Our galaxy’s supermassive black hole looks amazing in virtual reality

If you’re anything like us, you’re awaiting the first-ever direct-observation photographs of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of The Milky Way, with bated breath. But, you might want to go ahead and exhale, because it could be awhile.

In the meantime, we suggest enjoying a virtual tour created by an advanced physics simulator.

The simulator, developed by a team of scientists from the Netherlands and Germany, relies upon the most up-to-date data astrophysicists have gleaned on Sagittarius A*. It’s purpose is to produce a visually and astro-physically accurate portrayal of the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

And, while we have no way of confirming they’ve succeeded, we sure do hope this is what a black hole really looks like, because it’s gorgeous:

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The above 360 VR experience can be enjoyed on a regular screen, but it’s absolutely mesmerizing in 3D-space with a headset.

Jordy Davelaar, first author on the project’s research paper, told EurekAlert:

Our virtual reality simulation creates one of the most realistic views of the direct surroundings of the black hole and will help us to learn more about how black holes behave. Traveling to a black hole in our lifetime is impossible, so immersive visualizations like this can help us understand more about these systems from where we are.

Asked why he thinks the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy looks like this, Davelaar explained it wasn’t his vision, but the science that dictated the appearance. He told a reporter with the Radboud University news site:

In our coding for the simulation, we used Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. This enabled us to visualize all the effects you would experience when you move around a black hole, such as light deflection, the distortion of your field of view due to your speed. This provides the most realistic possible experience of what we think this environment is like. The simulation is unique and is even more realistic than the visualizations in the film “Interstellar.”

And, until the images gathered by the recent Event Horizon Telescope project – which you should totally read about – are actually developed, this is the closest we’ll come to seeing the majestic supermassive black hole at the center of The Milky Way for ourselves.

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Deep dive into Latin America’s last-mile delivery startups

The last-mile delivery apps servicing the $2 trillion USD e-commerce market are drawing global attention, notably those that deliver products, groceries, and restaurant-made meals on-demand.

McKinsey reports that nearly 25 percent of consumers are willing to pay a significant premium for the privilege of instant or same-day delivery. Younger consumers are also more inclined to choose on-demand over regular delivery options, and this share will likely increase over the next few years.

In Latin America, the last-mile delivery market is becoming one of the most competitive in the world. Luckily, the region’s consumers are benefiting from this competition, as startups are rapidly expanding and improving their services across the region.

But the dominant startups potentially face new threats from Amazon, Walmart, and other e-commerce giants entering the region with the logistical expertise and capital to scale their operations even faster.

Here’s a look at some of the current opportunities, challenges, and key players in Latin America’s last-mile delivery space.

The massive delivery opportunities in Latin America

According to a report by Freight Waves, the demand for last-mile delivery services has increased by 50 percent in the last 18 months around the world.

Startups are sprouting up in Latin America to tap into this demand, reducing delivery costs and transit times by working with the thousands of idle people who own a bike, motorcycle, or car and wish to monetize their free time.

For many people in Latin America, participating in the on-demand economy is an alternative way to boost their income above minimum wage levels.

In countries where a large percentage of the population earns minimum wage, on-demand delivery drivers can make up to two times more money, plus work flexible hours and even qualify to receive benefits.

It remains to be seen if the new class of gig economy workers is happier with this business model over traditional 9-5 jobs, but financially-speaking, it is an increasingly attractive alternative.

Earnings vary between cities and can depend on the timing and type of delivery service provided, but a “rappitendero” (a courier for the delivery service Rappi) can earn up to an extra US$100 per week in Mexico City.

Some Rappi couriers claim to make as much as double the minimum wage (which is below $300 per month USD) in Colombia.

It’s not an option to leave a package at the front door of a Latin American city dweller because it’s likely to get stolen, so many consumers must spend additional time and money on a trip to the post office to pick up an online order.

Parcel lockers are one option, but instant or same day courier services via bicycle and motorcycle are already common in Latin American cities for delivering documents and restaurant meals.

With city populations already accustomed to receiving services this way, it is only a matter of adding a layer of technology to streamline and expedite orders from online retailers and other local businesses. On-demand delivery services are targeting the final step in the delivery process that has been without technology for a long time.

The traditional car model often used by delivery services in the U.S. such as UberEats, is also not an option in complex and chaotic megacities like São Paulo or Mexico City.

In these cities, a simple trip to the supermarket can take up to three hours, a painstaking task neither consumers nor couriers want to endure. Therefore, most last-mile delivery startups in Latin America operate with a fleet of bikes and/or motorcycles, which keeps delivery experiences fast and affordable.

Another factor that makes Latin America’s on-demand delivery market stand out when comparing it to other regions in the world is the number of businesses and services that accept cash as a form of payment. In Latin America, cash is still king, with as many as 400 million people living and working outside of the traditional financial system.

By inviting users to pay with cash, last-mile delivery startups are tapping into the instant delivery demand without excluding a significant number of potential customers.

So let’s take a look at the regional startup successes.

Rappi

A combination of Uber Eats, TaskRabbit, and Instacart, Rappi is one of the few services that truly delivers “everything.” Founded in Bogotá, Colombia in 2015 by Felipe Villamarin, Sebastian Mejia, and Simon Borrero, the company started out delivering alcohol and drinks from local stores.

But as users started requesting other items from shops, the company added the option to deliver anything, charging users approximately $1-2 USD per order delivered, or a flat $7 USD per month for Rappi Prime.

Rappi took off quickly in Bogotá and Mexico City and now serves more than one million customers across Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina with its fleet of more than 30,000 couriers.

The company participated in the Silicon Valley accelerator program, Y Combinator, and has raised significant funding from US firms such as Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital.

$105 million USD of its funding came from Delivery Hero, a leading online food company headquartered in Berlin, Germany and the company recently raised another $200 million USD round led by DST Global, pushing its valuation over $1 billion USD.

Mercadoni

Another rapidly-growing delivery service founded in Bogotá, Colombia, with operations in Mexico, is Mercadoni. A leader in the grocery delivery segment, Mercadoni also allows users to purchase items from local shops such as liquor stores, drugstores, pet shops, and more for delivery straight to their doorstep.

Founded in October 2015 by Antonio Nunes, Margarida Freitas, Nicolas Fernández Talice, and Pedro Freire, the app has more than one million downloads and more than 500,000 registered users across Colombia. In Mexico City, Mercadoni has more than 80,000 users and counting.

In January 2018, Mercadoni received a $9 million USD investment from Brazilian Naspers backed mobile giant, Movile, to help consolidate its presence in these countries. The company has raised more than $17.2 million USD to date.

Cornershop

In January 2015, Cornershop launched its on-demand grocery delivery service in Mexico and Chile. Founded by Daniel Undurraga, Juan Pablo Cuevas and Oskar Hjertonsson, the team behind ClanDescuento, a daily deals site in Chile that was acquired by Groupon in 2010, the company’s founders used their expansive knowledge of the Latin American market from their time working with Groupon to turn Cornershop into one of the leading delivery services in the region.

With a rapidly growing inventory of supermarket partners and global retailer partners such as Office Max and Petco, Cornershop delivers hundreds of thousands of orders each month on-demand in Mexico and Chile and has plans to expand across Latin America.

In an interview with Forbes Mexico, the company claims they are experiencing double-digit month to month growth. Cornershop recently raised an impressive $21 million USD round led by Accel Partners, bringing its total funding to $31.7 million USD and an eventual acquisition by Walmart for $225 million USD.

Glovo

Available in 61 cities in 17 countries, Glovo is becoming a delivery powerhouse. The app allows users to order nearly anything for delivery in under an hour. Founded in 2015 by Miguel Vicente, Oscar Pierre, and Sacha Michaud and headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, Glovo delivers more than one million orders per month and has more than 5,600 partners worldwide.

The company launched its on-demand delivery service in Santiago, Chile at the end of 2017, marking its entrance into the Latin American market.

Today, Glovo operates in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru and shows no signs of slowing down. Its biggest worldwide competitor, Uber Eats, is also available in six markets in Latin America.

Combined with the considerable local competition mentioned above, Glovo faces an uphill battle for market share despite having plenty of cash (more than $176 million USD) to make it work.

The global giants and challenges ahead

The competition to become the last-mile leader is heating up with new startups and global retailers continually launching and setting up shop in Latin America.

But as Amazon, Walmart, and other companies start going after Latin American consumers who are buying online, we may begin to see the existing delivery leaders shift their strategies and reconsider partnering with each other in order to maintain their share of the market.

Mexico is one of the largest markets for last-mile delivery companies, and Walmart is already experimenting with motorcycle delivery service.

Uber Eats and Postmates, which both arrived in Mexico between 2016 and 2017, are also battling against Walmart and the delivery services mentioned above. UberEats has more than 7,000 bicycle, motorcycle, and car delivery partners in Mexico City, while Postmates launched with approximately one thousand.

In Brazil, the delivery app Loggi, which was founded by Arthur Debert, Eduardo Wexler, and Fabien Mendez and matches shippers with motorcycle couriers and may secure $150 million USDfrom Softbank, is another one to watch in Latin America’s megacities.

Softbank is no stranger to the on-demand space, investing in both DoorDash and Uber, and the Japanese conglomerate could help Loggi defend its local turf.

Amazon is another looming threat for nearly every business in Latin America’s e-commerce market as well. The retailer began operating in Brazil selling Kindle readers, and recently added electronic goods and some household products.

In Mexico, Amazon has similar retailing operations as its U.S. business model and is now rumored to launch in Chile, Colombia, and Argentina, though it faces some challenges all three countries. It’s also up against homegrown MercadoLibre, which has a well-established logistics network and free delivery options.

While not many of these companies want to reveal their numbers, there are rumors that one of the larger players in Latin America loses more than $1 per USD delivery, meaning that if they don’t become profitable, they run the big risk of failing.

Just look at why so many last-mile delivery startups in the US, such as Doorman, couldn’t find a sustainable model and lost so much money they had to close up shop.

In the not too distant future, we may also see many of these services integrating their own payment processors to facilitate more person-to-person payments, and as a result, operating more like a fintech than just a last-mile service.

Rappi is already leading the way with RappiPay, a service that allows users in Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil to exchange points for deliveries and even cash, though the cash option is only available in Brazil for now.

When more and more of these apps allow users to deposit cash and exchange credits between users, they soon could become attractive alternatives to traditional banking services, given that a large percentage of the Latin American population remains unbanked.

With more people heading online in Latin America, fast and efficient delivery options are a top priority for consumers in cities such as Mexico City, Bogotá, and Buenos Aires.

Heavy traffic and nightmarish lines at retailers are making last-mile delivery apps and services more attractive than ever.

Both startups and large e-commerce players are scaling their operations quickly to meet this demand, with hopes of providing the best user experience possible and cementing their spot in consumers’ minds and devices across the region.

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Film stalwarts save one of the few cinephile-friendly streaming services

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Film stalwarts save one of the few cinephile-friendly streaming services

One of the few streaming services dedicated to classic movies was recently earmarked for destruction. After one prolonged outcry from the film industry and fans, the Criterion Collection announced it’d be reviving a version of the same service, making life just a bit easier for amateur cinephiles out there.

Last month, the Turner Classic Movies streaming service, Filmstruck, became a casualty of the AT&T merger with Time Warner Cable. Called “subscale” by the former company, it was set to be quietly shut down in time for the big Warner Media streaming service due to launch sometime in the future.

As I’ve previously observed, it’s really darned hard to be a cinephile with the most popular streaming services. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO seem to offer only a miniscule number of classics at any given time, leaving open a chance for anyone to take advantage of this deficit. Filmstruck was one of the services that filled the gap, and its closure meant the stoppering of a rare source of classic film. With its ignominious death, the whole genre of film appeared to be in a pretty bleak position.

Within days, a massive petition to save Filmstruck began, garnering over 50,000 signatures. According to Hollywood Reporter, the massive campaign led to a smaller, more directed effort involving some of the most respected names in film. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro — someone lit a very specific Batsignal over Filmstruck, and it appears the company sat up and took notice.

According to Criterion:

We are incredibly touched and encouraged by the flood of support we’ve been receiving since the announcement that FilmStruck will be shutting down on November 29, 2018. Our thanks go out to everyone who signed petitions, wrote letters and newspaper articles, and raised your voices to let the world know how much our mission and these movies matter to you. 

Criterion specified the films would be available both on this independent streaming service and the future WarnerMedia site — meaning cinephiles might, at least for a while, have the option of partaking of its font of classics while not having to buy into the entire AT&T streaming service.

The Criterion Channel will launch next spring. According to the company’s site, the subscription fee will be $10.99 a month, though early adopters will be able to get it for a reduced price ($9.99 a month).


New, Independent Criterion Channel to Launch Spring 2019
on Criterion

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Our galaxy’s supermassive black hole looks amazing in virtual reality

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Breakthrough neural network paves the way for quantum AI

Italian researchers recently developed the first functioning quantum neural network by running a special algorithm on an actual quantum computer.

The team, lead by Francesco Tacchino of the University of Pavia in Italy, pre-published their research on ArXiv earlier this month in a research paper titled “An Artificial Neuron Implemented on an Actual Quantum Processor.”

Basically, they developed a single-layer artificial neural network (ANN) that runs on a quantum computer. This kind of rudimentary ANN is called a perceptron, and it’s the basic building block of more robust neural networks.

Previous attempts at building a perceptron on a quantum system have involved treating individual qubits as neurons in a network. This is a cumbersome and insanely complex method that’s failed to produce much in the way of actionable results.

Tacchino and company decided to try a different approach:

Here we introduce an alternative design that closely mimics a Rosenblatt perceptron on a quantum computer …We experimentally show the effectiveness of such an approach by practically implementing a 2 qubits version of the algorithm on the IBM quantum processor available for cloud quantum computing.

IBM’s Q Experience computer, a five-qubit cloud-access quantum system, has long been billed as a way to interact with quantum computing for those of us who don’t have millions to spend on laboratories and access to world-class physicists and engineers. But, typically, it’s thought of as an educational tool.

One of the big problems with quantum computers is that there isn’t any software, programs, or codes for them. It’s hard to write code for a machine that defies the laws of physics. But it’s not impossible.

The Italian team proved that by successfully running their perceptron algorithm on the IBM Q system and using the resultant neural network to conduct image classification tasks. To the best of our knowledge this is the first time this has been done.

Right now all it can do is tell which of three basic patterns a given image has. And, while that doesn’t sound very impressive, it’s worth putting it in context with the idea of quantum advantage.

According to the researchers:

Our algorithm presents an exponential advantage over classical perceptron models, as we have explicitly shown by representing and classifying 4 bits strings using 2 qubits, and 16 bits strings using only 4 qubits.

This simply means that neural networks running on quantum systems could, potentially, be exponentially more robust than those running on classical systems. The implications for this amalgam of AI and quantum computing are, well, beyond imagination.

What happens when we develop machines capable of acting as translators between the raw underlying language of the universe and humankind?

That’s a question best left for philosophers. But in the world of physics, as researchers learn more about ANNs, and engineers develop more advanced quantum computing systems, it’s possible a new class of machine learning will arrive to replace the old classical deep learning networks.

Tomorrow’s intelligent machines won’t be either AI-powered or quantum — they’ll be both.

H/t: MIT Technology Review

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Deep dive into Latin America’s last-mile delivery startups

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Three types of cryptocurrency tokens explained as quickly as possible

Welcome to Hard Fork Basics, a collection of tips, tricks, guides, and advice to keep you up to date in the cryptocurrency and blockchain world.

Considering there are well over 2,000 cryptocurrencies on today’s market, the average cryptocurrency investor faces being veritably overwhelmed by choice.

That certainly sounds like a lot, but pretty much all cryptocurrency falls into one of three token categories: currency, utility, or investment.

Each group requires different rules and regulations to ensure their issuance and exchange is above board with government regulators. Depending on the country, cryptocurrency startups may also have to register their business with regulators depending on the token issued.

So, let’s take a look at what each of the classifications mean, quickly.

Currency tokens

This is the original (and most straight-forward) form a blockchain-derived token can take.

Tokens can be classified as currencies if (and only if) they were created entirely as a means of payment for goods and services external to the platform running the token.

For example, Bitcoin is seen as a currency as it was created with the intention of replacing fiat money. As such, Bitcoin holders are able to use their Bitcoin to purchase goods and services from shops, online retailers, and other merchants.

It’s worth noting that the SEC has deemed both Bitcoin and Ethereum to be currencies, after both were found to be too decentralized to be anything but.

Utility tokens

These digital assets are built to provide investors with something other than a means of payment.

This typically comes in the form of access to a particular product or platform. For example, many cryptocurrency exchanges have issued their own native cryptocurrencies for customers to use to reduce trading fees.

The primary difference between a currency and a utility lies in the fact that holding a utility token provides the investor with access to a function provided directly by the businesses who issued it.

In our cryptocurrency exchange example, the holder is only granted access to reduced trading fees through the use of that token.

Most tokens created on blockchains (like EOS and Ethereum) are essentially utility tokens, as each one is intended to be used natively on a single platform, such as a decentralized app (dApp).

Investment/asset tokens

Investment tokens are perhaps the most complicated to classify. Inevitably, most become securities in the eyes of financial regulators like the SEC and FINMA.

Tokens found in in this group are the assets that promise a positive return on their investment (besides profits generated from rising market prices).

Such returns are usually distributed by the platform itself or the company that created it.

The most famous example is the MakerDAO – an autonomous, smart-contract powered blockchain organization that reinvested profits from its ICO to generate more profit for holders.

This was deemed to be the critical factor that allowed the SEC to retroactively classify the digital assets issued by MakerDAO as investment tokens (and by extension, securities).

Well, there you have it! The three major types of cryptocurrency assets. It’s worth mentioning that they can also come in hybrid forms, such as utility/investment tokens, but that’s for another day.

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Here’s how to make editing text on iPhones a gajillion times easier

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Here’s how to make editing text on iPhones a gajillion times easier

We’ve all been here before — you’re trying to text someone on your shiny pretty iPhone, and you make a spelling mistake. Or autocorrect messes up your sentence. Or you change your mind on what you want to say.

You then drag your dumb, clumsy finger across the text field to your mistake, so you can fix it without starting the whole message over again.

But trying to move the cursor in the text field accurately is like winning the lottery — it just won’t happen.

But wait! What is this? A hack?

Yes, my friends, a hack. Here’s how to scroll, pain-free, with your very own fat fingers.

Step 1: Hold the space button down

Put your finger on the space button and leave it there.

But where did the letters go???

Step 2: Move your finger

If you need more explanation for this step, I’m not sure how else to help you.

Oops! Meant *huge stool sample

Voilà! You have scrolled, without deleting your entire message. Congratulations, and you’re welcome.

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Hackers infect official Make-A-Wish site with cryptocurrency mining malware

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Hackers infect official Make-A-Wish site with cryptocurrency mining malware

It seems crypto-jackers have absolutely no ethical standards. After governments, universities, and technology giants, even charitable organizations are finding themselves at the receiving end of cryptocurrency malware. The latest victim is the US-based Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Researchers from security firm Trustwave found that one of the foundation’s websites – worldwish.org – was compromised with cryptocurrency malware known as CoinImp. The malware infects the website with a malicious script to steal visitors’ computing power to covertly mine cryptocurrency.

A screenshot of Make-A-Wish Foundation’s website showing the CoinImp mining script. Source: TrustWave.

The researchers note the origin of the malware is likely Make-A-Wish’s decision to use an outdated version of Drupal’s content management system.

Earlier this year, researchers reported hackers had targeted nearly 100,000 Drupal sites as part of a malware campaign that later became popular as “Drupalgeddon 2.” Trustwave suspects the Drupalgeddon hackers might be responsible for the attack on Make-A-Wish too.

According to Trustwave, the mining script has since been removed from the Make-A-Wish website.

Crypto-jacking scripts have become a menace over the past year, infecting websites all across the globe.

Hackers were able to exploit 400 prominent websites using outdated versions of Drupal, including those of the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Chinese tech company Lenovo, Taiwanese network hardware maker D-Link, and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

It’s not only Drupal sites at risk though. More than 300,000 routers in India and Brazil were found to be infected with cryptocurrency mining malware earlier this year.

A research conducted by McAfee Labs found that more that 2.5 million new cryptojacking scripts were installed just in the second quarter of 2018.

It’s worth pointing out that mining scripts aren’t always planted by hackers. Charities, including Unicef and Change.org, used it on volunteer-basis to raise money for their initiatives — although critics raise doubts on its effectiveness.

If you’re concerned about your computer being unscrupulously used to mine cryptocurrencies, here’s a handy guide on how to stop it.

Published November 19, 2018 — 16:42 UTC

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Scaling Bitcoin: A beginner’s guide to the Lightning Network

Welcome to Hard Fork Basics, a collection of tips, tricks, guides, and advice to keep you up to date in the cryptocurrency and blockchain world.

The Lightning Network is getting so big that its capacity has recently surpassed the $1.5 million mark.

Its proponents peg the Lightning Network as Bitcoin’s most promising scaling solution. It’s said to be able to handle 50,000 transactions per second – a figure nearly double what VISA claim to process.

But if the Lightning Network isn’t a blockchain, what is it and how does it work? This article will try and answer these questions as quickly as possible, but first it’ll help to have a little reminder about the problem it is trying to solve.

A reminder about Bitcoin’s scalability ‘problem’

Bitcoin BTC transactions are verified using a process called proof-of-work, while it’s great at confirming transactions, it’s kind of slow and cumbersome. By design, Bitcoin transactions take a while to verify – in comparison to our world of instant gratification at least.

As Bitcoin has grown in popularity, the slowness of its verification process has become the focus of a contentious debate about how the Bitcoin blockchain should be “scaled” to increase its throughput. There are numerous solutions being developed, and the Lightning Network is one such proposal.

So, what is it?

You might often hear people talk about the Lightning Network as a “second layer” payment protocol. Basically, this means it exists “on-top” of a blockchain. The main principle behind the Lightning Network is that not all transactions need to occur on the blockchain.

Essentially, the Lightning Network allows two people to transfer cryptocurrency directly, rather than via the main Bitcoin blockchain.

Say David and I are regularly paying each other back in Bitcoin for the beers we’re always buying each other. Rather than paying each other back directly, using conventional (and slow) Bitcoin transactions, we could set up a Lightning Network payment channel.

When we setup this channel, what we’re actually doing is setting up a special kind of wallet that only we can access. Initially, we would both put some Bitcoin into that wallet and use those funds every time we want to quickly send some coins to each other.

Every time I buy David a beer, he can pay me back quickly and directly with minimal fees using this channel. When we decide to close this wallet our final balances are settled using Bitcoin’s proof-of-work blockchain.

Effectively, the Lightning Network operates by generating IOUs between the parties of a payment channel. Technically, no one actually owns the money held in that channel whilst it is open.

When it’s closed, all of those IOUs are settled, and the Bitcoin balances of all relevant parties are amended accordingly with the most up-to-date transaction record, ensuring their validity.

Sounds great, what’s the catch?

While taking payments off the blockchain might lower transaction times and fees, it also introduces some new challenges.

If a Lightning Network node “goes down” the payment channel will automatically close. Any funds held in that channel will be updated and the remaining balances sent to the users of that channel using the blockchain. So, if node failures became common it could make using the network quite frustrating.

As Lightning nodes need to be online all the time to keep the payment channels open, “cold storage” of funds held on the Lightning Network is not possible. With that in mind, it would seem the Lightning Network will only ever be suitable for low value transactions.

Also, by operating “off-chain” the Lightning Network sacrifices some of the security associated with a cryptographically secured decentralized system. Earlier this year developers warned that the Lightning Network could be susceptible to denial of service attacks as a result.

To deliver a more robust system, the Lightning Network may end up creating a more centralized payment network. Given that blockchain and Bitcoin is supposed to be decentralized, the jury is still out on whether this is a politically sustainable strategy.

Published November 19, 2018 — 15:39 UTC

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Asus and Gigabyte left with mining hardware surplus as crypto-hype dwindles

It seems the cryptocurrency hype from last year has left tons of hardware manufacturers with more motherboards and graphics cards than people care to buy – and things might get even worse in 2019.

Asus and Gigabyte are purportedly struggling to unload excess hardware stock now that interest in cryptocurrencies and mining has significantly dwindled, DigiTimes reports.

Fooled by the temporary boom in the cryptocurrency market, Taiwanese manufacturers ramped up production for mining hardware in the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, following a sudden dip in cryptocurrency prices and a slew of complications from the prolonged US-China trade war, interest in mining hardware seemingly disappeared in the third quarter of 2018.

Indeed, Asus saw a 43-percent drop in earnings in Q3 compared to last year, and Gigabyte recorded its lowest quarterly level since 2008. MSI seems to be the only manufacturer that is doing alright, posting a 6.6-percent loss for Q3 year-over-year.

An abundance of cryptocurrency mining hardware

Taiwanese manufacturers are hardly the only ones dealing with surplus in hardware.

Nvidia recently reported a huge decline in graphics card sales. In fact, the company went as far as saying it is done with the mining business once and for all. “We believe we’ve reached a normal period as we’re looking forward to essentially no cryptocurrency as we move forward,” Nvidia CFO Collette Kress said.

Rival AMD is also trying hard to push mining hardware. The company recently kicked off a promotional explainer page to familiarize people with the various “use cases and applications” for blockchain – other than cryptocurrencies, that is. But really, the page read more like an ad than an actual explainer.

Published November 19, 2018 — 15:58 UTC

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The ultimate guide to Instagram for small ecommerce brands

When you look at Instagram’s journey over the past year, it’s been nothing if not a constant evolution. From the changes it’s made to its algorithm, to the expansion of stories, to the release of shoppable media, it’s evident that the company’s ambition is to become the most interactive and engaging social platform on the web.

With that being said, if you had asked marketers this time last year what they thought of Instagram, they would’ve probably labeled it as the “brand builder” of social networks  that is, a great tool for building an audience, but lacking the necessary features to generate leads or drive substantial web traffic.

However, all of this changed earlier this year when Instagram released its most game-changing feature for ecommerce brands to date: shoppable posts.

The release of shoppable posts has now afforded ecommerce companies the luxury of tagging products within an individual image, so that users can tap a product and be sent straight to the “add to cart” section on the ecommerce site. It seems that the days of “shop via link in bio” might soon be a thing of the past…

Though adding shopping tags to your Instagram posts is an exciting concept, it isn’t as simple as just clicking a button. In order to be eligible for shoppable media, you must first meet the criteria listed below:

  • Have the latest version of the Instagram app
  • First make sure you have a business profile on Instagram
  • Are an admin on a page or business manager account
  • Have a product catalog associated with a shop on Facebook
  • Sell physical goods and comply with Instagram‘s merchant agreement and commerce policies

But it’s not over when you tick these boxes either. As a small ecommerce business looking to drive revenue through shoppable posts, there are a number of other factors you must take into account to truly succeed. So, here are my top five tips to set you up for success on the platform:

Create great content

This might sound like an obvious one, but the first step to turning your Instagram into a revenue generator is to create content that your followers love.

This means analyzing what type of content has previously done well on your feed, and then producing more high-quality, HD content just like it.

Posting images that are consistently high-resolution will give your feed that crisp and professional look that is needed to make you stand out among your competitors.

Vans is a great example of a company that does just that. It’s clear that the company’s photos were taken by a professional, and that time and effort went into editing them as well. As such, if you want to produce content of a similar caliber, consider hiring a part-time photographer/editor.

This will provide you not only with a large backlog of content that you can save for future posts, but also photos and videos of the highest quality.

Experiment with influencer marketing

Influencer marketing isn’t a great fit for every brand, and there are a number of things you must consider if you want to do it right. If you think it might work for you, your best bet for driving revenue through shoppable posts is to work with some micro-influencers who operate in your industry. Micro-influencers will help you reach smaller, targeted audiences, which will more likely convert to sales. Here’s a great example of a watch brand doing just that.

As influencer marketing continues to grow in popularity, it’s bound to become more critical to the success of your company’s shoppable posts.

Earlier this year, the Association of National Advertisers surveyed 158 brands to examine the state of influencer marketing, and found that 75 percent of them already used influencers. Of those that did use influencers, 43 percent were planning to increase budgets in the coming year; of those that didn’t, 19 percent planned to make it a part of their marketing strategies in the coming 12 months.

Research, and use the most optimized hashtags

When you’re a small brand starting out on Instagram, getting that initial traction can be the most frustrating part. The best way to get over this hump is by cracking the code to feature on Instagram’s Explore page  where users are exposed to diverse posts and accounts based on who they follow and what they like  as often as possible.

You can do this by using and engaging with the most optimized hashtags within your community. For instance, if you’re selling watches, using niche hashtags such as #watchfam, #wristlove, #watchesofinstagram, and #watchaddict could be the key to getting your content on the much sought-after Explore page.

A number of apps like Top Tags or Leetags can help you decide which hashtags that you should be using. The ultimate goal is to optimize your hashtags for optimum exposure, much like Bed Bath & Beyond does here.

Make your product-oriented posts shoppable

Assuming you’ve met the criteria to be eligible for shoppable posts described above, it’s finally time to tag your products and actually make your feed shoppable.

Tagging your products will allow users to tap the image, then tap the description, and be sent straight to the “add to cart” section on your website. Instagram has laid out a detailed guide on how to do it here.

Although a feature like shoppable may seem exciting, it’s crucial that you don’t overload your audience with product-focused posts.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to product shots is that they account for about 40-50 percent of your posts every two weeks.

Some brands that are killing it when it comes to shoppable posts are Gap and Glossier. Their feeds can provide great examples of how you can best strike a balance between shoppable and other styles of content.

Turn existing Instagram posts into ads

Once you’ve gotten the hang of optimizing your Instagram from an organic standpoint, you can start considering whether or not you’d also like to allocate some budget for paid advertising.

Previously, the only way you could run a paid ad on an organic post was through the “promote” button. Now, however, Instagram has released a feature allowing brands to turn their existing Instagram posts into ads within Power Editor and Ads Manager.

This new development is a huge deal considering that one of the trickiest things about running ads is choosing creative that you think will perform well from a click-through perspective.

For small brands that want to run ads and convert more customers, this generally requires you to see what has already performed well to make the decision-making process much easier.

With the new feature, it’s much easier to run tests with a small budget. Once you figure out a formula that works for you, it can be a very sustainable way to grow your sales.

Using these five tips, you can quickly and easily set yourself and your ecommerce business up for success on Instagram. But there are numerous other features and functionalities you can trial to make your business stand out on the platform as well, such as finding your voice on stories, testing our Instagram Live, and even creating more long form content on IGTV.

With all of that in mind, there’s no doubt Instagram is much more than a brand builder  it’s a true revenue-generating machine.

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