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Cryptocurrencies

CryptocurrenciesThe attackers behind last month’s WannaCry ransomware were planning to extort $300 in Monero cryptocurrency to unlock encrypted files. Until this crisis, who had ever heard of Monero? How could you even buy Moneros to unlock your PC, if you wanted to take that chance? More people are probably aware of Bitcoin (BTC). The Visual Capitalist explains that Bitcoin is the original cryptocurrency, and its meteoric rise has made it a mainstay of conversation for investors, media, and technologists alike.

cryptocurrencyDespite its shady history, Bitcoin has spawned over 800 new markets and cryptocurrencies. While Bitcoin is the dominate cryptocurrency, with a market cap of $37.2 billion, the rest of the cryptocurrencies are worth even more, in combination they are worth nearly $40 billion. The leaders of the altcoin movement are:

Ethereum (ETH) launched in 2015, is the second largest by market capitalization. It is also quite different from Bitcoin. The Visual Capitalist explains that while Bitcoin is designed to be a payments protocol first, Ethereum is designed to work as a blockchain-based computing platform for developers to build and deploy decentralized applications, while also enabling smart contracts. The tokens used to power the network are called Ether, but they can also be traded online. At time of writing, Ethereum’s market capitalization is $15.4 billion.

Ripple logoRipple (XRP) is the native currency of the Ripple Protocol – a broader catch-all for an open-source, global exchange according to the Visual Capitalist. Ripple is aiming to be a settlement protocol for major banks, It’s already being used by banks such as Santander, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, UBS, and RBC. Ripple has a market cap of $10.9 billion.

Ethereum Classic (ETC) The Ethereum network actually split into two in 2016.The Visual Capitalist says it’s a complicated situation. You can read about the hack v. hack battle here. Ethereum Classic is based on the original Ethereum blockchain, and has a market capitalization of $1.4 billion.

Litecoin logoLitecoin (LTC) is one of the first altcoins, and it is nearly identical to Bitcoin after being “forked” in 2011. Litecoin aims to process blocks 4x faster than Bitcoin to speed up transaction confirmation time, though this creates several other challenges as well according to the Visual Capitalist. At time of writing, Litecoin’s market capitalization is worth $1.3 billion.

Monero (XMR) is an open-source, privacy-oriented cryptocurrency launched in April 2014. It is the result of a fork of the Bytecoin cryptocurrency According to CoinDesk, Monero is private by default, and it has achieved the widespread adoption of those interested in using cryptocurrencies to remain anonymous. Monero has a market capitalization of $6.2 million.

Coin Market Cap Monero chartThe price of Monero’s XMR has experienced significant volatility at times, climbing more than 1,300% since it began trading on CoinMarketCap. Since its start, the cryptocurrency has fluctuated between roughly $0.25 (in January 2015) and close to $60 (in May 2017).

Monero leverages ring signatures and stealth addresses to obscure the senders and recipients identity. Ring signatures combine or ‘mix’ a user’s account keys with public keys obtained from Monero’s blockchain to create a ‘ring’ of possible signers, meaning outside observers cannot link a signature to a specific user.

Monero logoOriginally, ring signatures obscured the senders and recipients involved in a Monero transaction without hiding the amount transferred. However, an update called RingCT implemented a new ring signature that concealed both the value of each transaction and the senders and recipients identities to make transaction tracking harder.

In addition to leveraging ring signatures, Monero also enhances anonymity through stealth addresses, which are randomly generated, one-time addresses created for each transaction on behalf of the recipient. With this feature, recipients publish a single address and transactions they receive go to separate, unique addresses. As a result, Monero transactions cannot be linked to the published address of the sender or recipient.

By providing a high level of anonymity, Monero offers fungibility, meaning that each individual unit of a currency can be substituted for another. Another way of putting this is that every coin has equal value.

Due to Monero’s untraceable nature, no two coins are distinguishable from one another, and they are both equal in the eyes of merchants. Without this level of fungibility, a vendor that accepts cryptocurrency might refuse a unit of one of these assets because of its past possibly illegal transaction history.

CoinDesk points out that Monero has enjoyed a steady increase in adoption since its release. This adaption seems to be led by Dark web marketplaces like AlphaBay and Oasis which have embraced it, reportedly due to popular demand.

For those who want to purchase Monero’s, to pay a ransom or for other reasons, can purchase them at an exchange. The Monero market operates like that of many other cryptocurrencies. Those interested in buying the cryptocurrency can get it through exchanges including Poloniex, Bitfinex and Kraken.

Bitfinex, offers XMR/USD and XMR/BTC exchanges along with deposits and withdrawals of Monero. Kraken offers the same options as Bitfinex as well as XMR/EUR.

Other cryptocurrencies in the altcoin universe include NEM, Dash, ByteCoin and Golem.

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If the fraudsters who set off the WannaCry crisis were expecting to make a fortune in cryptocurrenncy, it didn’t work. Apparently there have only made approx. BTC 50.91735344 or just under $150,000 on 320 payments world-wide according to a twitter bot actual_ransom from @collinskeith which is watching the bitcoin wallets tied to the ransomware attack.

I dunno know – Until somehow cryptocurrencies break their implied link to illegal activities online, they will be relegated to the black market. 

The value of cryptocurrencies are really hard to pin down because no one really knows how much they should be worth. Unlike a company there are no assets or revenues that can be used to assess a predictable valuation. So they are subject to wide swings in valuations because they operate without any tangible value behind it.

The underlying technology of blockchain seems to have a brighter future

 

Related articles

Ralph Bach has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

 

Visual Capitalist The Coin Universe Keeps Expanding

Can Toshiba Stay in Business?

Can Toshiba Stay in Business?Updated 06-22-2017 – As predicted below, the NYT reports that the Japanese government formed a coalition including the US venture capital firm Bain Capital to buy Toshiba’s microchip division. Estimates are the deal is worth approx. $20 Billion.

Toshiba is being driven to sell off its crown jewel, its microchip business, to stabilize the international giant. The New York Times reports that the stalwart of Japan’s postwar rise as a global industrial giant warned that its has doubts over whether it could stay in business. In a filing in Japan, Toshiba said it wrote off more than $6 billion connected to Westinghouse Electric’s troubled nuclear reactor projects in the United States, had created “substantial uncertainty” over its ability to continue as a going concern.

ToshibaThe Toshiba microchip division is the number two global provider of NAND flash memory. NAND flash memory is a type of non-volatile storage technology that does not need power to retain data. Flash memory is electronic (solid-state) non-volatile computer storage medium that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed.

Toshiba originally invented flash memory in the early 1980s from EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable read-only memory). They introduced it to the market in 1984. Called flash memory, after the flash on a camera, the chips have become an essential building blocks of the modern electronics industry.

WestinghouseThe two main types of flash memory are named after the NAND and NOR logic gates. The individual flash memory cells have internal characteristics similar to those of the corresponding gates.

Where EPROMs had to be completely erased before being rewritten, NAND-type flash memory may be written and read in blocks (or pages) which are generally smaller than the entire device. NOR-type flash allows a single machine word (byte) to be written—an erased location—read independently.

NAND flash memoryThe NAND type operates primarily in memory cards, USB flash drives, some solid-state drives, and similar products for general storage and transfer of data. NAND or NOR flash memory is also often used to store configuration data in many digital products, a task previously made possible by EEPROM or battery-powered static RAM. One key disadvantage of flash memory is that it can only endure a relatively small number of write cycles in a specific block.

Toshiba manufactures its NAND Flash Memories at its Yokkaichi Operations to maintain quality.

Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) is the biggest maker of flash memory chips, followed by Toshiba, SK Hynix and U.S.-based Micron Technology (MU).

many as 12 companies have approached Toshiba with proposalsA sale of Toshiba’s chip business, while offering the business a lifeline, would take away its most successful business — and, more broadly, would represent a shift of a major technology away from Japan, depending on the buyer. The Toshiba sale is still in its early stages, and the NYT say as many as 12 companies have approached Toshiba with proposals. Reports are that Toshiba is asking bidders to value its operations at about $17.6 billion (2 trillion yen), and make at least a 50 percent investment.

One of the better-known suitors is Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn. Foxconn is the assembler of Apple (AAPL) iPhones and is world’s largest contract electronics maker. Foxconn is based in Taiwan but performs most of its manufacturing in mainland China. According to the article Foxconn could pay billions to buy the business.

offered $27 billionSources told Japanese public broadcaster NHK the first round of the Toshiba auction drew 10 offers. Toshiba has narrowed the field of bidders for its chip unit to four: U.S. chipmaker Broadcom (AVGO), a private equity firm Silver Lake Partners which reportedly offered $18 billion; SK Hynix; Western Digital (WDC); and Foxconn (2354), reports say Foxconn offered $27 billion.

Apple is considering teaming up with its supplier Foxconn to bid for Toshiba semiconductor business, Japan’s NHK reported. Apple is considering investing at least several billion dollars to take a stake of more than 20 percent as part of a plan that would have Toshiba keep a partial holding so the business remains under U.S. and Japanese control, NHK reported.

The authors point out Toshiba’s situation is a remarkable turnabout for Japan, a country that once controlled the majority of microchip markets. In the past Japanese companies have banded together to rescue flailing domestic rivals and not let them fold or be acquired by foreigners.

BankersThe article speculates that the Japanese government may cobble together a “team Japan” offer, but the response from potential participants — who would have to explain the spending to shareholders — has been tepid. “It is fundamentally unthinkable that the Industry Ministry would intervene and take some kind of action,” Hiroshige Seko, the industry minister, said at a news conference, further dampening expectations.

Mark Newman, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, argued in a report that Toshiba’s memory business remained valuable enough that selling it amounted to “selling the crown jewels to pay next month’s rent.”

Apple teaming up with its supplier Foxconn to bid for ToshibaJapanese politicians and industry leaders have voiced concerns over Chinese investors’ buying advanced chip production technology; semiconductors and memory are a major priority of China’s industrial policy. That could hinder any deal with Foxconn, said Mr. Newman, of Sanford C. Bernstein.

The worry is that Foxconn “would build huge fabs in China,” Mr. Bernstein said, referring to semiconductor fabrication plants. “The jobs would move to China from Japan, and furthermore China would go after market share at the expense of crushing industry economics, so the U.S., Taiwan, Korea, Japan all get hurt substantially by this arrangement.” Foxconn has been successful in attracting subsidies from the Chinese government to build large-scale production facilities in China.

The article speculates that Foxconn could take the Toshiba technology and manufacture it more cheaply in China. Such a move could drive down pricing for memory, a boon for Apple and low-cost Chinese smartphone makers. But it would also propel China forward in its long push to become internationally competitive in semiconductors. Mr. Newman has warned that competition in NAND chips could heat up next year, creating the possibility of oversupply and putting more pressure on Toshiba’s ability to put in effect next-generation technologies.

Ralph Bach has been in IT for a while and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

Who Rules the Internet?

Who Rules the Internet?Singapore based ISP Vodien published an infographic which lists the 100 highest ranking websites in the U.S. by traffic, according to website analytics company Alexa. There are over 1.1 billion websites on the internet, but the majority of all traffic actually goes to a very small number of firms. Seven companies control 30% of the top 100 web sites and the related web traffic.

100 highest ranking websitesNot surprisingly Alphabet controls the most popular sites on the web, Google and YouTube. Surprisingly, Microsoft controls the most sites in the top 100. Redmond controls seven of the top web properties including recently purchased LinkedIn, Bing and Microsoft.com. For a long time, MSFT’s online efforts were a disaster. That seems to have changed with Azure, but I still hate Bing. According to the Vodien infographic Alphabet controls four of the most popular sites.

The Visual Capitalist points out that Google.com gets an astounding 28 billion visits per month. The next closest is also a Google-owned property, YouTube, brings in 20.5 billion visits.

Facebook (FB) controls two of the most popular web sites; Facebook (#3) and Instagram (#13).

Jeff Bezo’s firm Amazon (AMZN) directs four popular web sites;

The infographic says Verizon (VZ) now controls the Huffington Post (#49) and AOL (#59) and will control Yahoo (#5) and Tumlr (#12) if the deal closes in 2017 Q2.

Reddit.com comes in at #7 and Reddituploads.com is #61.

Online retailer eBay comes in as the #8 website.

POTUS favorite Twitter (TWTR) is the 9th ranked website and t.co is #25.

Video streamer Netflix comes in ranked #10 by Vodien.

Microsoft (MSFT) controls 7 of the top 100 web sites with recently purchased LinkedIn at #11, Live.com #14. so-so search engine Bing is #17, followed by Office.com (#23), Microsoft Online Services (#24), MSN (#37) and Microsoft.com (#41).


100 Websites that Rule the Internet

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The consolidation of all of this web traffic is troubling. The current administration is going to allow online firms to sell all the personal information they collect to the government, data aggregators or anybody else to make a buck.

Ralph Bach has been in IT for a while and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

How Much Code Does It Take?

How Much Code Does It Take?David McCandless from Information is Beautiful tries to answer the question how many millions of lines of code does it take to? For reference, the Visual Capitalist calculates that a million lines of code (MLOC), if printed, would be about 18,000 pages of text. That’s 14x the length of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The total lines of code to run systems varies widely as Mr. McCandless shows in the infographic.

  • pages of textIt took less than a million lines of code to run the NASA Space Shuttle.
    • It takes less than 5 million lines of code to run the Mars Rover Curiosity.
    • The latest version of the Firefox web browser includes just under 10 million lines of code.
    General Motors’ (GM) Chevy Volt requires just over 10 million lines of code.
    Microsoft (MSFT) Office 2008 for the Apple (AAPL) Mac consists of over 35 million lines of code
    • And it took 50 million lines of code to bring us Microsoft Vista.
    • Finally, all Google (GOOG) services combine for a whopping 2 billion lines – that means it would take 36 million pages to “print out” all of the code behind all Google services. That would be a stack of paper 2.2 miles high!
Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

 

Ralph Bach has been in IT for a while and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

Chatbots Are Evolving

Chatbots Are EvolvingThe momentum behind chatbots is growing. American Banker reports that major banks are actively experimenting with chatbots. Chatbots is short for chat robot, a computer program that simulates human conversation, or chat, through artificial intelligence. Typically, a chatbot will communicate with a real person, but applications are being developed in which two chatbots can communicate with each other. Chatbots are used in applications such as ecommerce customer service and call centers.

Banks trying to decide how to use chatbots Banks trying to decide how to use chatbots include: Ally, BBVA, Bank of America, Barclays, Capital One, Societe Generale, and USAA.  A survey conducted by Personetics found that 87% of bankers say they plan to do something with chatbots by 2020.

Penny Crosman, the author reports that a growing numberof vendors are offering prefab chatbots that have been trained with documents, data and conversations about financial products and topics. Some are intended to replicate the interaction with a human, while others are styled more like workhorses. The author describes four types of chatbots being used today.

AI as the simulation of human intelligence processes by machinesThe conversationalistKai is the Chatbot from Kasisto. Kasisto is a spinoff of the research lab SRI International. SRI developed the first public Artificial Intelligence (AI) Siri, which Apple purchased in 2010 for use in the iPhone.

SearchCIO defines AI as the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. These processes include learning, reasoning, and self-correction. Particular applications of AI include expert systems, speech recognition and machine vision.

Siri knows a lot — it’s very broad but very shallow,” Zor Gorelov, CEO and co-founder of Kasisto. A group of SRI researchers realized a financial services chatbot would have to be narrow and deep and started working on one. Around 2009, the group was approached by BBVA, which was seeking human-like interactions from a chatbot, and the two organizations partnered to create a virtual banking assistant. Mr. Gorelov said the SRI researchers “interviewed people across the banking universe at BBVA … transcribed tens of thousands of calls.”

KasistoA staff of full-time writers called “artificial intelligence interaction designers” produces dialogues for Kai. American Banker say they also constantly monitor behavior and user interactions. General banking knowledge has also been embedded. “You can ask Kai questions about CDs, IRAs, credit scores — it’s the smartest banker you can imagine from a customer onboarding point of view: how do I open an account, what document do I need?” Kasisto’s Gorelov says there are 10 to 11 messages exchanged between Kai and users during an average session,

The article noted that Kai is used by digibank, a mobile-only bank launched in India by DBS Bank in Singapore, and it’s being piloted by Royal Bank of Canada.

chatbot technology has been fed financial services information for five yearsThe DoerPersonetics has built a library of customer insights for its chatbots. The chatbot technology has been fed financial services information for five years and fueled with unsupervised and supervised machine learning, natural language understanding, logic inference, and associative knowledge according to AB.

While other chatbots might aim to simulate a real conversation, Personetics tries to make it clear the customer is not dealing with a human to avoid potential confusion.

PersoneticsEran Livneh, vice president of Personetics explained the chatbot is akin to an employee who understands banking and serving customers really well. The chatbots can walk customers through steps, provide predictive messages and behavior insights, and automatically perform tasks like money management.

So though they can “chat” with customers, they’re primarily designed to actually do things for them. Personetics chatbots are used by Ally Bank and Societe Generale.

North Side chatbot, VerbalAccessThe linguist – Montreal based a software company North Side, specializes in giving its chatbot, VerbalAccess, a precise understanding of language, whether spoken or typed, through natural language processing technology.

The article notes that North Side didn’t start out in banking. Originally it created a video game that lets players communicate with characters. “That’s how we made our natural language understanding pipeline robust,” said Eugene Joseph, North Side’s CEO.

North Side doesn’t try to glean insights from analyzing customer behavior. Instead, it takes commands and acts on them, such making a payment or displaying a transaction.  If a user asks, “What have I spent on coffee in the last month?” North Side’s chatbot will understand the question and translate it to an API call that will extract the answer automatically. It would make the same calls that might be made by a mobile banking app or online banking site, but with the added ability to translate from the imprecise way a human might ask something to language the software can understand..

The chatbot is trained to clarify users’ questions. “If what is said is incomplete, it will elicit the missing information,” Mr.Joseph said. “That’s very important because people speak in an incomplete way. We know what to ask for.”

Teller chatbotThe Teller – Sidharth Garg began working on his chatbot, Teller, while at Columbia Business School. He told AB,I wanted to use the recent advances in natural language processing and the opening of messaging platforms to help people learn the basics of personal finance.

To feed Teller the information to answer customers’ questions, he went through blogs and personal finance books, attempting to answer every general personal finance question he could think of. Mr. Garg explained goal was to make retirement options easy to understand. He “…put together Buzzfeed-style graphics that explain the different types of retirement accounts into something someone could understand on their mobile device.

He decided to focus on the business-to-consumer market. “People are more inclined to chat with a banking assistant that comes from an institution they already trust,” Mr. Garg told the author. “They already have a captive audience of customers and they would also allow for easy integration with their bank accounts.

Recently, he’s been running a pilot program with Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union that has provided additional real-world data to train the chatbot. For now the bot is answering only the most general questions for the credit union’s customers. Eventually, the plan is to integrate the chatbot with the credit union’s back-end system, to let it answer questions specific to customers’ accounts.

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I have written about chatbots a couple of times on the Bach Seat. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and even Pizza Hut are experimenting with bot-to-human interactions.  Chatbots will get smarter as more people keep using them, and as developers perfect the tools to turn the software into what people want and need. Like Personetics’ Livneh said, “Customers generally like things that help them with the day-to-day activities.”  Chatbots will also cost jobs.

 

Ralph Bach has been in IT for fifteen years and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.