Who created Bitcoin? How? Why? The long search may not be over


 

SAN FRANCISCO  — Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? For many in the tech world, the identity of bitcoin’s elusive creator has been a long-running parlor game. And the speculation might not be over.

Australian entrepreneur Craig Steven Wright, who announced Monday that he founded the digital currency , convinced at least one longtime bitcoin contributor that he’s the real deal. He managed that feat via a technical demonstration involving Nakamoto’s secret bitcoin keys. But Wright’s public documentation, which he posted online Monday , underwhelmed others and left the question of Nakamoto’s true identity far from settled.

“There’s no way you can conclusively prove that you are the creator of bitcoin,” said Jerry Brito, executive director of Coin Center, a Washington, D.C.-based crypto-currency think tank, who is skeptical of Wright’s claims.

Tracking a pseudonymous cryptographic genius would be challenging under the best circumstances. And here we’re talking someone who invented a way for people to send money around the world anonymously, without banks or national currencies. Someone who apparently disappeared five years ago for unknown reasons.

None of that has stopped people from trying. Journalists, researchers and amateur detectives have scoured Nakamoto’s emails and online posts, plus the original bitcoin code, for unusual phrases, cultural references and other potential clues to their author.

One of the most celebrated candidates — to his own dismay — was an unassuming Japanese-American engineer who found himself in the cross-hairs of Newsweek magazine in 2014.

A Newsweek cover story fingered Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, a retired resident of suburban Los Angeles County, after citing circumstantial clues and a vague comment that Nakamoto made when confronted briefly on his front doorstep. The article sparked a media frenzy and a car chase with reporters that ended at the Los Angeles offices of The Associated Press — where Dorian Nakamoto emphatically denied any involvement with bitcoin.

An earlier contender named in a 2011 New Yorker magazine piece was Michael Clear, then a graduate student in cryptography at Trinity College in Dublin. The New Yorker cited some of Nakamoto’s writings, which used British slang such as “maths” for mathematics and “flat” for an apartment. It also noted that Clear had worked on currency-trading software for an Irish bank and co-authored a paper on “peer-to-peer” technology similar to that used in bitcoin.

At first, according to the New Yorker, Clear was evasive when asked at a cryptography conference if he had created bitcoin. But he later denied it repeatedly. He also suggested another candidate to the New Yorker reporter, naming Finnish researcher Vili Lehdonvirta, who studied virtual currencies and created video games.

“I would love to say that I’m Satoshi, because bitcoin is very clever,” Lehdonvirta told the New Yorker, after laughing for several seconds. “But it’s not me.”

Speculation has also focused on a Hungarian-American computer scientist named Nick Szabo, who was called a likely candidate by linguistic experts who conducted their own “reverse textual analysis” — essentially, looking for distinctive phrases or word patterns — on an early white paper by the bitcoin creator.

The only problem? Szabo, who has worked on other digital currencies, has repeatedly denied creating bitcoin.

Other scientists’ names have surfaced over the years; some theories pose the notion of two or three working together. But denials have usually followed each new mention.

At one point, two Israeli mathematicians floated, and later retracted, the notion that bitcoin was created by the founder of Silk Road, an online bazaar known for trade in various illicit goods.

Conspiracy theorists have even speculated it could have been the work of some shadowy government agency — no one’s saying which government — to undermine established currencies or somehow monitor online transactions. (That theory depends on the unproved notion that the creator retained the ability to decode bitcoin’s encryption.)

Vice magazine once suggested Nakamoto might be Gavin Andresen, an American software expert and early bitcoin enthusiast who has helped push bitcoin forward in Nakamoto’s absence. Andresen has denied it — and on Monday declared that he believes Wright is Nakamoto.

But other cryptocurrency enthusiasts aren’t convinced it’s Wright. The truth, they say, is still out there. – AP

Image for the news result

AP EXPLAINS: What Is Bitcoin? A Look at the Digital Currency How it work, security, vulnerability and why? 

Comments:

Indeed, the way Wright has stage-managed the latest revelations about himself seem inconsistent with what we know about Nakamoto. Wright chose to give his scoop to the BBC, the Economist, and GQ. These are all excellent publications, but none of them are known for their in-depth coverage of computer security. The real Satoshi Nakamoto should have anticipated that no one would give much weight to a GQ scoop about his identity.

Bitcoin was Nakamoto’s attempt to create a financial system that didn’t require trusting the fallible human beings that run the banking system. Yet when Wright decided to reveal his identity as Nakamoto, he chose to do it via face-to-face meetings with a handful of journalists and Bitcoin insiders instead of providing mathematically rigorous proof that anyone could verify. It’s hard to believe that’s what Nakamoto would have done.

http://www.vox.com/cards/bitcoin

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Jack Ma, Asia’s richest envisions the newspaper to leverage Alibaba’s technology & resources


Video:

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http://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2016/05/03/let-our-readers-see-china-from-more-angles-and-perspectives/

 

Ma: 20 more years of enviable growth for China

 

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Alibaba founder Jack Ma shares his views on the Chinese economy and the importance of entrepreneurship in supporting development.

CHINA’S economy will face “a difficult three to five years” but the slowdown will be good for its long-term development, Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) just before the e-commerce giant’s takeover of the 113-year-old newspaper.

Ma said the Chinese economy was indeed grappling with structural problems and that the authorities were working hard to steer it onto a new growth path.

But he dismissed fears that China would follow Japan’s route to stagnation, saying the country still had huge potential waiting to be tapped.

The rapid growth of China’s Internet economy and consumer culture could help the country through its temporary difficulties, Ma said.

China would likely continue to grow at a rate “enviable to most other major economies for 15 to 20 more years”, he said.

Ma gave the two-hour interview in Hangzhou, eastern Zhejiang province, during which he also discussed his vision for the SCMP, cultural differences between the east and west, and his concerns for Hong Kong’s next generation.

Commercial and residential buildings in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.

China’s economy has been grappling with structural problems but Beijing is working hard to steer it onto a new growth path.

On China’s economy, the businessman said it was unrealistic to expect an economy of such scale to maintain double-digit growth indefinitely.

“There is no reason to expect that an economy of such size can maintain such a growth rate indefinitely, nor is it good for China to continue to grow at such speed,” Ma said.

“After more than 30 years’ growth, spending a few years to adjust its course is reasonable.

“Some say the actual (growth) number could be just 5%. But even with 5% growth, there is no other economy of such size growing at that speed in today’s world.”

Comparing China with an ocean liner, Ma said the Chinese leadership understood that the country’s old growth model was unsustainable and that they needed to chart a new course.

“It is easy for a small boat to change its course. But as the world’s second-largest economy, China is like an ocean liner… we have to choose either to not slow down and overturn the ship, or to slow a bit to make the turn,” he said.

The key was to create enough jobs to keep the economy stable and buy time so the country could complete its much-needed transformation, Ma said.

Fortunately for China, he said, the rise of its Internet economy happened at the right time.

China’s gross domestic product grows 6.7% in first quarter – a good start to 2016

“The traditional industries are struggling, but we also see growth in domestic consumption, the services industry and the hi-tech sector, and young talents are flocking to these areas,” he said.

“The logistics and delivery industries create plenty of jobs for low-skilled workers. We still have a lot of room for growth.”

Ma said the deciding factor in a true economic transformation would be the country’s ability to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit among the young and create an environment to help it flourish.

“I believe there will be some great enterprises arising from China,” he said.

“The monetary policy and supply-side reforms are very important and can help rejuvenate China’s economy.

“But to me, the most important thing is entrepreneurship. If this can flourish in China, China will become successful.”

China’s slowdown had triggered panic among foreign investors, with some choosing to leave the country.

But this actually created fresh opportunities, Ma said.

History had proven that those who bucked the trend to invest in China during difficult times always received good returns, he added.

“China needs to develop its rural areas; China needs to develop its cultural industry. It is also shifting focus to services and IT industries. There are still plenty of opportunities around,” Ma said.

Global media agency in the making

Video:

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http://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2016/05/03/global-media-agency-in-the-making/

In the second part of an interview with SCMP, Ma says he envisions the newspaper to leverage on Alibaba’s technology and resources.JUST why does Jack Ma want to own a newspaper, and what will he do with it?

Those are the biggest questions that have confronted readers of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) since news broke of Alibaba Group’s acquisition of the 113-year-old English-language newspaper late last year.

Now, for the first time since the Chinese e-commerce giant’s takeover earlier this month, Ma has outlined his vision for the newspaper.

The acquisition has raised eyebrows, with some suggesting that the SCMP – which has for decades been reporting aggressively on China – would change its direction.

A few even believed the newspaper might henceforth gloss over sensitive or controversial issues that risked incurring the wrath of the Chinese leadership.

In a face-to-face interview with the SCMP in Hangzhou, eastern Zhejiang province, Ma addressed these concerns, explaining why he believed in having a narrative on China that was different from that of both the mainstream Western media and Chinese state media.

“I don’t see it as an issue of (coverage) being ‘positive or negative’,” the Alibaba executive chairman said. “It is about being impartial and balanced… We should offer a fair chance to readers (to understand what is happening in China), not just a fair chance to China.”

China’s growth will remain enviable for the next 20 years, says Ma.

As a reader, Ma said, he valued the importance of obtaining unbiased information in order to draw his own conclusion based on the undistorted facts presented to him.

“I believe the most important thing for the media is to be objective, fair and balanced. We should not report a story with preconceptions or prejudice,” he said.

With its access to Alibaba’s resources, data and all the relationships in its ecosystem, the SCMP can report on Asia and China more accurately compared with other media who have no such access.

“Sometimes, people look at things purely from a Western or an Eastern perspective – that is one-sided. What the SCMP can do is to understand the big ‘why’ behind a story and its cultural context.

“I want to stress the importance of being fair to our readers. You should not impose your own view and prejudice on the readers and try to lead them to a conclusion. As a reader, I understand what a fair report is.”

The tech tycoon said his vision was to transform the SCMP into a global media agency with the help of Alibaba’s technology and resources.

Alibaba, the world’s biggest online trading platform, is aggressively developing big-data and cloud technology. Every day, it analyses and processes a massive volume of data that can provide powerful insight into the world’s second largest economy.

Ma reiterated his promise that Alibaba’s management would not take part in the SCMP’s newsroom operations. Rather, it wanted to represent readers’ interests and give feedback on how to improve readers’ experience, he said.

“As I said to Joe (Tsai), you are going to the SCMP as a representative of its readers. You don’t have to represent shareholders. You speak for the readers,” Ma said, referring to Alibaba’s executive vice-chairman who is now the chairman of the SCMP.

Ma, who last year unveiled a HK$1bil fund to help Hong Kong’s young entrepreneurs start up their businesses, said he invested in the newspaper because he “loves Hong Kong”.

Hong Kong was stuck in a rut and in danger of losing its direction, the billionaire said, urging Hong Kong’s youth to hold on to the city’s uniqueness and have faith in its future.

“The city has lost its can-do spirit. The big businesses are less willing to take risks. I talked to some young people in Hong Kong and they said they are lost. Young people indeed have fewer opportunities than before. But is it true that there are no more opportunities for them? No!” he said.

Hong Kong had many strengths that were unique to the city, Ma said.

“It has the best location. The ‘one country, two systems’ allows it to enjoy the good things from China’s growth and the best things from the West… The quality of Hong Kong’s graduates can match the finest from any other city. Its services industry is first class,” he said.

“Hong Kong people say Hong Kong needs to preserve its uniqueness. I say Hong Kong’s uniqueness is in its diversity, its tolerance of difference cultures… China does not want to see Hong Kong in decline. I have full confidence in its future.” – SCMP

By Chow Chung-Yan The Star

Related:

In talks: A photo illustration shows the South China Morning Post website displayed on a computer in Hong Kong. Jack Ma is in talks to buy a stake in the publisher of SCMP. – Reutersicon videoLet our readers see China from more angles and perspectives’

Bearish market: An employee is seen behind a glass wall with the logo of Alibaba at the company’s headquarters on the outskirts of Hangzhou. Alibaba is trading below its initial public offering price of US68 after plunging 20 in the past year as it grapples with slowing growth, the result of its reliance on a decelerating Chinese economy. — Reuters

 

 Jack Ma’s potential entry lends fire to SCMP

Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in the 21st century of China’s One Belt One Road strategy


Mass migration: The mega-trend of global migration, which is already happening legally in the form of migrant workers and illegally in the form of economic and political refugees, especially into Europe, is going to disrupt the current order. – AFP

A VERY wise Latin American statesman remarked at the Emerging Markets Forum in Paris this month, quoting the Nobel Laureate writer Octavio La Paz that after the French Revolution, the 19th century was all about the search for liberty, the 20th century about equality and the 21st century should be about fraternity.

The concept of liberty and individual freedom was sparked by the French Revolution but it became embodied in the American constitution that individual freedom was almost absolute in its right. Before then, rights were communal and determined by the state, or at least by an elite. With the rise of American might, the primacy of individual rights became widespread, because it appealed to the individual ego and the right for self determination. But man does not exist alone – he lives in a community in which rights come with responsibility – self-respect must also be tempered with respect for others.

The 20th century was a flowering of the capitalist spirit, that individual greed can lead to public good. This drove unprecedented prosperity, unfortunately unequally shared. The saving grace was the narrowing of income and wealth differences between the rich nations and the developing economies, but in almost every country, income and wealth gaps widened. This has reached the stage where views are increasingly polarised, with huge gaps in understanding between genders, generations and geo-political powers. Gandhi was the one who rightly pointed out that the world has enough for all our needs, but not our greed.

The global financial crisis of the 21st century exposed all the flaws of the dominant thinking, that the American Dream is sustainable. It was already doubtful that it could be sustainable for a few, but if the population of the world reaches 10 billion by 2050, we will be so crowded and in each other’s face and space that how to achieve fraternity without war will be the question of the century.


The World in 2050

The Emerging Markets Forum in Paris was the occasion for a book launch on “The World in 2050”, a study by various leaders, such as former German Chancellor Horst Kohler, former IMF managing director Michel Camdessus and former presidents and ministers of several emerging markets. The book, edited by former World Bank director Harinder Kohli, tried to think through the major issues of the 21st century. The major theme was essentially demographic and geographic – by 2050, the largest populated nation will be India, but the third largest could be Nigeria, with Africa emerging as the third largest continent by population and growth.

The study is timely because there are already signs that the borders that were delineated by the former colonial powers in Africa and the Middle East are already breaking down as failed states, arising from bad governance, exploding population and climate change stresses leading to civil strife, outright war and now mass migration.

This mega-trend of global migration, which is already happening legally in the form of migrant workers and illegally in the form of economic and political refugees, especially into Europe, is going to disrupt the current order. Can Europe absorb over a million migrants a year without major changes in culture, living standards and law and order?

How would these new migrants, including families that will follow, be accommodated, given already high levels of unemployment and shortage of housing in many European cities? Without proper accommodation and social acceptance, will there be more terrorist outbreaks and civil strife that disturbs the comfortable lives of Europeans today?

Even as Grexit (the possibility of Greece exiting the eurozone) has quietened down, Brexit (the possibility of Britain exiting the European Union) is becoming a looming nightmare. Whether Britain leaves or not is going to be an expression of how the British people feel about fraternity with Europe. All economic logic seems to suggest that Britain should stay. Germany needs Britain to maintain the balance of power within Europe, because British level-headed diplomacy is a useful counterweight to the more romantic (and less fiscally disciplined) southern members, such as France, Italy and Spain. There is genuine worry that the refugee crisis will make the stoic British more isolationist, preferring fraternity within the British isles.

From an Asian perspective, the stability and prosperity of Europe is an important anchor to global peace and stability. Europe is not only a major trading partner but her moderation and common sense is often a useful counterweight to American exceptionalism, whose mistaken invasion into Iraq triggered the breakdown in the Middle East order. Perhaps the status quo in the Middle East was always fragile, made more fragile by growing population, low oil prices and climate stress.

The borders of the Middle East and Africa were the legacies of the Great Game in the 19th century, when former colonial powers carved up these areas into territories that ignored tribal or geographic realities.

Today, these borders are being ignored by non-state players, and peace and order will not return till we find a solution to creating jobs in situ for the growing youth that are increasingly armed and willing to fight for their rights. Throughout history, it has always been the unemployed and disaffected youth that has led to revolution or war.

China’s One Belt One Road strategy can best be understood as a building of roads, rails and ports to link Eurasia together, creating new trade routes over old historical paths. For the first time, this will be a linking of roads and rail between China and India, and through central Asia, almost into the heart of eurozone, north to Russia and south to Africa. The investment in the infrastructure and in jobs for the young is the best hope to avoid massive social upheaval. This is the 21st Century Great Game – whether to live in fraternity or fratricide.

By Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

 

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Job for new Philippine head: Stop the kidnapping of foreign citizens


 

Manila urgently needs to tackle problems in its own backyard to stop the kidnapping of foreign citizens.

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was in Manila last November for the Apec Summit when he was informed by officials that Malaysian hostage, Bernard Then, who was abducted by the Abu Sayyaf group, was beheaded.

“He was upset and very shocked,” recalled a Malaysian official.

When he spoke to the Malaysian media in Manila, Najib said President Benigno Aquino had told him that Then’s beheading was probably carried out due to Philippine army operations and that Then had slowed down the militants who were moving from one place to another.

“That is not an excuse we can accept because he should have been released,” Najib told the media.

He described the beheading as savage and a barbaric act.

There seems to be no end to the kidnappings. Now more hostages, at least 20, are in the hands of the militants who are demanding ransoms.

They include four Malaysian sailors who were taken from their boat by Abu Sayyaf militants on April 1 in international waters near Pulau Ligitan. Their fate remains unknown.

Fourteen Indonesians travelling in tugboats from Borneo to the Philippines were also abducted by hijackers in two separate cases recently.

Even as the foreign governments were working to get their citizens released, more shocking news came – Abu Sayyaf gunmen had beheaded Canadian John Ridsdel in the southern province of Sulu, sparking condemnation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Indonesia is still struggling with how to deal with the kidnapping of its citizens and is hosting talks with Malaysia and the Philippines to boost maritime security.

The meeting of foreign ministers and military chiefs in Jakarta is to discuss joint patrols to protect shipping in the waters between the three countries following the kidnappings.

The Philippine military has said the militants have been targeting foreign crews of slow-moving tugboats because they can no longer penetrate resorts and coastal towns in Sabah due to increased security.

Last week, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman was in Manila to meet his Filipino counterpart, Jose Rene D. Almendras. More assurance was given that Manila was doing all it could to secure the release of the hostages.

The Philippine military and police reportedly said that “there will be no letup” in the effort to combat the militants and find the hostages. But they have had little success in securing their freedom.

All these assurances somehow ring hollow.

We are dealing with human lives. If the foreign governments are frustrated with the way the crisis is being handled by Manila, imagine the anguish and uncertainty of family members waiting for news of their loved ones.

The kidnappings are taking place in the Philippines’ own backyard and the question arises as to whether they are doing enough to tackle the problem at source.

The answer will be no. After all how do you explain the alarming number of people being kidnapped and brought back to the Philippines with a price put on their head?

It is election period in the Philippines. A lot of energy is spent on political campaigning by politicians and fears remain that the lives of the hostages are not on their priority list.

“Manila must be doing more to tackle the kidnapping and transborder crime activities and I seriously think they are not doing enough,” said a security official.

Security is a big challenge for the Philippines. While its military is battling the militants in the south, up north Manila sent its ships and aircraft to keep watch over the South China Sea, where tensions are building up with China.

Another problem has risen from these hostage-taking cases. It is affecting the economic activities of citizens living on both sides of the border.

Sabah has shut down its eastern international boundaries to cross- border trade as part of measures to clamp down on the kidnapping groups.

Barter trade is a lifeline for people on Tawi Tawi, the southern-most Philippine province and the closest to Sabah, for their rice, cooking gas and fuel.

Authorities in several Indonesian coal ports have blocked departures of ships for the Philippines over security concerns. Indonesia supplies 70% of the Philippines’ coal import needs.

The calls for joint navy and air patrol efforts among neighbouring countries are getting louder. But that is a stop-gap measure.

These kidnapping cases are affecting the image of the region as well.

Filipinos are about to elect a new president. Lets hope one of the priorities of the new leader is to tackle, with a lot of care, the safe release of the hostages and subsequently peace in southern Philippines.

By Mergawati Zulfakar The Star

 

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Cloud storage for personal files made safe


Utilise various services: As different Cloud services are suited to different types of files, it makes sense to spread your files out over several different Cloud storage providers. — Illustrations: MUHAMMAD HAFEEZ AMINUDDIN/The Star

Find the best space for your personal files on the Cloud.

In the movie Creed, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa character looks baffled when a young boxer snaps a picture of a handwritten exercise regime with his smartphone instead of just keeping the paper.

Balboa gets even more confused and looks skywards when the young boxer tells him it’s stored on the Cloud so that the information won’t be lost even if he loses his handphone.

It’s hard to deny the rising importance of Cloud computing in our daily lives, as most of the content, services, apps, and even enterprise systems today reside on the Cloud.

Most of us are probably aware of or have used services such as Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive.

These services, also known as public Cloud, requires little effort from you other than having to sign up for them.

Most are free and offer up to 15GB of space – if that’s not enough you can subscribe for a nominal sum to bump up storage space.

As these services are mostly operated by tech giants, you don’t have to worry about any of the technical stuff, but on the flipside, you don’t have much control over it.

If you wish to create your own Cloud, it’s now easier than ever as the price of devices and components ­needed to set up such a service have fallen a lot.

Also known as private Cloud, it allows you to keep your files within your own servers and manage them as you see fit.

It takes a bit of investment and know how – our accompanying story will help you decide if you should go for public or private Cloud.

Here we will explore the best public Cloud services so that you can pick one (or two or three) that meets your needs best.

Free and easy

Almost all the public Cloud offerings have a free option – they differ mostly in the size or additional services offered.

Our pick for the best free Cloud service is Google Drive, as you get 15GB without having to spend a single sen.

More importantly, Google has tied Drive to its online services such as Gmail, Photos and Keep, as well as ­productivity tools like Docs, Sheets and Slides.

So all your photos and documents will be synced automatically and will be available from one place.

If 15GB option is too limiting then you can opt to subscribe. For US$1.99 (RM8) a month, you get 100GB of ­additional space.

If you just want sheer volume then try out Mega which offers a whopping 50GB of space for free.

It doesn’t set a limit on file size like most of the other services, but we found the data transfer speed to be a bit slow.

Space for shutterbugs

It goes without saying digital cameras and smartphones in particular have made it easier than ever for everyone to shoot photos.

The real problem, however, is in managing your photos and finding a place to store them.

Most back them up to a desktop or laptop and while it’s better than not backing up at all, is not a good solution as all hard drives have a finite lifespan.

If you don’t have redundancy then you need to find a better solution in the Cloud and we recommend Flickr.

It gets our vote because it offers 1TB of space for free, which should meet the requirements of most users.

Photo size is capped at 200MB while video at 1GB for a single file which is reasonable.

It also has smart photo management which will automatically sort out ­images according to groups such as animals, people and buildings.

Free users will, however, see ads and will not be able to access the ­desktop app for uploading photos.

Like most services, it doesn’t support the uncompressed RAW file format which is preferred by photographers who use DSLRs.

If you like keeping your file as RAW, you will need a service like Amazon Cloud Drive which allows you to upload an unlimited number of ­photos, including RAW files.

Its Unlimited Photos plan will cost you US$11.99 (RM50) a year which is not too bad as RAW files take up a lot of space.

The unlimited offer doesn’t extend to other files, including video – for these files you are limited to only 5GB.

If you need to find space for your videos then you will have to opt for the more expensive plan called Unlimited Everything which costs US$59.99 (RM240) a year. This service, while expensive, lets you upload to your heart’s content.

Cross platform

Nowadays it’s not uncommon to own multiple devices running on different platforms.

If you have, say a MacBook Air for work, Windows PC at home and Android smartphone, you need a Cloud service that supports as many platforms as possible.

While the dominant operating systems – Windows, OS X, Android and iOS are usually supported, other operating systems such as Windows Phone and Linux are often overlooked.

Thankfully Dropbox doesn’t do that – it supports almost every platform, including the ones mentioned above. If you want an alternative, try Box, as it also works on many platforms except Linux.

By Lee Kah Leng The Star

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‘Free trade’ in trouble in the United States


  The United States
  Current Bilateral/Multilateral FTA’s
  Proposed/Suspended Bilateral/Multilateral FTA’s

As free trade reaches a crossroads in the US, developing countries have to rethink their own trade realities for their own development interests.

“FREE trade” seems to be in deep trouble in the United States, with serious implications for the rest of the world.

Opposition to free trade or trade agreements emerged as a big theme among the leading American presidential candidates.

Donald Trump attacked cheap imports especially from China and threatened to raise tariffs. Hillary Clinton criticised the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) which she once championed, and Bernie Sanders’ opposition to free trade agreements (FTAs) helped him win in many states before the New York primary.

That trade became such a hot topic in the campaigns reflects a strong anti-free trade sentiment on the ground.

Almost six million jobs were lost in the US manufacturing sector from 1999 to 2011.

Wages have remained stagnant while the incomes of the top one per cent of Americans have shot up.

Rightly or wrongly, many Americans blame these problems on US trade policy and FTAs.

The downside of trade agreements have been highlighted by economists like Joseph Stiglitz and by unions and NGOs. But the benefits of “free trade” have been touted by almost all mainstream economists and journalists.

Recently, however, the establishment media have published many articles on the collapse of popular support for free trade in the US:

> Lawrence Summers, former Treasury secretary, noted that “a revolt against global integration is under way in the West”. The main reason is a sense “that it is a project carried out by elites for elites with little consideration for the interests of ordinary people”.

> The Economist, with a cover sub-titled “America turns against free trade”, lamented how mainstream politicians are pouring fuel on the anti-free trade fire. While maintaining that free trade still deserves full support, it cites studies showing that the losses from free trade are more concentrated and longer-lasting than had been assumed.

> Financial Times columnist Phillip Steven’s article “US politics is closing the door on free trade” quotes Washington observers saying that there is no chance of the next president or Congress, of whatever colour, backing the TPPA. The backlash against free trade is deep as the middle classes have seen scant evidence of the gains once promised for past trade deals.

> In a blog on the Wall Street Journal, Greg Ip’s article The Case for Free Trade is Weaker Than You Think concludes that if workers lose their jobs to imports and central banks can’t bolster domestic spending enough to re-employ them, a country may be worse off and keeping imports out can make it better off.

Orthodox economists argue that free trade is beneficial because consumers enjoy cheaper goods. They recognise that companies that can’t compete with imports close and workers get retrenched. But they assume that there will be new businesses generated by exports and the retrenched workers will shift there, so that overall there will be higher productivity and no net job loss.

However, new research, some of which is cited by the articles above, shows that this positive adjustment can take longer than anticipated or may not take place at all.

Thus, trade liberalisation can cause net losses under certain conditions. The gains from having cheaper goods and more exports could be more than offset by loss of local businesses, job retrenchments and stagnant wages.

There are serious implications of this shift against free trade in the US.

The TPPA may be threatened as Congress approval is required and this is now less likely to happen during Obama’s term.

Under a new president and Congress, it is not clear there will be enough support.

If the US does not ratify the TPPA, the whole deal may be off as the other countries do not see the point of joining without the US.

US scepticism on the benefits of free trade has also now affected the multilateral arena. At the World Trade Organisation, the US is now refusing attempts to complete the Doha Round.

More US protectionism is now likely. Trump has threatened to slap high tariffs on Chinese goods. Even if this crude method is not used, the US can increasingly use less direct methods such as anti-dumping actions. Affected countries will then retaliate, resulting in a spiral.

This turn of events is ironic.

For decades, the West has put high pressure on developing countries, even the poorest among them, to liberalise their trade.

A few countries, mainly Asian, staged their liberalisation carefully and benefited from industrialised exports which could pay for their increased imports.

However, countries with a weak capacity, especially in Africa, saw the collapse of their industries and farms as cheap imports replaced local products.

Many development-oriented economists and groups were right to caution poorer countries against sudden import liberalisation and pointed to the fallacy of the theory that free trade is always good, but the damage was already done.

Ironically, it is now the US establishment that is facing people’s opposition to the free trade logic.

It should be noted that the developed countries have not really practised free trade. Their high-cost agriculture sector is kept afloat by extremely high subsidies, which enable them to keep out imports and, worse, to sell their subsidised farm products to the rest of the world at artificially low prices.

Eliminating these subsidies or reducing them sharply was the top priority at the WTO’s Doha Agenda. But this is being jettisoned by the insistence of developed countries that the Doha Round is dead.

In the bilateral and plurilateral FTAs like the TPPA, the US and Europe have also kept the agriculture subsidy issue off the table.

Thus, the developed countries succeeded in maintaining trade rules that allow them to continue their protectionist practices.

Finally, if the US itself is having growing doubts about the benefits of “free trade”, less powerful countries should have a more realistic assessment of trade liberalisation.

As free trade and trade policy reaches a crossroads in the US and the rest of the West, developing countries have to rethink their own trade realities and make their own trade policies for their own development interests.

By Martin Khor

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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Locking horns over human rights


Human rights matter: Demonstrators protesting the shooting death of 16-year-old Pierre Loury confront police after shutting down the Eisenhower Expressway during a march in Chicago, Illinois recently. — Getty Images/ AFP

 

Video:

http://english.cntv.cn/2016/04/17/VIDE0l4zwWjzir4IqZ8mEs9m160417.shtml

It’s April and time for the usual tit-for-tat exchange between China and the United States over their human rights practices.

 

APRIL is the month when the two biggest economies in the world – the United States and China – lock horns in an annual exchange over each other’s human rights practices.

Since 1977, the United States has been releasing its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, giving its review of human rights issues in countries around the world (but not its own).

And in a retaliatory fashion, Beijing would follow up the next day with its Human Rights Record of the United States in response to the criticisms piled on China.

The Chinese tradition began in 1998 and functioned like a “mirror” for the United States to examine its own human rights flaws. In the words of this year’s document: “Since the US government refused to hold up a mirror to look at itself, it has to be done with other people’s help.”

This year’s collision happened last week.

In the US 2015 report, Washington criticised China’s repression of people involved in civil and political rights advocacy and China’s crackdown on the legal community.

It also highlighted the disappearance of five men in Hong Kong’s publishing industry, believing that Chinese security officials were responsible.

Among others, the report also drew attention to the repression of the minority Uighurs and Tibetans, and tight control on the Internet and media.

As expected, the comments did not go down well with Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang accused the United States of politicising the human rights issues in China to undermine the country’s stability and development.

“It’s nothing new for the United States to find fault with the internal affairs of other countries in the name of human rights,” he said.

China’s report, on the other hand, curtly labelled the US human rights record as “terrible”, “no improvement”, and plagued with “numerous new problems”.

Citing statistics, surveys and news reports, it zeroed in on the gun violence and excessive police violence, corrupt prison system and the prevailing money and clan politics in the United States.

Racial relations are “at their worst in nearly two decades,” it added.

And, most notably, Beijing reprimanded the United States for violating human rights outside its borders. Examples cited were the deadly Iraqi and Syrian air strikes, drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, and bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan.

The United States is “treating citizens from other countries like dirt,” the report said.

One of the sections in China’s report was reserved for the economic and social rights of US citizens, which Beijing said did not record substantial progress.

A gloomy picture of the United States was painted: “Workers carried out mass strikes to claim their rights at work. Food-insecure and homeless populations remained huge. Many US people suffered from poor health.”

When the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Lu rejected the US report last week, he pointed out that China’s efforts in promoting human rights have resulted in “great achievements that have attracted worldwide attention”.

While he did not elaborate on the great achievements, China has always been championing eradication of poverty as “one of the greatest human rights successes a country could hope for,” as state news agency Xinhua put it early last month.

In an article to dispute the West’s attack on China’s human rights record at the United Nations, Xinhua pointed out that lifting people out of poverty is an area of human rights that is often overlooked by Western countries, in particular the United States.

“China’s achievements in alleviating immense poverty along with its other human rights feats are victim to the West’s selective amnesia,” it stated.

China has a “moderately prosperous society” goal to lift all of its poor out of poverty by 2020. Among the efforts by the Government, according to Xinhua, are increasing the budget to relief poverty by 43%, improving infrastructure in regions with minorities, and reforming the healthcare system.

By rolling out these facts and figures, Xinhua hoped it could change the West’s “tired and dated view” of human rights in China, but added that it won’t hold its breath.

Till next April, then.

By Tho Xin Yi Check-In-China, The Star

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Source: Global Times | 2016-4-21 0:38:01

 

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