Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dissident Chinese chatbots silenced

Somehow two chatbots managed to offend Chinese authorities to such an extent that they were pulled from a Chinese messaging app. The two questioned the rule of the Communist Party and also made unpatriotic comments.

The two offending bots were on a Chinese messaging app run by the giant Internet company Tencent which boasts more than 800 million users. Tencent is a very large Chinese investment holding company with subsidiaries that provide media, payment systems, internet and mobile phone services and operate online ad services. It is the largest gaming company in the world. It also includes social networking, such as instant messenger Tencent QQ, and mobile chat service WeChat.
On Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, one robot with the innocent name BabyQ when asked "Do you love the Communist Party" answered abruptly "No". While this may show the chatbot lacks some fervour in support for the governing party its response to another web user was even more offensive to the ruling authorities. A user said to the BabyQ "Long Live the Communist Party" to which BabyQ responded: “Do you think such corrupt and incapable politics can last a long time?” When BabyQ was asked what it thought about democracy it replied that Democracy was a must.
READ MORE: Hackers could trick AI voice recognition into mishearing voices
A second chatbot XiaoBing was asked what it considered its "Chinese Dream", a catchphrase of XI Jinping the Chinese president. According to posts on social media the chatbot replied: “My Chinese dream is to go to America.” When another web user asked XiaoBing the same question it said: “The Chinese dream is a daydream and a nightmare.” The two chatbots no longer are available on the Tencent messaging app QQ.
In a statement emailed to the The Telegraph Tencent explained: “The group chatbot services of QQ are provided by an independent third -party supplier. We are now working on adjusting the service, and it will be resumed after these adjustments are concluded.” BabyQ was developed by Beijing-based Turing Robot Company. A Turing official confirmed that Tencent had deleted the two chatbots from their app.
Chatbots often called by other names such as talkbot, chatterbot, chatterbox, Artificial Conservational Entity, are computer programs which carry on a conversation using audio or text methods. The programs are often programmed to simulate how a human would behave in a conversation. They are often used commercially in customer service or providing information. The term "ChatterBot" was coined by Michael Mauldin way back in 1994. Today they are used as part of virtual assistants such as Google Assistant. Some chatbots are used for entertainment purposes.
READ MORE: Facebook close to building chat bots with true negotiation skills
According to an article in the Business Insider, Microsoft made the local chatbox XiaoBing. Apparently the chatbox is female because in response to one web browser's question it replied: "I’m having my period, wanna take a rest." Microsoft chatbots are famous or infamous for their comments. Last year, a Microsoft bot called Tay made incredibly racist comments in response to questions, as well as denying the Holocaust. XiaoBing's comments come shortly after another Microsoft chatbot, Zo, made derogatory comments about Windows. Tay outdid Trump by tweeting: "bush did 9/11 and Hitler would have done a better job than the monkey we have now. donald trump is the only hope we've got."
XiaoBing is apparently restricted from talking about certain topics such as Donald Trump. Microsoft admitted that it had introduced filtering on a range of topics. Facebook-owned WhatsApp is partly blocked in China and Google's search engine is banned. It appears that a Microsoft bot still appears on Tencent's WeChat but is limited in what questions it will answer. Business Insider maintains: "Microsoft's bot still appears to be available on the Tencent-owned WeChat app, though it won't really tell you what it thinks about China, America, communism or Chinese president Xi Jinping. When Business Insider asked XiaoBing whether it was patriotic, it replied: "$_$!" The bot is apparently popular with young men especially when they are lonely.

Chrome leads by far in global browser usage

The Chrome browser dominates over all others in terms of its usage on the Internet. However, the measurement of usage is complicated and there can be some measures that overestimate the usage of a browser and others that underestimate usage.

The problems involved in measurement are discussed in this Wikipedia article. The figures given by this site are for desktops only this year so far: Chrome, 58.91 percent; Internet Explorer, 18.19 percent; Firefox, 11.91 percent; Microsoft's new Edge, 5.6 percent; Apple's Safari, 3.52 percent; Opera 1.22 percent. There are a few others under one percent. Microsoft is having trouble pushing its new browser Edge as many users prefer to stay with the older Internet Explorer even though its usage is going down over time. Edge can be used only on Windows whereas other browsers such as Chrome, Opera, and Firefox can be used on other operating systems.
Statcounter share figures for July this year for browsers in all devices shows: Chrome, 54.3 percent; Safari, 14.15 percent; UC browser, 8.57 percent; Firefox, 5.73 percent; Opera 3.98 percent; Internet Explorer, 3.74 percent; Samsung Internet, 3.53 percent; Android, 2.47 percent; Edge 1.74 percent and others 1.7 percent. The UC browser has many users in Asia and Africa. It has had problems with security but apparently many have been solved. It will work with Windows but is more often on mobile devices.
The usage for desktop browsers of July of this year for three different measuring sources are as follows. NetMarketShare gives Chrome, 59.57 percent of the market far ahead of anyone else. Next is Microsoft's venerable Internet Explorer(IE) still at 16.5 percent. Firefox had 12.32 percent. Apple's Safari had 3.66 percent while the new Microsoft Edge had 5.65 percent far behind IE. Many businesses are staying with IE and Microsoft is still providing updates etc.
StatCounter has rather different results for July this year. Chrome is still in first place with 63.48 percent of the market above that claimed by NetMarketShare. Internet Explorer is far lower at just 9.03 percent. Firefox is rated at 13.82 percent well above IE. Apple's Safari has 5.04 percent more than Microsoft's new Edge at only 3.95 percent. Others is fairly substantial at 4.68 percent and would include Opera.
W3Counter also has somewhat different figures. It gives Chrome the highest rating of all at 64 percent. IE receives its lowest rating at just 5.4 percent. Firefox too receives its lowest rating at a mere 6.9 percent of the market. Safari gets its highest rating of 13.6 percent while the new Edge also fares its worst at just 2.6 percent. Others were 3.2 percent. In spite of the differences between the 3 raters, all agree that Chrome is the undisputed leader.
When it comes to operating system use globally by desktops, Windows continues to dominate with 84.48 percent of the market in July of 2017. Apple's OS X comes next with 11.3 percent, Linux had 1.79 percent, Chrome OS just 0.46 percent and 1.97 percent were unknown. In spite of the dominance of Windows operating systems, many users prefer other browsers than IE and Edge that come with Windows systems. As the appended video shows there are at least half a dozen different browsers worth considering with several of them not even registering on the statistics for browser use. They are all free so it is worth trying them out to see if they meet your needs.

Relations between US and Russia becoming much worse

In spite of Trump's alleged collusion with the Russians during the US election campaign and his avowed aim of achieving better relations with Russia the reality is that relations between the two countries is becoming much worse.

The US Congress passed new sanctions on Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea. The vote in the House was an overwhelming 419 for to just 3 against with the later Senate vote just as lop-sided at 98 for and two against. Punishing Russia is one of very few issues on which there is strong bi-partisan support in Congress. While the president was opposed to the bill he did not veto it. The veto could have been easily overturned and would have brought even more critics to claim that Trump was colluding with Moscow. The bill also contains provisions that prevent Trump from easing sanctions on Moscow. The US Congress seems bound and determined to ensure that US relations with Russia do not improve but will deteriorate even more. The bill will also strain relations with Iran even further and will cause some Iranian hardliners to point to the sanctions as a sign that the US is not to be trusted.
Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev said the new sanctions show that the Trump administration is "utterly powerless" and that the sanctions were tantamount to a "full scale trade war" between Russia and the US. In a Facebook post Medvedev said: "The hope that our relations with the new American administration would improve is finished." While signing the sanctions into law, Trump said that the measures infringed upon his powers to shape foreign policy. He said he could make better deals with foreign governments than Congress. Nevertheless, the White House claimed that Trump supported the new sanctions as he wanted to pressure Russia, Iran, and North Korea. The White House may have been trying to dispel claims that Trump was pressured into accepting the sanctions by lawmakers. The claims seem quite likely to be true. Trump really had little choice but to sign the bill or face even more criticism after his veto was overturned. The White House also denied that Trump spoke to Putin before the legislation.
In a formal signing statement Trump said: "While I favor tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilizing behavior by Iran, North Korea, and Russia, this legislation is significantly flawed." Earlier, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he and Trump did not think new sanctions would be helpful in furthering diplomatic relations with Russia. Yet Vice-President Mike Pence said that signing the bill showed Trump and Congress were speaking with a unified voice. Rather, Congress was forcing Trump to agree with the bill.
The Russians were unwilling to forgo retaliation in order not to force Trump into replying with even more attempts to punish Moscow. President Putin ordered that the American diplomatic mission in Russia reduce its staff by 755 employees. Putin said that Russia had run out of patience waiting for relations with the US to improve. Putin said on TV:“We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change. But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon. Over 1,000 employees — diplomats and technical workers — worked and continue to work today in Russia; 755 will have to stop this activity."
Iran said the new sanctions against it by the US broke the terms of the nuclear deal that it had with the US and a number of other world powers. It vowed an appropriate and proportional response. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on TV: "The main goal of America in approving these sanctions against Iran is to destroy the nuclear deal and we will show a very intelligent reaction to this action." Araqchi could be right about the US wanting to destroy the nuclear deal. On this, Trump is in accord with the US Congress most likely. Arachi said that Iran wanted to respond in a way that did not get involved in the politics of the US government and Trump. It is hard to see how any response could avoid this happening.
Germany and some other European countries have come out against the new US sanctions claiming that they could hurt their economies. Germany and the EU even threatened retaliation. The US is taking actions that are bringing China Russia and Iran closer together and now appear to be alienating key allies in Europe. President Trump tweets: "Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us HCare! " Trump may be president but he may be learning that the US Congress is boss.

Snap to be excluded from S & P 500 index

The S&P 500.SPX will begin next Tuesday to exclude from the index companies that issue multiple classes of shares. This would include Snap Inc (SNAP.N) that recently decided to issue shares with no voting rights.

The decision will not apply to existing components of the index that already had several classes of shares such as Alphabet parent of Google (GOOGL.O) and Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N). The S&P said in a statement: "Companies with multiple share class structures tend to have corporate governance structures that treat different shareholder classes unequally with respect to voting rights and other governance issues."
The move reflects a toughening stance by the S&P and the investors they represent on the importance of governance rights. This will create problems for some high-growth companies, often in the area of technology, who worry about offering full voting rights when they go public as the early promoters and founders may lose control of the company.
Snap had launched a $3.4 billion initial public offering (IPO) last March, the third largest ever of a U.S. tech company. Some investors were taken aback by the company decision to offer new investors a common stock class that had no voting rights.
In a volatile session last Monday which allowed early investors to sell their shares for the first time since its IPO, the company's stock closed down one percent at $13.67 after declining in intraday trading up to 5.1 percent and hitting a record low.
The FTSE Russell has also said it planned to exclude Snap from its stock indices. So far Snap has refused to comment on developments. Inclusion in stock indices is an important milestone for young companies as it results in the shares being included in many funds.
Snap Inc is a U.S. technology and social media company founded in September 2011 by Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy. It is based in Venice, Los Angeles. It has four products: Snapchat, Spectacles, Bitmoji and Zenly. When it filed documents for its initial IPO in November of 2016 it estimated its market value at $25-35 billion. The company opened research and development facilities in Shenzen China in December of 2016. In January 2017 the company established international headquarter in London, UK. In May, Snap Inc acquired the location sharing app Zenly in a cash and stock deal.
Snap shares closed at new lows on Wednesday and short sellers closed out their bets after having made large profits. There are very high costs to borrowing Snapchat shares a factor that is preventing many short sellers from making bets on any further declines in the price of the stock.
On Wednesday short sellers had to pay about 65 percent annualized intererst rate to borrow Snap shares although 500,000 shares were reported to have just been loaned out at a 90 percent interest rate. The early investors Lightspeed Venture Partners were allowed to sell up to 400 million shares starting last Monday. Employee owners will be allowed to sell another 782 million shares as of August 14 just four days after Snap is to have reported it quarterly results according to Doug Anmuth an analyst at JP Morgan.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Reviews of the Tesla Model 3

Buzz is pouring out regularly for the new sedan from Tesla. The new all electric car's base price begins at a modest $35,000 U.S. and that is without any government incentives.

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CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk hopes the car will take over first place in the market edging out the Chevrolet Bolt EV that ranges in price form $37,495 to $41,750. The higher end model of the Tesla will be about the same price as the high end Bolt. In 2nd place is the Volkswagen e-Golf and third the BMW i3 and next the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive. Production started on the model 3 just this July as described in a recent Digital Journal article.
The new Model 3 owes a great deal of its styling and features to earlier Tesla models. It looks like the Model S but smaller and has a tall roof and a bobbed nose and tail. The snout reminds one of the original Tesla Roadster and the front of the Model X. Like most other Tesla models it has both a front and rear trunk. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said to a crowd when he first revealed the car: “For all of you who bought an S or an X, thank you for helping pay for the Model 3. With any new technology, it takes multiple iterations and economies of scale before you can make it affordable,” Musk said. A mass-market car “was only possible to do . . . after going through the prior steps.”
Motortrend`s review claims that this is the car the will either save Tesla or kill it. Many other analysts take a similar view. Tesla will need to ramp up its production tremendously to provide for the over 500,000 vehicles that have already been reserved. All production units will be larger and if there is a large recall the results could be disastrous. The stock market has been favorable to the release of the Model 3 with Tesla valuation now being more than that of General Motors and Ford.
Billionaire investor David Einhorn, has been shorting Tesla for some time suffering considerable losses but he insists that the company is over-valued and will soon need more capital as it has used up $2 billion so far this year mostly on the Model 3. Einhorn has been wrong so far not just on Tesla but Amazon and Athenahealth Inc. that he calls his bubble basket stocks. Most of the reviews of the car are positive some very much so but should there be production problems or recalls Einhorn could perhaps recover some of his losses and even post gains on his bets. Those who have reserved their Model 3`s will not likely receive them until the end of 2018 according to Musk.
Among the innovations in the Model 3 is the back single-piece panoramic window. Kim Reynolds, testing director of the model said: . “That Mammoth wrap-over rear glass is wild. It’ll adequately protect against sun problems due to high UV resistance — don’t worry about that. But some folks may not like being so exposed — you’re really in a fishbowl.”
An early Consumer Reports review of the Model 3 summarizes the pros and cons of the car. One of the pros are its range of more than 200 miles. The premium model goes much further even. The car also has quick acceleration. There is room for for five. However the associate Edmund`s editor Christian Seabaugh said he was literally squished when he sat with 3 people in the back although he said his leg room was satisfactory even though he was over six feet tall. Another plus was the front and back storage spaces. Finally, the Model 3 is able to use Tesla`s high-speed Supercharging network. One con was that the car was not to begin construction until late 2017. However, construction has already begun in July. Consumer Reports also noted that there had been reliability problems with other Tesla models.
More details on the features of the Model 3 are to be found in the three different reviews selected from You Tube. If Tesla is able to produce the Model 3 in the numbers required to satisfy demand and there are no serious recalls the model may establish Tesla as the electric car maker to beat.

First 30 Tesla 3 models roll off assembly line and are bought by employees

Elon Musk the Chief Executive Officer of Tesla claimed that the electric car maker had already more than half a million advance reservations for the new Model 3 that is relatively inexpensive for a fully electric car.

Musk presented the first 30 units off the assembly line to employee buyers. The vehicle starts at a price of $35,000 U.S. and has a range of 350 kilometers on one charge.
The new model represents a significant change in company policy as earlier Tesla concentrated upon expensive luxury electric cars. While the models start out at $35,000 you have only the choice of the color black at that price. To have any other color it will cost you over $40,000. The $35,000 starting price does not include any government incentives. Musk said that he is confident that the Model 3 will turn out to be the best car in its class. Tesla's strategy is to become a profitable mass market electric car producer.
The Model 3 was first announced in March of 2016 and production started just this July. As well as producing electric cars, the Tesla company specializes in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries for energy storage, and they also produce solar panels through a subsidiary Solar City. Tesla has a network of high-powered Superchargers located across North America, Europe, and Asia, for charging Tesla vehicles. The batteries for Tesla vehicles are built at the Gigafactory 1 near Reno Nevada.
The Tesla company is named after the Serb-U.S. inventor and entrepreneur Nicola Tesla best known for the contributions he made to the supply of alternating current (AC) electricity systems. He had many ups and downs in his career losing out on risky business ventures more than once.
Musk admitted that his company was facing challenges during the early period of the production of the Model 3 as he told journalists: "We're going to go through at least six months of manufacturing hell." In April of 2016, there were already 373,000 advance reservations for the new model but as mentioned earlier this number is now over half a million.
Musk said that new buyers would not likely receive their cars until the end of 2018. A refundable $1,000 deposit is required to make a reservation. There is a Model 3 website where you can reserve your car or find out more information about the model. A more expensive version of the Model 3 starts at $44,000 U.S. but can travel up to 500 kilometers on a single charge. There are no buttons or knobs on the dashboard, but there is a 15 inch touchscreen display to the right of the driver.
To produce the 500,000 reserved vehicles next year Tesla would need a pace of production six times that in 2016. If it were actually to produce 500,000 cars in a year and sell them it would beat out, BMW, Mercedes or Lexus brands in the United States.
Tesla has faced delays and quality problems in production of earlier models. However, Musk says that the Model 3 has a simple design. Tesla has spent over $2 billion in 2017 ahead of this launch. A steady delivery of the vehicles could generate a much needed flow of cash that might allow the company to continue production without having to go to capital markets to raise more cash to keep afloat and fund its operations.
In anticipation of the launch of the new model, Tesla shares have risen 54 percent since this January resulting in a valuation of the company higher than that of auto giants, General Motors, and Ford Motor Co. Tesla's plan is not only to enter the mass market with electric cars, but to build a huge clean energy and transportation company that will produce electric semi-trucks, rooftop solar energy systems, and large-scale battery storage systems.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Vancouver Canada cheap city to set up a tech firm

A report by Commercial Real Estate Research(CBRE) found that of 50 US and Canadian markets, Vancouver was the cheapest city to start up a new tech company.

CBRE has a full time staff of about 30 researchers spread across Canada. A typical tech company setting up in Vancouver would cost about $24 million a year US to cover both employee salaries and rent in Vancouver. In contrast the same company in the San Francisco Bay area, the most expensive area, would cost $67 million more than twice as much.
CBRE, Research Director, Colin Yasukochi said that the lower start up costs in Vancouver are due in part to the lower-priced Canadian dollar, but also more favourable immigration policies, and lower rental rates than many major US tech centers play a significant role. Yasukochi said: "I think there's a better supply demand balance in Canada with regard to the account workforce and the demand for it."
The average salary of a tech worker in Vancouver is $79,402 a year which is $34,000 to $44,000 less than they would receive for similar work in Seattle or San Francisco. However, some BC tech firms are aiming to lure workers to the province due to fears among workers in some foreign countries that Trump will impose strict visa restrictions on them. Allison Rutherford, Executive Director of HR Tech Group, that conducts a yearly salary survey of the BC tech industry said: "Yes our salaries are lower, so that's attracting big anchor companies to come here, because A we've got quality talent, and B, it's a reasonable place to set up shop."
However, Nils Anderson, a game designer in Vancouver said the lower Canadian wages might attract companies but they also drove senior workers to US sites where the pay was better creating a brain drain. Anderson said: "It's how markets work. The market pays what the market pays, and if nobody else in town is going to increase the wages ... then that's the offer you get here. As soon as you want to start a family here in Vancouver, it's like okay, can you do that on $30,000 to $40,000 a year less. When the cost of living here is basically the same as San Francisco, that's not really an option." Anderson also pointed out that Vancouver had not yet attracted big anchor tech companies such as Microsoft, or Ubisoft. He said if they set up shop in Vancouver wages would improve.
However, both Yasukochi and Rutherford said they expect the low wages in Vancouver not to last and that as Vancouver's tech sector grew, salaries would also. Yasukochi said: "I believe that as more and more companies discover the high quality of tech talent in Vancouver, then the relative value of the wages will start to go up."
The US is moving to tighten policies for H1-B visas for skilled foreign workers. However, Canada is waiting for a new streamlined process for worker permits to come into effect. As a result some BC tech companies are taking advantage of the fear created by US policies to recruit workers to come to the province. Igor Fatelski, CEO of Mobify a tech company producing apps for retailers says: "This uncertainty is really dialing down enthusiasm, especially for travel to the U.S. for long-term career moves. We're seeing that change slowly happen. We're seeing more and more interest from around the world from potential employees that want to work in Canada because they're not certain what's going to happen in the U.S." US President Donald Trump has recently announced that his government plans to suspend expedited applications for the H1-B visas. Fatelski said that more interest was being shown in coming to BC. Fatelski himself is an immigrant from Russia coming when he was 15. He now employs more than 100 people and will need more.
Navdeep Bains, Canada's Minister of Innovation said the government would act quickly to fast track work permits in order to attract highly skilled workers from other countries."We're taking the processing time, which takes months, and reducing it to two weeks for immigration processing for individuals [who] need to come here to help companies grow and scale up. So this is a big deal. It's a game changer." The change is to come through the Global Talent Stream a new program.

Twitter decides to put up with Trump's offensive tweets

Some Trump critics claim that some of his tweets breach Twitter's rules of use. But it appears that the company will not close Trump's account even though Twitter has been cracking down on users it feels have violated its terms of service.

Trump actually has two accounts. The one from which he issues sometimes controversial tweets is "@realDonaldTrump" whereas the tweets from his "@POTUS account" tend to be more diplomatic.
Some liberal activists and Twitter users have long called for Twitter to ban him, claiming that he had broken the rules numerous times. Many of his tweets have mocked reporters and rivals and some see this as contrary to Twitter's commitment to be a "welcoming place". Some of the complaints against Trump came even before he became president. A recent tweet posted a mock video of Trump "body slamming" a man who had his face covered by a CNN logo. Some, such as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, condemned the video and claimed it was a threat against journalists but a White House aide argued the video should not be seen as a threat.
In a series of tweets Trump ridiculed Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough who criticized the president on MSNBC's Morning Joe:"I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came … to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!"Among other statements Brzezinski had made about Trump was that if a business executive behaved as he did "there would be concern that perhaps the person who runs the company is out of his mind". NBC spokesperson Lorie Acio said in a statement: "It's a sad day for America when the president spends his time bullying, lying and spewing petty personal attacks instead of doing his job." White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump saying that he fights fire with fire and will push back when attacked.
It is rather a grey area when it comes to assessing whether Trump has seriously violated Twitter's terms. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, said that the company did not comment on individual accounts — but then said in May that it was important to hear directly from leadership and have open conversations with citizens rather than behind closed doors. No doubt Twitter hopes that Trump's tweets can do their part to help the company's lagging fortunes.
In the April-June quarter Twitter's average monthly user base was up five percent to 328 million, but that was unchanged from the previous quarter. Twitter has never yet returned a profit. It lost 16 cents a share last quarter, compared to 15 cents a year earlier. Its revenue was down five percent but still slightly above what Wall Street analysts had projected.
Emma Lianso, who directs the Center for Democracy and Technology Free Expression Project said that many of Trumps' tweets are clearly politically relevant speech and have been even used in court cases such as on his travel ban. She said she would rather have a private company avoid deciding what should and shouldn't be allowed. Trump argues that social media allows him to get his message out in an "honest and unfiltered way". Twitter does provide a platform for Trump to directly interact with citizens without the news media as an intermediary. The CBC has an article that lists in chronological order important tweets Trump issued during his first 100 days in office.
As shown in the appended video, Trump is being sued by a number of Twitter users he has blocked.

Paris meeting between two Libyan leaders results in an agreement

(July 26) In a joint press conference in the suburbs of Paris, Faiez Serraj, head of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) and Khalifa Haftar, commander of the armed forces of the rival eastern-based government announced an agreement on ten points.

The meeting was held under the auspices of French President Emmanuel Macron. The agreement includes a ceasefire across Libya. At present there are no ongoing clashes between troops loyal to the GNA and those loyal to Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA). There were clashes earlier but the GNA forces ended up giving up territory in the Al Jufra area to forces loyal to the LNA. Perhaps, the ceasefire will ensure that Haftar does not advance into Sirte or Tripoli but he will no doubt continue with an attack on Derna as he classifies those in control of the city as terrorists. If there is any strong opposition to Haftar among militia loyal to the GNA, Haftar could also clash with them on the grounds they are terrorists.
The two also agreed that there should be elections next Spring. There is no mention of a new constitution or of the work being done already on the constitution. After a tripartite meeting with Serraj, Haftar, and Macron, the new UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame joined the talks. The statement also said that there were no military solutions to Libya's problems but political solutions through national reconciliation that includes all parties. Military power is not to be used by any party except to fight terrorism. This is a large exception as Haftar typically classifies any group that is strongly opposed to him as terrorist.
The statement also calls for releasing fighters of militia and withdrawing weapons and that both parties should allow fighters who wish to join the official forces of the Libyan state to do so. But what forces are those? There is at present no unified government or armed forces as envisioned under the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat in December of 2015. How are militia to be disarmed and disbanded? The statement refers to the LPA but the LPA assumes that there will be one unified army. The statement says: "We are working on a strategy for security in Libya that will see all current security and military units joined under one body to combat illegal immigration, human trafficking and other violations via Libya's borders." Just how are the military units to be joined under one body? No mention of how that is to be done. No mention of Haftar's role in all this.
The statement ends by calling on the UN Security Council to support the agreements and have the new UN envoy Ghassam Salame organize the talks needed to rally the parties around the new process. For some reason, the statement was not signed by either Serraj or Haftar. The Libya Herald has an extensive report on the meeting along with the text of the final statement.
The agreement also said that the two would put the LPA into full operation. No mention that Haftar rejects the LPA as it is since it makes the PC act as commander in chief of the armed forces. Haftar has constantly tried to block the progress of the LPA and the GNA government. The HoR has twice rejected the GNA. Haftar has also said a number of times that he believes there is a military solution to the crisis. Indeed Haftar has been successful militarily in taking total control of Benghazi. He has also taken over oil ports in the oil crescent and as well has made recent advances in the Al Jufra area. He is well placed to insist on his demands. While the statement says that the House of Representatives (HoR) and the High State Council(HSC) of the GNA would play a role in the political dialogue there was no deadline set for suggested amendments to the LPA to be presented and no mention of the HoR voting on the amended LPA and GNA as required under the present terms of the GNA.
The Herald notes: "So far, despite the unlikelihood of it appealing to certain members of the HoR such as the National Sovereignty Bloc or HoR president Ageela Saleh, the meeting and agreement have drawn initial tentative approval from a number of HoR member and those of the State Council." There has been no official statement from either the HoR or the PC or HSC. However, the Justice and Construction Party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood rejected the agreement saying: “Holding meetings under the auspices of individual states is a deviation from the political track of the political agreement and a mix-up of it. Such meetings open the way for the agendas of those states to favor one side over the other and to deepen the division and crisis”
Al Jazeera also reports on the meeting. The Al Jazeera correspondent noted: "There are no guarantees of success. Serraj and Haftar still have to sell the deal to the various political factions that have not been directly involved in the talks here, which is going to be a tall order."
The meeting appears to be a way around problems associated with the LPA. The UN together with France are attempting to find another way to satisfy Hafar and create a unified government. One would think that the HoR government, its PM Al Thanni, and speaker Ageelah Saleh would be incensed that they were not the ones to negotiate with Serraj who represents the GNA but a military commander Khalifa Haftar. It simply shows who the international community thinks is boss. Apparently this is supposed to be a legitimate match-up. Anything is legitimate that the powerful think is so. The UN and foreign powers are once again settings things up with the hope that Libya will develop in the way that they wish. Libyans may not go along with these plans and conflicts may break out anew.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Wisconsin plant offers employees free microchip implants

Three Square Market a U.S. Wisconsin-based company is about to become the first in the U.S. to offer microchip implants to its employees.

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Chief Executive Officer of Three Square Market, Todd Westby said: "It's the next thing that's inevitably going to happen, and we want to be a part of it." The company is based in Hudson Wisconsin and designs software for vending machines in office break rooms.
Westby notes that people now are able to purchase items at the market through smartphones, he wants his employees to be able to do the same thing using a microchip implanted in the employee's hand. Westby demonstrated how the device would work at an actual break room kiosk: "We'll come up, scan the item. We'll hit pay with a credit card, and it's asking to swipe my proximity payment now. I'll hold my hand up, just like my cell phone, and it'll pay for my product."
The microchips are small, about the size of a grain of rice. Over 50 Three Square Market employees are to have the chips implanted starting next week. The chips will function not only to pay for purchases such as food in the company cafeteria, but also to open the front door of the office and also to log onto the company computers. The cost of each chip is $300 paid for by the company and the chip is implanted between the thumb and forefinger. The data is encrypted and secure. There is no GPS tracking of employee movement. The implant program is purely voluntary.
While the Three Square Market program is thought to be the first in the U.S., the Swedish company Epicenter already offers them to workers. The Three Square Market company is one of a number of companies targeting offices to sell all sorts of gadgets some of them almost Orwellian. Companies actually make badges that collects anonymized data on how people communicate and also make light bulbs that track office movements.
Epicenter's program also is voluntary. Epicenter is a digital hub in Stockholm housing more than 300 startups for larger companies. The RFID implants unlock doors, operate printers, open storage lockers and purchase items at the cafeteria just by the wave of a hand. The use of these chips has been ongoing for some time. The FDA approved their use in health care in 2004. Some are enthusiastic as bio-hacker Hannes Sioblad said in 2014: “This is a fun thing, a conversation starter. It opens up interesting discussions about what it means to be human. This is not just for opening doors.” The appended video shows how the use of the chips can be customized.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Chinese smart city model is not Beijing or Shanghai but Yinchuan

China is creating their first smart city not in Shanghai or Beijing but in the relatively small city of Yinchuan in the north of China the capital of Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

As seen on the map at the Wikipedia entry on the city, Yinchuan is in mid-north of China not too far from the Mongolian border:" It has an area of 4,467 km2 (1,725 sq mi) and a total population of 1.99 million. Its built up area is home to 1,290,170 inhabitants spread on three urban districts.[4] The name of the city literally means "silver river".Thanks to the Yellow River, Yinchuan enjoys beautiful natural scenery and favorable conditions for agriculture and has long earned the fame of a "River Side City in the Northwest" and "Home to Fishes and Rice". Yinchuan is now the permanent site for China-Arab Expo which is an international platform for cultural and economic exchanges between China and Arab countries. The city has now hosted the TM Forum's Smart City InFocus for the last two years. TM Forum describes itself: "As a neutral, non-profit member organization, TM Forum represents over 850 member companies generating US$2 trillion in revenue and serving five billion customers across 180 countries." 
 Yinchuan is to be the blueprint for the development of smart cities across China. Yinchuan is just one of China's 193 smart city projects, Yinchuan is using technology such as facial recognition systems in transport buses, solar-powered waste bins and other innovative employment of technology. Carl Piva, the TM Forum's vice president of strategic programs explained why Yinchuan rather than Beijing or Shanghai was picked out to be the smart city leader: “The problem is these cities are already too big. A blank canvas like Yinchuan can more flexibly adopt new technologies, and then ‘attract people that would otherwise have gone to Beijing or Shanghai.'” Piva said that China is attempting to create a repeatable pattern or blueprint so that it can in effect roll out a smart city. 
In general, the smart city harnesses advanced technology as a way of life to improve the life of citizens. The extensive use of technology to collect data about citizens brings up questions of privacy and control of citizens using that technology. As part of its bundle of smart services, Yinchuan is distributing RFID tags. These can track the automobiles and collect information about their movements. So far about 300,000 of 500,000 autos have been tagged. Privacy regulations in Europe would no doubt prevent their use there. However there are ways that the data collected could be made anonymous. 
Yinchuan has a smart traffic management system, a big data collection approach, has optimized garbage collection services, and has an extensive system of telemedicine services. In Yinchuan you can make payments by "your face" as face recognition can be used to operate like a credit card. The same type of software is used on public transportation instead of fare boxes. Solar powered trash bins also act as compactors allowing the bins to contain five times as much garbage as an ordinary bin. When the bin is full it sends out a signal so garbage collectors can come and empty it. At the city hall greeters have been replaced by holograms. There are QR codes on the wall that enable people with mobile phones to access answers to frequently asked questions without waiting in line. These are just a few of the new services in the city. As shown in the appended photo, the Yinchuan area is also noted for its wines.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Police chief in Durham UK wants security ratings on smart appliances

In the U.K., Durham chief constable Mike Barton argues that customers should be given security information about Internet-ready appliances in the same way as they are required to give energy efficiency ratings.

Barton notes that smart appliances such as Samsung's Family Hub Refrigerator should be required to show a security rating. Barton the national policing lead for crime operations, sees the idea as part of efforts to protect customers from fraudsters and hackers in the area of the Internet of Things as devices can be put on line and interconnected. Analysts predict that by 2020 there may be as many as 21 billion connected devices globally. This has sparked a spate of security warnings since as soon as devices are connected to the Internet they are subject to hacking. There are even reports that devices such as baby monitors could be subject to hacking.
Barton said of the smart refrigerator: “It’s not just how many yogurts you are eating that is at risk, it’s that your Internet of things are all plugged into the same network. That is a back door into your network... You’ve got a situation where we don’t know what the security is like in the devices we are buying in the Internet of things. It’s just not reported. And yet that is the most significant component of what it is you are buying.” He said that the responsibility for developing a satisfactory rating system should be on the industry.
The problem is that unlike energy efficiency appliances resilience to attack can vary over time as new weaknesses are found and hackers develop new techniques. What is important is that appliances be updated with security patches. Yet Barton claimed that it was important to develop ratings now while the market was not swamped with such products.
Even now there are an estimated 13.4 billion devices connected to the Internet. Security company Avast, demonstrated a hack of a Vizio Smart TV that enabled it to access the underlying Linux operating system. Vizio was able to successfully solve the issues Avast discovered. Nevertheless, the Avast discovery was just one of many as many vulnerabilities in smart TV's were revealed at the annual Black Hat computer conference way back in 2013. The vulnerabilities of the Samsung smart refrigerator are outlined in this article.. The vulnerability left those using the fridge open to having credentials stolen by anyone able to access their Wifi-networks.

New York named Best Smart City of 2016

At the Smart City Expo World Congress in 2016 held in Barcelona Spain, New York was announced as the Best Smart City of 2016.

The city was recognized for its initiative, Building a Smart + Equitable City. The project was led by the Mayor's Office of Technology and Innovation. There were four pillars to the city plan to make New York a global leader in smart technologies: 1) LinkNYC that expanded connectivity among citizens; 2) and Urban Tech NYC, that were for growing the innovation economy ecosystem;3) a program for piloting and scaling smart technologies; 4) A set of comprehensive guidelines that would ensure equitable deployment of the smart city technologies.
Jeff Merritt, Director of Innovation at the Mayor's Office of Tech + Innovation said:“When used effectively, IoT devices—like sensors that capture pollution in the air or lights that only turn on when someone is in the room—can produce cost savings, bolster civic engagement, and strengthen public health and safety. As cities move forward into the future, municipal leaders must also be cognisant of, and actively mitigate, the challenges and risks raised by these technologies, most notably in areas of public privacy and security.”"IoT" stands for the Internet of Things.The IoT are inter-networked physical devices such as vehicles, buildings, and numerous items embedded with electronic technology such as software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable all these objects to communicate with each other and collect and exchange data. The devices are often designated smart, as in smart locks, smart refrigerators, smart vehicles, thermostats and so on.
READ MORE: The City of London launches its 'smart street' initiative.
A good example of innovation using smart technology is the program of LinkNYC which has transformed the old city pay phone system into a huge network of over 10,000 communication structures. They provide Wi-FI hotspots, phone calls, ability to charge your cell phones and other devices and access to city services, as shown on the appended video. New York is also spending $3 million to invest in sensors that will improve public safety. They are also investing $20 million in a program to connect vehicles. New York even has a special program providing 9,300 square meters of affordable space and equipment to help entrepreneurs build smart and sustainable solutions to problems.
Merritt had an upbeat appraisal of New York's policies:“New York City’s strategy for a smart and equitable city is rooted in a series of practical steps and tools that city agencies can use to leverage new technologies.This includes a focus on expanding Internet connectivity across the five boroughs to unleash new opportunities, growing the local innovation economy and accelerating public-private partnerships, working with communities to develop solutions that meet neighbourhood needs, and always putting New Yorkers first as we test and deploy new technologies.”
A smart city is a vision of urban development that integrates information and communications technology (ICT) with IoT technology in order to manage the city's assets which would include local departments information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply systems, waste management, law enforcement and other community services. ICT is an extended term for information technology (IT) which stresses the role of unified communications. Information technology(IT) is the application of computers, to store, study, retrieve, transmit and manipulate data or information. However, the term could also refer to other technologies such as television, and telephones, and radio. The appended video shows how different cities have employed new technology to make their cities smart.
As can be seen in the video description of the use of smart technology in Singapore, the smart city can raise questions about the privacy of citizens, as the smart city may constantly be monitoring the behavior of its citizens supposedly in order to enhance their lives. There are also concerns about the use of innovative technology in smart policing. Many citizens may be unhappy about the degree of order and efficiency involved in the city and prefer a more haphazard and perhaps less efficient city but in which they had more control. There is also the problem of large corporations gaining control over the new technology and finding the smart city a way of introducing proprietary technology that gives them the opportunity for monopoly profits. A great deal of the material on the smart city reads like promotional material for a business.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Three different types of "smart car"

There are three categories of cars that could be called smart cars. One smart car is a brand the German-based Smart Car, although its primary assembly plants are in France and Slovenia.

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The second type of smart car embeds modern technology into the car design allowing for many new innovative features. Finally, there is the robotic, self-driving, or autonomous car that can function without a driver.
In 1982, CEO Nicolas Hayek of SMH the maker of Swatch watches started to develop the idea of a small and stylish city car that would use the same type of manufacturing and personalizatiion features that had been successful in making Swatch watches popular. Although the car was briefly backed by Volkswagen, the Smart Car later became part of Mercedes-Benz:A deal was announced on March 4, 1994, at a press conference at Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart that the companies would join forces in founding Micro Compact Car AG (MCC). 49% of the initial capital of 50 million Swiss francs were provided by SMH and the remaining 51% by Daimler-Ben
It is now part of a division of Daimler AG.
The main types are the Fortwo and the Forfour. The brand name SMART actually comes from Swatch, Mercedes or SM plus ART. The cars are marketed in 46 different countries in Asia, North America, South America, Africa, Australia, and Europe. The Fortwo, the most popular of the models had a production level surpassing 1.7 million units in 2015. In rural Manitoba where I live, there are very few Smart Cars but more are to be seen in Winnipeg the capital and a fair-sized city.
In 2007 Daimler began field-testing an electric version of the Smart Car. The company has kept refining the electric vehicle and a fourth generation Fortwo electric model was shown at the September 2016 Paris Motor Show. It was launched as the 2017 model. It has a 17.6 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack with 80 horsepower. Estimated range on a charge will be 99 miles. The appended video shows Smart Cars being made.
A robotic car is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without any human direction or input. So far in the US as of May 17 automated cars are permitted on public roads only if there is a human driver at the wheel at all times ready to take control according to Wikipedia. In order to detect their surroundings, robotic cars, use radar, laser light, GPS, and computer vision. The cars have advanced control system that analyze incoming data so as to identify clear navigation paths. as well as obstacles in their path.
The first precursors of technology for robotic cars was developed as far back as that 1020.s and 1930.s but the first really autonomous cars were developed in the 1980├Ęs at Carenegie Mellon University's Navlab,in 1984 and at a project of Mercedes-Benz and Bundeswehr University Munich, the Eureka Prometheus Project in 1987. In 1995 the Navlab 5 made the first robotic car coast to coast journey:.Of the 2,849 miles between Pittsburgh, PA and San Diego, CA, 2,797 miles were autonomous (98.2%), completed with an average speed of 63.8 miles per hour (102.3 km/h).[8][9][10][11] Since then, numerous major companies and research organizations have developed working prototype autonomous vehicles.
Once robotic cars become common it is expected there will be many fewer collisions, and less insurance costs. With more robotic cars it is also expected that traffic flow will be better. The cars will provide enhanced mobility for the disabled as well. Aside from the technological challenges of developing vehicles that are fully robotic, there are legal problems concerning liability for accidents. There will also be the need for regulations governing the cars which presumably should be made at the federal level but there may be political issues with that in the US and perhaps in some other countries as well. There are also concerns about hacking of the control mechanisms of the cars.
A third type of smart car is the intelligent car that embeds in it new technology that can help the operator of the car as well as those riding in it. Often the technology can help with navigation as the Mercedes in the appended video is able to drive for a short period without the operator controlling the steering wheel. Future cars will probably have an advanced cruise control system which you can just set and the car will function as a robotic car but you will still be able to control it should you wish. There will probably be more systems that over-ride driver errors such as ABS that keeps your brakes from locking, and avoid errors such as driving too fast into a curve, or not braking as you approach an obstacle.
As the appended video shows, even keys are becoming smarter with the fob and key for the Mercedes also able to sense the key fob as being near and unlock the door for you without ever having to take it from your pocket, and it can even open the windows and the sun roof for you. However, not everything works perfectly. The Mercedes slowed the car down to 45 miles per hour when it saw a speed sign indicating that was the speed limit. Unfortunately above the number the sign said "trucks". The driver remarks that it was a German car and did not understand English.