digital assets that are, say, only a store of value, but not a legal tender. Apart from the basics, there will also be a need to build regulations for enabling services such as wallet and storage services, custodian services, KYC norms for investors, brokerage and trading rules for cryptocurrency exchanges, etc.

In the short term, regulating it as a commodity may rock the boat. But in the medium to long term, it is essential that cryptocurrencies and other digital assets are regulated as an asset class of their own. And governments that move progressively and move early will set benchmarks for others.

For most regulators, including the Indian government, it will be essential to develop the right approach. The decentralised nature of blockchain will allow very limited control to any centralized institutions, and their seamless application across borders will also make it difficult for a solitary government to regulate it as per its own whims and fancies.

But blockchain networks are built on widespread consensus and any effective regulation will also be through consensus—at least amongst major world governments. As a rising global power, India has both the responsibility and the influence to move regulations in a manner that suits the developing world.

If the rise of bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies are anything to go by, it is clear that bans or other stifling measures will be difficult to enforce. Regulators are already finding it tough to adjust to the new world order and let go of the absolute control they are so used to exercising. Regulatory models will either have to evolve, or as the Bitcoin community puts it, risk getting #Rekt!

We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

Article originally posted by qz.

The case against library fines—according to the head of The New York Public Library

There’s no doubt that we are currently living in a fractured world, one in which the divide between rich and poor is widening, opportunities for the disenfranchised are declining, and the lines between fact and fiction are increasingly blurred.

Public libraries are on the front lines every day, combatting these threats to our democracy. Whether loaning wi-fi hotspots to give patrons access to the internet and help close the digital divide, helping immigrants learn English, offering free citizenship classes, providing early literacy programs to close the reading gap, or simply loaning books (and, yes, people still read books—circulation at The New York Public Library went up 7% last year over the previous year), libraries ensure that no one—regardless of beliefs or background—faces barriers to learning, growing, and strengthening our communities.

It is because of this role, so crucial to our democracy of informed citizens, that I and many others at libraries across the country have been seriously evaluating the complex and long-standing issue of library fines – and whether to do away with them.

While relatively small library fines have been a punchline in pop culture over the years (Jerry Seinfeld’s “library cop” is an icon, for example), the fact is that for many families across the US, library fines are a true barrier to access. At The New York Public Library, $15 in accrued fines prohibits one from checking out materials. The reason for this policy may be obvious—it’s incentive to get books returned and back on our shelves—but is it really effective? For those who can afford the fines, paying a small late fee is no problem, so the fines are not a particularly strong incentive. On the other hand, for those who can’t afford the fines, they have a disproportionately negative impact.

At our 125th Street Library in Harlem, for instance, a young mother tried to check out a wi-fi hotspot so her daughter could do her homework. Homeless, the family couldn’t afford broadband internet, and her daughter’s grades suffered. Unfortunately, her library card was blocked, not because the family was irresponsible, but because one night, they were abruptly moved from one shelter to another, and in their haste to leave, they left behind a library book and DVD. The fines accumulated quickly, and without any way to pay them, their only hope for internet access was no longer available.

Our branch managers have the authority to use their good judgment to waive fines, and in this case, that’s exactly what happened. But that piecemeal, personal approach isn’t a solution.

In October, The New York Public Library, along with the Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library, took a step in the right direction, offering a one-time fine amnesty for kids and teens. All students got a fresh start, no questions asked, hopefully prompting them to return and use our array of free resources.

Kids rekindled their relationship with reading, learning, and libraries after we offered the amnesty.

One month in, we saw successes. About 41,000 kids and teens, or 10% of those who previously had fines, used their library cards to access library resources. Of those 41,000, 11,000 had blocked cards or a lapsed relationship with the library, meaning they hadn’t used the library for at least a year. So we know 11,000 kids and teens have rekindled their relationship with reading, learning, and libraries one month after we offered the amnesty. We will continue to monitor this, as we expect numbers to continue to increase as we continue to get the word out about the program.

While I am proud of this initiative, it is a one-time solution to a problem that is not going away. Before the fine forgiveness program, at The New York Public Library, 20% of our 400,000 juvenile and young adult patrons had blocked library cards; nearly half of those were concentrated in the poorest quartile of our branches. In addition, we know the heartbreaking truth: that there are families who refuse to even use the library for fear of accumulating fines.

These realities have prompted several library systems to experiment with fine elimination over the last few years. The relatively small Stark County District Library system in Ohio, as one example, waived fines in 2014, and one year in, saw positive results – an 11% increase in circulation, an increase in items checked out, and no significant increase in lost items, those never returned. The Columbus Metropolitan Library announced a fine-free 2017. Just this month, the Yankton Community Library in South Dakota—inspired by our efforts in New York—decided to experiment with fine-free borrowing. And the Omaha Public Library recently announced that is exploring the possibility of fine free borrowing in its system.

In 2011, The New York Public Library launched a program called MyLibraryNYC to provide fine-free borrowing to students at eligible NYC public schools. Kids in the program borrow 37% more materials than kids who are not in the program; teens 35% more. At the same time, the number of lost items represents a small percentage of all items checked out as part of the program, showing that kids are indeed bringing the books back. Positive test cases like this show that fine-free lending is an experiment worth broadening. I would like to lead the way, but for large urban systems, the lost revenue would be significant, and a serious issue that must be addressed before we can move forward. While library systems have many sources of funding, the fact is fines do contribute (sometimes millions of dollars) and that needs to be addressed.

What is truly the greater moral hazard? Having fines or not having fines?

Over the next year, I plan to meet with my counterparts at library systems across the US to discuss this issue, and develop innovative ideas that would allow systems big and small to eliminate this barrier to access. I hope that we can count on our partners in government and on the private side—those who support early literacy, the end of the digital divide, and opportunity for all—to work with us, perhaps to help libraries recoup lost revenue and examine eliminating library fines. Support from the JPB Foundation, which works to improve quality of life for low-income people, is what allowed us to do New York City’s one-time amnesty. Innovative, consistent support could ensure that financial hardships do not prohibit a family from taking advantage of a public resource built to help them.

I understand there are some who will balk at this experiment, wondering if the elimination of fines poses a “moral hazard”? To be clear, I’m not advocating a system with zero accountability. Patrons would need to return their items before checking out new ones, and still pay for lost items. I’m advocating a system in which a family does not need to choose between dinner and using the public library.

And so I must ask—what is truly the greater moral hazard? Having fines or not having fines? In my view, teaching kids that the library is not an option for the poorest among them is absolutely unacceptable.

Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

“The Simpsons” predicted its own takeover by Disney 20 years ago

Disney will acquire most of 21st Century Fox in a blockbuster dealworth $52 billion, the two companies announced today. Disney will get Fox’s TV and film studios, its cable TV networks (FX and National Geographic), and its stake in Hulu, which gives the Mouse House a controlling stake in the streaming service.

The deal will transfer the ownership of a number of popular films, television series, and character rights to Disney. Among those properties is the most beloved animated series of all time, The Simpsons.

And as it has often done, The Simpsons saw the big news coming long before anyone else.

In a 1998 episode of the series, “When You Dish Upon A Star,” The Simpsons joked that 20th Century Fox, the company’s movie studio, had fallen under the umbrella of Disney. A scene takes place at the Fox studio lot, where a sign can be seen that reveals the company is now “A Division of Walt Disney Co.”

You can watch the full scene here in Spanish. (The English version isn’t readily available online, but the prediction is a visual gag in the first seconds of the clip.) In the English version, director Ron Howard, voicing himself, goes to pitch a movie to his frequent collaborator, producer Brian Grazer:

The Disney prophesy is just one of several foretold by Matt Groening’s legendary comedy series. In 2000, for instance, the show predicted Donald Trump’s presidency.

The fate of shows such as The Simpsons is still to be determined. Fox will retain control of the Fox broadcast network (which broadcasts The Simpsons) but how the channel will move forward without the TV production company that fuels it is unclear.

It’s possible that The Simpsons, already renewed for at least a 29th and 30th season, could end up on a different network. That’s one development the show didn’t see coming.

Article originally posted by qz.

Robots are being used to shoo away homeless people in San Francisco

The San Francisco branch the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has been ordered by the city to stop using a robot to patrol the sidewalks outside its office, the San Francisco Business Times reported Dec. 8.

The robot, produced by Silicon Valley startup Knightscope, was used to ensure that homeless people didn’t set up camps outside of the nonprofit’s office. It autonomously patrols a set area using a combination of Lidar and other sensors, and can alert security services of potentially criminal activity.

These robots have had a string of mishaps in the past. One fell into a pond in Washington, DC, in July. Another ran over a child’s foot in California in 2016. And Uber, which is no stranger to the ethical quandaries of what it means to be gainfully employed by a company, has used the robots in San Francisco.

Knightscope’s business model, according to Popular Science, is to rent the robots to customers for $7 an hour, which is about $3 less than minimum wage in California. The company has apparently raised over $15 million from thousands of small investors.

In a particularly dystopian move, it seems that the San Francisco SPCA adorned the robot it was renting with stickers of cute kittens and puppies, according to Business Insider, as it was used to shoo away the homeless from near its office.

San Francisco recently voted to cut down on the number of robots that roam the streets of the city, which has seen an influx of small delivery robots in recent years. The city said it would issue the SPCA a fine of $1,000 per day for illegally operating on a public right-of-way if it continued to use the security robot outside its premises, the San Francisco Business Times said.

Article originally posted by qz.

Green Coffee Bean: Weight Loss Fact or Fiction? You Decide…

Green coffee beans are unroasted seeds of the plant Coffea Arabica. During roasting, the natural antioxidants present in the coffee beans are removed, which is not at all beneficial for our health. But as these green coffee beans do not go through the same procedure, they are considered as highly beneficial for our overall health. Read on below to know more on green coffee beans benefits:

Benefits of Green Coffee Beans for Health:

1. Rich In Anti-Oxidants:

Green coffee beans are rich in antioxidants, which reduce the damaging effects of free radicals in our body and take care of our overall health. A number of studies have confirmed that raw and unprocessed green coffee beans possess 100% pure Chlorogenic Acid (CGA), which is basically an ester of caffeic acid having strong antioxidant properties. It can put a check on the levels of glucose in our bloodstream and prevent our skin cells from getting dented.

2. Boosts Metabolism:

The Chlorogenic Acid present in green coffee beans is also known as a metabolism booster. It increases the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) of our body to a great extent, which minimizes excessive release of glucose from the liver into blood. Due to the lack of glucose, our body starts burning the stored fat cells in order to fulfill its glucose requirement. Thus, pure green coffee beans raise our fat burning capability and eventually help us shed off excess weight.

3. Helps Burn Extra Fat:

These beans also contain large amount of kelp. It is a certain type of seaweed loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. Therefore, it helps in maintaining the levels of nutrients in our body. In unison, it perks up the burning metabolism of our body so that we can burn out unwanted fat and calories fast.

4. Suppresses Appetite:

If you are suffering from frequent hunger pangs, green coffee beans can help you very much. Being a strong and effective appetite suppressant, it can control our cravings for food and averts us from overeating. So, our body starts burning the fat deposits and we get rid of additional weight.

[ Read: Lavender Oil Benefits ]

5. Treatment Of Diabetes:

These green beans are also capable of treating Type 2 Diabetes successfully. Their extract is known to lower high levels of sugar in our bloodstream, while accelerating weight loss. Both of these are essential for curing Diabetes Mellitus Type 2.

6. Reduces Levels Of Bad Cholesterol:

Our cholesterol levels can be checked considerably with green coffee beans. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), also known as ‘bad cholesterol’, is the main culprit that makes us vulnerable to deadly cardiovascular disorders including cardiac arrest. Studies have shown that it can be prevented by consuming green coffee bean extract regularly.

7. Helps Improving Blood Circulation:

High blood pressure can lead us to several fatal diseases like stroke, heart failure, chronic renal failure, etc. But researchers have found the presence of a very active and powerful aspirin-like ingredient in green coffee beans that imposes a positive impact on our blood vessels by preventing platelets from getting clustered. As a result, our arteries don’t get hardened and the circulation of blood throughout our body is improved to a great extent.

8. Used For Natural Detoxification:

Green coffee bean extract is a natural detox. It cleanses our liver to make it free from toxins, bad cholesterols, unnecessary fats, and so on. As the liver is detoxified, its functions improve a lot which eventually perks up our metabolism and improves our overall health.

[ Read: Dates and Diabetes ]

9. Boosts Energy:

Due to the presence of high amount of caffeine, green coffee beans can be used as excellent energy booster. They can raise our energy level and keep us active during the whole day.

Benefits of Green Coffee Beans for Skin

10. Reduces Effect Of Free Radicals:

Chlorogenic Acid present in green coffee beans can reduce the effects of free radicals in our body up to 10 times than regular green tea. As the beans are not roasted, there are some other antioxidative agents from the polyphenol family, Ferulic Acid, etc., which decelerate the ageing procedure and give us youthful skin.

11. Enhances Immune System:

These coffee beans are highly effective in enhancing our immune system. Due to the occurrence of potent free-radical busters, they can help our body eliminate all types of toxic and damaging elements. Consequently, we can get rid of dull and acne-prone skin.

12. Helps Slowing Down The Appearance Of Signs Of Ageing:

Green coffee beans are also known to retain high levels of volatile materials as they do not need to undergo the roasting procedure. Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), Theophylline, Epigallocatechin Gallate, etc. are some of such ingredients that can help us maintain our skin health and avert the appearance of wrinkles.

[ Read: Cinnamon Benefits Diabetes ]

13. Helps Moisturize Skin:

Apart from the antioxidant agents, green coffee beans are also rich in fatty acids and esters including Arahidic Acid, Linoleic Acid and Oleic Acid, which nourishes and moisturizes our skin to stop sagging, discoloration and other severe damages.

Benefits of Green Coffee Beans for Hair

14. Removes Substances That Damage Hair:

Antioxidant content of green coffee beans is equally beneficial for our hair. As it helps us fight against everything toxic and damaging, our hair remains strong, healthy and beautiful.

15. Fights Baldness:

Androgenetic alopecia, also called ‘female pattern hair loss’ can also be cured with green coffee beans. The extract of these beans can boost the growth as well as thickness of our hair strands significantly.

On the whole, green coffee beans are worth a look if you want to take optimal care of your health, skin and hair.

Original

Mercedes-Benz has had enough of the Modi government’s tax tinkering

Mercedes-Benz, India’s top luxury carmaker, is unhappy with the Narendra Modi government’s frequent tinkering of the new goods and services tax (GST).

Since July, when the GST was launched, the government has rejiggedthe tax structure on several items, revised deadlines, and made policy U-turns. So, what was intended to simplify the old multi-layered tax system has only ended up confusing more people.

Among those impacted are the country’s luxury carmakers, like Mercedes-Benz, on whom the government has imposed a sin tax, meant to discourage the use of certain items. A high rate of tax, along with an increased levy of cess charges, after the September GST rejig, has taken the total tax charges on certain cars up to 50%.

Auto makers, obviously, weren’t amused—and the head of Mercedes-Benz in India isn’t mincing his words.

“There has to be a radical change in the very approach to taxation in this country. I just don’t understand why there’s a sin tax on luxury cars,” Roland Folger, managing director and CEO of Mercedes-Benz India, told the Press Trust of India. “If (the) government can rationalise and bring in certainty to the taxation regime, if not bring it down, we can easily double our volumes and also add on to the number of jobs in just about two years.”

This isn’t the first time that Mercedes-Benz, the luxury brand of German automaker Daimler AG, has expressed its displeasure with the rejig in rate slabs. The management had earlier said that the frequent tweaking of taxation policy had made planning for India highly risky.

In an emailed response to Quartz, the company reiterated its September statement that the luxury car market in India has the potential to grow but is affected by unfair taxation:

Though (the) luxury car industry’s volume contribution is very low, our value-wise contribution is much higher and that has immense potential to grow even more in the future, had there been fair taxation. However, by continuous taxation of the segment, the overall revenue generation is going to be hurt, as the increase in price is going to hurt demand. It seems the contribution of luxury car industry to the total PV (passenger vehicle) market in India will remain constricted, though in the other developed economies, it is on a higher side and continues to rise gradually. With this increase in cess now, the prices are bound to leap back to the pre-GST regime, in some cases higher than the pre-GST regime, thus negating altogether the benefits of GST regime.

Other carmakers, such as Toyota Kirloskar Motor and Audi, are also unhappy with India’s policy flip-flops and hike in taxes.

And there’s more coming: A committee has recommended about 100more changes to be made to the GST Act.

Even though the GST has been in the works for about 17 years, its launch in July revealed a number of nagging problems. In terms of tax rates, certain items of necessity had been placed in higher tax brackets, making them more expensive (these were eventually rolled back). The internet-based GST system has also battled technical glitches. Moreover, several business have raised concerns over the frequency of filing every month. So now that has been relaxed for small businesses with an annual turnover of Rs1.5 crore ($233,100).

Therefore, from changes on tax rates to procedures and the frequency of filing, the last six-months under the new tax regime has ended up being mainly about frequent changes and roll-backs. Evidently, not everybody is pleased with this constant fiddling.

Article originally posted by qz.

Flickr says these are the best photos of India in 2017

A billion photos are posted on Flickr each year, many of them capturing India’s various shades. Be it the vibrant streets of Rajasthan, the calm of Leh and Ladakh, the packed neighbourhoods of Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar, or the fishing villages of Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, every corner of the country has a different sight to offer.

Flickr showcases a variety of such images in its “Top Photos from India in 2017” list, which was created using a combination of algorithms and curation by the photo-sharing site’s staff. First, the computer calculated the top photos based on a number of social and engagement metrics, such as how many times the photo was viewed, favourited, or shared. Then, the staff parsed through the raw data manually to avoid the results being “a complete popularity contest,” or to pick the top-ranking photo from a photographer who cracked the list multiple times.

Here are the photographs:

Butt to butt... - "Explored" by Nitin Chandra
Butt to butt… – “Explored” (Flickr/Nitin Chandra)
In a jiff it turned like this... by Amritash
In a jiff it turned like this… (Flickr/Amritash)
India, Kids Having Fun by Dietmar Temps
India, Kids Having Fun (Flickr/Dietmar Temps)
Near Bara-lacha la pass, India 2016 by reurinkjan
Near Bara-lacha la pass, India 2016 (Flickr/reurinkjan)
A REMOTE WORLD [Explore] by Claudia Ioan
A Remote World [Explore] (Flickr/Claudia Ioan)
Selfie by Rk Rao
Selfie (Flickr/Rk Rao)
Lago Tsomo- Riri, Ladakh, Himalaya by Carmen Villar
Lago Tsomo- Riri, Ladakh, Himalaya (Flickr/Carmen Villar)
Bandra-Worli Sealink by Sal Virji
Bandra-Worli Sealink (Flickr/Sal Virji)
X by Nimit Nigam
X (Flickr/Nimit Nigam)
Street Colors by Stefano Trezzi
Street Colors (Flickr/Stefano Trezzi)
The Trapped Sun by Sankha Chakraborty
The Trapped Sun (Flickr/Sankha Chakraborty)
Reflections of Love - Taj Mahal of India by Chandana Witharanage
Reflections of Love – Taj Mahal of India (Flickr/Chandana Witharanage)
Jain Temple, Ranakpur India by Jochen Hertweck
Jain Temple, Ranakpur, India (Flickr/Jochen Hertweck)
India- Gujarat- Adiwasi village- (Explore) by Donatella Venturi
India- Gujarat- Adiwasi village- (Explore) (Flickr/Donatella Venturi)
Masha Mirian and Zeke by Anoop Negi
Masha Mirian and Zeke (Flickr/Anoop Negi)

Article originally posted by qz.

Scientists have connected 3D-printed objects to the internet without electronics

Rejoice! We have finally connected a laundry detergent bottle to the internet.

A group of researchers at the University of Washington have created a method for 3D-printing and detecting information from plastic objects that aren’t connected to the internet themselves.

The researchers’ innovation is twofold: First, they print objects with a combination of plastic and copper filaments. Then, using “backscatter techniques,” they’re able to detect any changes to the objects they’ve printed using a wifi router. In this case, backscatter is essentially the radio waves emitted from a wifi router that bounce back to the device. Knowing whether a wave bounces back at a specific place can determine whether the thing it’s bounced back off of has changed at all. In the case of the team’s research, they printed a few different objects with wave-reflective surfaces—the copper parts of what they printed—and when there are changes to those surfaces, they can measure them with a wifi-enabled device attuned to the wifi signals.

The team printed objects to show how this could work in practice, including a button, a wind-speed measuring device, a dial, and a moveable gear. When they’ve moved—such as when the button is pressed, the dial is turned, the wind blows through the devices, and so on—the conductive copper surface will connected and disconnect from the wifi. Those devices can then be used to interact with the internet—the button turned on a computer, the dial scrolled a web browser, and a slider controlled a digital slider.

UW engineers have developed the first 3-D printed plastic objects that can connect to other devices via WiFi without using any electronics. The 3-D printed attachment above can sense how much laundry soap is being used — and automatically order more when the bottle is running low. Credit: Mark Stone/UW Photography
An electricity-free liquid flow monitor, attached to a bottle of detergent. (Mark Stone/UW Photography)

All of these objects are rough examples of things we use in our daily lives that contain relatively expensive circuitry (and the possibility of being hacked) that could be potentially be constructed at home using simple 3D printers for less, such as internet-connected switches. There’d be no concerns about battery life of wifi-enabled devices like these, as they don’t require any power to run.

The team’s work also opens up the possibility of adding internet connectivity to everyday items. They constructed a simple water flow measurement device that could in theory be incorporated into the design of any bottle, so if you’re running out of milk, detergent, or maple syrup, the speed at which liquid is flowing over the sensor could alert the web to reorder that item for you.

So in the near future, groceries could know when they’re running low, and automatically reorder themselves for you; and perhaps the surfaces in your home themselves will be controllable through the internet. It’s like an Amazon Dash button that you don’t even need to press.

Article originally posted by qz.

A coworking space by women, of women, for only women

In 2015, when Vandhana Ramanathan (30) and Jinal Patel (26) launched their digital marketing agency, they realised that running a business involved a lot more than just having a great idea. Initially, the two marketing professionals from Chennai only worked out of coffee shops but, as they grew in scale, they felt the need to have an office. Yet, this meant spending a lot of time and resources on administrative work, distracting them from solely focusing on the business.

“We realised there must be so many women out there who must be facing similar dilemmas and they must have given up in the process…and we thought let’s make it easy, let’s be that solution,” Patel told Quartz.

In March 2017, the duo bootstrapped and launched Wsquare, a women-only co-working space in Chennai that helps entrepreneurs and professionals focus on their work without having to worry too much about office-related or domestic chores. “We come across people who’ve just started or somebody who has relocated from a different city…when they come into a co-working space, they’re looking for a little more than just the (office) space, so that’s something that we do,” Patel explained.

Female entrepreneurs can do with this support. Today, just around 14%of all Indian businesses are run by women, and many female professionals still battle workplace-related issues that deter them from pursuing their careers. It’s this segment that Wsquare is targeting. In the last eight months, over 150 women have registered to use the co-working facility, around 80% of whom are entrepreneurs. The rest are students, researchers, freelance professionals, or remote employees of large companies.

Gap in the ecosystem

Besides the standard fare—wifi connectivity, coffee, etc.—Wsquare offers services like delivery of groceries or chopped vegetables, home-cooked meals, and crèches. It also organises workshops on branding, social media, yoga, and life-coaching sessions. The facility can accommodate around 30 people, and includes private workstations, a lounge, a conference room for 25 persons, a smaller meeting room, and an outdoor patio. Wsquare also has facilities to meet the specific needs of women, including ergonomic chairs suitable for expectant mothers.

“The best part about this place is we get to connect with different people… we get to meet new people, new connections,” said Manisha (who chose not to share her last name), a freelance designer and owner of a gifting boutique, who works from Wsquare. Also, as someone who works odd hours, operating from a women-only office gives her family confidence that she’s safe, she added.

Arthi (who also chose not to share her last name), a remote employee of a Bengaluru-based company, prefers a women-only workspace as it allows her to be less self-conscious than she would be at any other office, and work at an informal setting like at home, but without domestic distractions.

“A women-only co-working space can be safer, to begin with… they can be built for women…there are examples of similar co-working spaces elsewhere in the world and the reason they’re women-only is so women can have their privacy,” Sairee Chahal, founder of women-only job portal SHEROES, told Quartz. “A sense of safety and community is really important, especially in professions where women are working alone and are not a part of a team or an office.”

Jobs, exhibitions, and more

Although Wsquare started out as a co-working space, it’s now trying to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

Once a month, it organises a marketplace where home-based entrepreneurs can showcase their products like jewellery, clothes, and food products, and find buyers. Each month, over 50 women register to be part of the marketplace, according to Patel.

“This place has given more mileage to my business and more people have come to know of me. They (the Wsquare co-founders) promote entrepreneurs who work here. In the initial stages of the business, they give you that extra bit, that initial push,” Manisha said.

In July this year, Wsquare also launched a job-search app called Wconnect. “We started getting a lot of people asking for jobs,” Patel said, specifically citing examples of women attempting a comeback in the corporate world following maternity breaks. So, the company has tied up with recruiters who help the users find jobs.

Starting next year, Wsquare plans to launch a 12-week accelerator program called Wincubate, to mentor women aspiring entrepreneurs and women who are already running businesses. “Today there are people looking for guidance but they don’t know where to get it,” Patel said, explaining that young entrepreneurs come with good ideas but need help with shaping the ideas and learning to establish scalable businesses.

But is Wsquare itself a sustainable, and profitable business? A tightlipped Patel declined to share any details.

Article originally posted by qz.

The Japanese words that perfectly sum up how the country felt this year

Japan’s buzzwords of 2017 have been announced.

The winner is sontaku, a hitherto little-used and neutral term that best represents the Japanese political zeitgeist this year, as criticism over prime minister Shinzo Abe’s concentration of power grew sharper. The word refers to people who perform pre-emptive acts to ingratiate themselves to their superiors, and came into use this year with reference to a scandal relating to a nationalist-school operator that implicated Abe and his wife.

In second place is insuta-bae, a word which combines “Instagram” with “haeru,” meaning to shine or to stand out, and is used to describe the manner in which individuals and businesses alike all chase the perfect Instagram photo and “likes.”

The words were chosen by publisher Jiyukokuminsha and a panel that includes, among others, an academic and an actress. The committee said (link in Japanese) that sontaku was the most-searched term on the online Japanese dictionary goo for four straight months.

Other contenders in the shortlist of 30 words (link in Japanese, paywall) were:

  • Aufheben: a German word used by philosopher Georg Hegel which translates to “sublation” that was used by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike this year in reference to the planned relocation of the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo to a new location in Toyosu. Koike said the government’s intention was to “to stop and take stock of what the market is now before taking it to a higher level.”
  • Unko kanji doriru (drills): The title of a wildly popular series of books published featured a poop-shaped professor who teaches Japanese children how to write Chinese characters, or kanji.
  • Hatarakikata kaikaku: The term meaning “work-style reform” was frequently used by government officials and companies this year as Japan tries to tackle problems such as overwork and inefficiency—for example by promoting working remotely and reprimanding companies with poor labor practices, most notably advertising giant Dentsu, which was fined after it was found guilty of working an employee to death.
  • J-arato: “J-alert,” the early-warning system that sends alerts to people’s phones warning of potential emergencies, was originally meant for natural disasters, but in 2017 the system became associated with incoming missiles from North Korea.

Last year’s winner was kamitteru, or “godlike,” a slang word that went viral (paywall) after baseball team Hiroshima Carp manager Ogata Koichi used it to describe outfielder Suzuki Seiya’s home runs. The award was given to two words in 2015, including another baseball-related word, “triple three” (toripuru suri), which refers to players who achieve a .300 average, 30 home runs, and 30 stolen bases in a season. The other was bakugai, or “explosive buying,” referring to Chinese tourists’ shopping sprees in Japan.

Article originally posted by qz.