Discus Systems PLC - IT Support Company in Birmingham West midlands
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 22nd Mar 2016

After a career spanning 45 years, Martyn Harrison has decided to retire from his role in the IT services world on Thursday 24th March 2016.

Martyn has spent the last 8 years of his career with Discus and we’re very disappointed to see him go. Martyn joined Discus in 2008 to become part of our sales and technical team. He proved he could turn his hand to many roles with his wide range of skills and knowledge picked up over the years. He has been a great asset to Discus.

Although Martyn will be greatly missed by all, we would like to reassure customers that normal service will continue as Leon Mais will be fulfilling the role Martyn previously held. He can be contacted on 01675461316 or Leon@discus.co.uk and is willing and able to help you with all your IT business needs.

We wish Martyn a happy retirement and Leon best wishes in his new role.

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 22nd Mar 2016

Music streaming site SoundCloud has resolved a dispute with Sony Music, removing a major obstacle to its plans to launch a subscription service.

Sony had previously pulled its music - including songs by Adele, Kesha and Hozier - from the site in protest at "a lack of monetisation opportunities".

The move angered some artists, such as French DJ Madeon, who said the label removed music "against my will".

But a year of negotiations has ended in a new licensing deal.

It gives SoundCloud access to all of Sony's artists, including those on subsidiaries The Orchard and Sony Red Distribution, worldwide.

The site, which offers more than 100 million songs for free, already has deals with the other two major labels - Warner Music and Universal - as well as hundreds of independents.

In a statement, SoundCloud said it would launch its long-awaited subscription service "later this year." Record companies favour such platforms over free ones because they pay higher royalty rates.

SoundCloud launched in 2008 as a "YouTube for music". It allows artists, musicians, DJs and creators of other kinds of audio content, like podcasts, to post material and share it on blogs and social media.

Many acts started out by sharing their compositions on the site, while dance artists embraced the opportunity to post exclusive mixes and DJ sets.

But it became a target for the music industry, not just because of the illegally uploaded tracks it hosted, but because record labels were not making money from the music they posted themselves.

The situation improved in 2014, as the site began running advertisements and developed tools to detect and remove unlicensed content.

The deal with Sony comes at a crucial time for the German company, whose dominance in dance music is being challenged by Mixcloud and Apple Music, which last week struck a deal allowing it to stream thousands of previously unavailable remixes and mash-ups.

"We are pleased to be making content from Sony Music Entertainment available to SoundCloud's large user base of highly-engaged, passionate music fans," said Dennis Kooker, Sony's president of global digital business and US sales.

"This agreement creates a business framework for the use of Sony Music songs on the SoundCloud platform that meets the needs of our artists and labels, and supports the growth of SoundCloud through its new premium on-demand music tier."

"Today is of particular significance to us as a company, as we now have deals in place with all of the major music labels," said SoundCloud founder and chief executive officer Alexander Ljung. "We are very excited to be working with SME and cannot wait to see what we can achieve together as we continue to transform the future of music online."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 21st Mar 2016

Virtual warfare is being waged on social networks with the majority of users unaware that nations and militant groups alike are targeting their hearts and minds.

Modern conflicts are no longer about warring states and control over territory, but more about identity, control of the population and the political decision-making process, argues military researcher Thomas Elkjer Nissen.

This makes Twitter - which is marking its 10th anniversary - ripe for exploitation in any conflict. It is the network users turn to for news, and where news organisations break stories, so interested parties need their version of events to appear on timelines

It has been used most notably by jihadist groups but, increasingly, there are also worries that states such as Russia may be using the network to influence populations without anyone noticing.

Grooming recruits

The number of supporters of the so-called Islamic State on Twitter is tiny - about 46,000 in total, according to a Brookings Institute survey in 2014.

Despite this, the group has used Twitter to gain and hold the attention of a mass audience, and to attract supporters.
"Baghdad's big battle" - an image posted on a pro-IS Twitter account

Researcher JM Berger of George Washington University has laid out how the group "grooms" new members: from looking for potential supporters in Muslim-oriented networks, to surrounding targets with a small community that interacts with them and then encouraging a recruit to take action.

"The user often starts with a link in a tweet and is then led further and further into the narrative on blogs, videos and other social media - possibly ending up in a conversation with a recruiter," says Mr Nissen.

"As one of the big three open social networks used by terrorists - Facebook and YouTube being the other two - Twitter is a quick way to send messages, which are easily redistributed by supporters, linking across different media."

Keeping it short

Just ahead of its 10th birthday, Twitter's chief executive Jack Dorsey confirmed it would keep the 140-character limit of its tweets.
"It's a good constraint for us and it allows for of-the-moment brevity," he told NBC's Today show.

The firm had previously indicated it was considering extending the limit to 10,000 characters, or about 2,000 words.

The proposal had met with resistance from its users, with many arguing the restriction was integral to Twitter's identity and that the firm was pandering to its investors, who wanted faster growth.

Amplifying and inflating

IS communicates very effectively on Twitter. It puts out timely information in several languages and uses a variety of multimedia, from cat images to horrifying killings, to engage its audience emotionally.

When IS captured Mosul in Iraq in 2014 the group aggressively used bots and spammed popular hashtags to ensure its propaganda was visible on Twitter, even to people not looking for it.

Berger has estimated that as many as 20% of tweets from IS supporters could have been created by bots or apps.

And IS is not the only group to use Twitter for propaganda. When Somali terrorist group Al-Shabab attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013, the group crowed over the attack and live-tweeted events, easily creating new accounts every time one was shut.

Such events can create the impression the group is stronger and has more support than it actually does. While IS's tweets are easily identifiable, some believe a greater threat may come from the anonymous use of Twitter by states.

Hidden threat

Several Russian and Western media organisations have documented the experiences of former Russian trolls and their work and reported observations of suspicious behaviour on social media.

There is still a lack of hard evidence linking such activity directly to the Kremlin. The covert nature of trolling makes it difficult to estimate the extent of influence Russia's trolls may have on Twitter.

Researching this field is social science student Lawrence Alexander, who maps relationships between accounts and has identified what he believes are pro-Kremlin Twitter bots promoting Russian news agencies and pro-Kremlin blogs.

In one instance, he found 2,900 accounts tweeting a specific phrase saying that the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered last February, was killed by Ukrainians because "he was stealing one of their girlfriends".

While not completely certain they were all bots, many of the accounts were following each other and a majority had never favourited a tweet, arguably suspicious behaviour when compared with a random selection of accounts.

Troll tactics

Troll influence has extended beyond Russia's borders. In the US, Russian trolls are suspected of tweeting false news of disasters in 2014: an accident at a chemical factory in Louisiana and an outbreak of Ebola in Atlanta.

Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat, a company that crowdsources information about the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts, found himself a target, particularly over Bellingcat's investigation identifying the missile launcher said to be responsible for shooting down flight MH17.

"I started off by posting a lot on the Guardian live blog comments before I started my own blogs and some of the people from that followed me on to Twitter and still disagree with me strongly and vocally there up until today, five years later," he says.

"What's been interesting for me is having this Syria community of trolls and the community of pro-Russian trolls that built up around MH17 and my work, now coming together after Russia's involvement in Syria. It's nice to bring people together, even when it's in their mutual and obsessive hatred of one person.

"Recently we've even had the Russian Ministry of Defence and Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs putting out statements attacking Bellingcat. They seem to be basing it on what the trolls are saying," he adds.

Countries with Russian minorities - Germany and the Baltic states - have been following the issue closely and both the EU and Nato have formed units to counter what they see as a propaganda war online.

As a study at the University of Warwick has found, false rumours on Twitter take much longer to resolve than those eventually proven to be true. Or, as the meme would have it: "The amount of energy necessary to refute bull is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it."

The lesson is: be wary of what you read on Twitter.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 21st Mar 2016

The floors of the New York and London Stock Exchanges now exist mostly for show. The real trading is done automatically by robots.

About three-quarters of trades on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq are done by algorithms - computer programs following complex sets of rules.

And this "robo-trading" is having a profound effect on the investment world, from global hedge funds right down to personal savers.

But what are the advantages and disadvantages of allowing computers to manage the world's trillions of dollars?

The advantage for personal, or retail, investors is that we now have powerful tools at our fingertips helping us choose and manage a balanced portfolio of investments, often at much lower cost than going through traditional brokers or fund management companies.

And if you don't fancy the DIY approach, advisers and intermediary companies have access to these tools as well.

"Robo-advice" companies, such as Betterment and WiseBanyan in the US, and Nutmeg and MoneyFarm in the UK, are trying to demystify investment while giving us access to such tools.

WiseBanyan co-founder Vicki Zhou says her platform allows people to "invest algorithmically through a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds."

And they don't charge the management costs normally levied by traditional funds, she says - pointing out that 88% of such funds in the US have underperformed their benchmark indexes over last five years.

Betterment's Joe Ziemer says: "We look at 40 different variables - spousal situation, rental income, pensions - and from these we will deliver you online, in seconds, a comprehensive retirement plan."

In a recent report, the UK's Financial Conduct Authority said online financial advice could "play a major role in driving down costs".

This is good news for us, but bad news for advisers - Royal Bank of Scotland said it would be cutting the jobs of 220 face-to-face advisers in response to this new technology.

The need for speed
Big financial institutions are always looking for an edge over their rivals. Information is power, so if you have more of it and can put that into effect quicker than others, you'll win the race for profits.

Robo-trading offers them this advantage.
Computers can trade multiple times in fractions of a second, exploiting tiny changes in stock prices and indexes to turn a profit.

Author Michael Lewis investigated the "flash trading" phenomenon in his bestseller Flash Boys
Companies like New Jersey-based Tradeworx are erecting line-of-site networks of microwave relays, involving towers interspersed every 30 miles or so.

This network will convey financial information from Chicago - where financial products called futures are traded - to the New York Stock Exchange 2.3 milliseconds faster than data sent over existing fibre-optic cables.

This tiny time saving is enough to give a trader an advantage in the hyper-fast world of "flash trading" - the controversial phenomenon exposed in Michael Lewis' best-selling book, Flash Boys.

'Greed and fear'

Computers are also unemotional.
"They don't panic... they don't understand things like greed and fear," says Dr Michael Halls-Moore, whose website, QuantStart.com, teaches people how to write investment algorithms.
And they're also getting smarter.

With the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, they can scour reams of news, research and social media - hundreds of data sets - potentially learning and self-improving as they go.

Would you trust a robot to invest your savings for you?

"When data was scarce, people would hoard information, and find an edge in investing that way," says Dr Thomas Wiecki, lead data scientist at Quantopian, a crowd-sourced hedge fund.

"Now we take huge mountains of data a human could never analyse, and automate it."

Quantopian gives monthly prizes to private investors who come up with their own market beating algorithms.

Dr Eugene Kashdan, a former London algorithmic trader, now a mathematics lecturer at University College Dublin, explains that these data sets taken individually might not reveal much useful information.

Men shouting orders a the Chicago Board Options Exchange

Dramatic scenes like this are relatively rare in the world's financial exchanges these days
But when combined with many others, a picture can emerge - undetectable by the human eye - giving a signal whether to buy or sell.

New York-based Rebellion Research and California-based Sentient AI are developing ways that these algorithms can learn from past mistakes and refine their rules, without the need for much human intervention.

Out of control?

Proponents say algorithmic trading puts needed liquidity - the availability of buyers and sellers - into the market, and reduces costs.

Critics say it wastes the talents of highly trained mathematicians and physicists, and destabilises the markets in ways no one - especially regulators - yet understands.

On 6th May 2010, a "flash crash" took place that regulators blamed on high-frequency algorithmic trading.

It saw a trillion-dollar drop in US stocks, the second-largest swing ever in the market during a single day. The markets recovered their value 36 minutes later.

US authorities blamed a 36-year old in west London, who was using commercially available algorithmic trading software to trade part-time from his parents' house.

On 23 March, a UK judge is due to give a decision on whether the trader in question, Navinder Sarao, should be extradited to the US.

The fear is that "flash crashes" could become more frequent in a trading world dominated by self-learning robots.

Is it too far-fetched to imagine a clever computer deliberately triggering a huge sell-off with the purpose of buying shares when they're cheap and making a profit as the market recovers?


Some think a more likely scenario is that all these self-learning trading algorithms, accessing all the market-relevant data there is to know, eventually converge to a single view, leading to stagnation in the market.

Trading volumes would then shrink along with spreads - the difference between buying and selling prices.

"The best and the worst scenarios would get pretty close," says Dr Kashdan.

But others believe we'll never reach that point - the world is just too complex. No algorithm will ever be able to predict the future.

"Everyone openly admits it's impossible," says Quantopian chief executive John Fawcett.

"But it's too important to ignore."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 21st Mar 2016

It was one of Britain's brightest tech start-ups, praised by David Cameron, and a rare British "unicorn" - a company valued at over $1bn (£694m) before floating on a stock market.

Its dynamic founder Dan Wagner claimed last year that his business was worth $2.7bn (£1.9bn) and had signed a deal in China with "limitless" potential.

But last month Powa Technologies collapsed into administration - and it rapidly became clear that it was more akin to a lame old donkey than a unicorn. Its demise has raised questions about the health of London's much vaunted fintech (financial technology) sector, and about the wisdom of sky-high valuations for unproven businesses.

In recent weeks, I've spoken to a number of people connected to the mobile ecommerce company in an attempt to work out what went wrong.

What those people have told me is that Powa was an almost textbook case of how not to run a company - no clear strategy, directionless management, overblown claims about the technology and a reckless attitude to money.

For the last couple of years, I've been receiving emails from Powa's PR agency urging me to cover the company's ground breaking technology the PowaTag which "allows users to purchase anytime, anywhere in just three seconds by simply scanning an item or advertisement with their smartphone".

Eventually, the company claimed that it had 1,200 businesses signed up to use the PowaTag.

I was not particularly impressed. I saw little evidence that the technology was being used, but one investor did bite. A Boston-based firm Wellington Management invested a sizeable sum in Mr Wagner's venture. Eventually they along with other investors poured more than $200m into Powa.

The start-up said that adding its PowaTag button to sites would reduce the risk of customers changing their mind before completing a purchase

It seems likely they were told the same story that was peddled to journalists - that the PowaTag was going to be used by some of the world's leading brands including L'Oreal and Carrefour.

But what's emerged since the collapse of the business is that none of those companies had signed contracts, merely "letters of intent", which did not commit them to anything. One senior figure in the company told me that young inexperienced sales staff were rewarded with a £2,000 bonus every time one of these letters was signed "so they weren't particularly concerned about the quality of the deal".

Mr Wagner, who claims to have a stellar record as a serial entrepreneur, was still telling everyone who would listen that his was a company that would be bigger than Google or Facebook one day. As recently as last October, he told Evan Davis on Radio 4's Bottom Line that the business had been valued at $2.7bn by its backers Wellington. Evan suggested that was a meaningless figure because Powa hadn't made any money yet.

"We're a growth tech business," Mr Wagner replied, maintaining it was other people who had set that value.
Just before Christmas, it seemed that he had been vindicated. Powa's PR firm approached the BBC with a story that the company had done an amazing deal in China. It would see the PowaTag gain access to the 1.3 billion customers of China UnionPay, the country's leading force in payments, and open up a new era of mobile commerce.

Last December Powa emailed a press release about its "alliance" with China UnionPay

Mr Wagner was triumphant. In an interview with the BBC he said: "Why did China UnionPay decide to partner with a little British technology company? We've trumped Apple Pay and the rest of the world here."

Behind the scenes, the Powa team that had negotiated the deal was shocked - they had told Mr Wagner not to oversell the deal but he had gone off script. "He just shot his mouth off," one told me.

"The Chinese were furious, they don't like that kind of boasting."

What's more, any deal had been done with an intermediary, not China UnionPay, whose lawyers sent a "cease and desist" letter ordering Powa to shut up.

"As matter of fact," says the letter, "our company has not yet established any business relationship with your company".

Powa's PR agency called the BBC asking us to remove Mr Wagner's quote from our article. We refused - he'd said it, after all. A day or so later Apple announced that it was entering China's payments market, and it became evident that "a little British technology company" had not trumped the rest of the world.

But Mr Wagner needed to make plenty of noise about the China deal because Powa was running out of cash and was on a desperate hunt for investors to shore up its balance sheet. Somehow, all of that money from Wellington had been spent.

Some of it had gone on office space - Powa occupied two floors of the prestigious Heron Tower at the heart of the city of London, and had equally lavish accommodation in Hong Kong, New York and across Europe.

Powa based itself at London landmark the Heron Tower

Warren Cowen, whose Greenlight digital agency bought PowaWeb - a small part of the business - out of administration, told me he was taken aback when he visited the grandiose offices in Heron Tower: "We operate out of a gritty warehouse in King's Cross."

Then there were the parties and dinners where the fine wines flowed and huge bills were racked up. According to several former employees, at one Christmas bash in Mayfair, strippers were hired to perform, to the discomfort of many present. "There was a very sexist culture," one younger employee told me. "It was very 1980s."

There were very generous salaries too - at a senior level some executives were paid large six figure sums - but that did not make staff happy in their work. On the Glassdoor jobs site, where employees rate companies as places to work, Powa's entry features a clutch of reviews criticising the management, and in particular the chief executive.

One of the more printable comments is this: "You don't employ intelligent, highly experienced people to treat them like something unpleasant under your shoe by telling them to forget everything they know, as your way isn't working."
Mind you, things seemed to have improved last July when there was a sudden rash of four and five star reviews. That might be the result of an email about these negative reviews sent to all staff by Ant Sharp, Mr Wagner's right-hand man.
He asked them to post positive reviews on Glassdoor, explaining: "You can make your posting completely anonymous. And would you please send your contribution from a personal email account and not your Powa one."

He told them that if they did this he would give them Starbucks vouchers, but if they didn't feel able to help they should come and see him and "chat about your unhappiness".

By this January, staff had very good reasons to feel unhappy as they were no longer being paid. An internal finance report seen by the BBC has a section headlined Cash Management and Insolvency Trading.

Underneath, the bullet points include "operating over the last four months with less incoming funds than monthly cash burn" and "ensuring we follow 'good practices' under the insolvency guidelines".

It is clear Powa was teetering on the brink of insolvency.

But on 12 January, all staff received a bizarre email from Mr Wagner. The subject line said, "Long live the legacy of David Bowie".

The email featured a photo of Mr Wagner dressed as Ziggy Stardust in full make-up with the caption: "I don't do tributes in half measures!"

One member of staff described Mr Wagner as an "idiot"

The employees were not impressed. One told me: "While the company was going under, he's fooling around in a photography studio pretending to be Ziggy Stardust. The guy is a narcissistic idiot."

It was a month later that Wellington Management decided enough was enough, and called in Deloitte to act as administrators. The insolvency has managed to dispose of parts of the business but the majority of the staff have lost their jobs. In the next week or so, Deloitte is expected to publish details of the financial situation it found at Powa Technologies, which last filed accounts for 2013.

Companies go bust all the time - why should anyone care but the investors who have lost money and the employees who lost their jobs? One Powa executive, who has gone on to work for another technology firm, says there are serious issues for London as a centre of financial technology firms: "People are telling me this is making it harder to raise money."

I wanted to ask Wellington Management about the due diligence it had undertaken before its investment in Powa, but the company politely declined to talk to me.

I have also tried to reach Dan Wagner on a number of occasions to hear his side of the story. So far, I have received no reply.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 21st Mar 2016

Let's get one thing clear, bosses are rarely bad on purpose – more often than not they are blissfully unaware that their staff liken their leadership style to Ricky Gervais’ infamous David Brent.

The reason for this delusion is two-fold; firstly they lack an objective audience (it takes a brave employee to risk their future career by giving honest feedback) and secondly, they simply haven’t learnt the skills – we aren’t born knowing how to be a good boss.

The key is to recognise the signs that indicate there is serious room for improvement – and then not to be afraid to act on them. In 2015 we surveyed 2,000 small and medium sized businesses managers and 79 per cent claimed they considered themselves good leaders. Just think about the bosses you’ve had and how many you would have considered "good leaders" – the figure certainly wouldn’t be that high.

Here are four signs that you may also be considered a bad boss. Yes, it can feel like a bitter pill to swallow, but once you take the medicine you’ll be amazed at the benefits in staff engagement, performance and retention, which all equates to a more successful business.

(1) Your staff crave more responsibility
If your staff are asking for more responsibility then it either means that you're trying to be their "mate" and doing everything yourself to avoid upsetting them, or you are micromanaging them and not giving them any ownership. Delegation takes time to do effectively but it’s worth it to help staff develop and also so that you are freed to focus on the parts of the business that really need your attention.

Staff prefer to be given clear tasks and be coached to own them by themselves.

(2) You don’t have an honesty amnesty for truthful feedback
Staff are not going to give honest feedback off their own volition, especially if it could be interpreted as being negative. If you don’t have a culture of openness, where constructive feedback is proactively encouraged both ways, then you are missing valuable insights that will enable both yourself and staff to develop and perform your roles more effectively.

(3) They hide mistakes rather than fess up
If you have ever discovered that an employee has tried to hide a problem, rather than flag it and ask for advice in resolving it, then chances are they don’t find you approachable and are worried about your reaction. This is bad for business as you are missing crucial information and potentially important learnings that could make your business better.

Staff should feel comfortable highlighting problems as soon as they happen – so that they can quickly resolve them and you can put in place business-wide processes to stop them happening again.

(4) They are more likely to call in sick
If your sickness levels are high but you are suspicious that your staff return to work looking very "well" then it’s very likely that your employees are choosing to play a sick-card, rather than being honest about needing to be home for an important delivery, visiting the dentist or attending an important school meeting (parent’s evenings are now rarely in the "evening!").

Obviously it’s important that staff do not take advantage, but they should feel able to be honest about time needed out of work – it’s ultimately better that you have forewarning and they only take a few hours off, rather than a whole day. It’s key to be seen to approachable and then fair; a boss like this is someone that staff will respect and want to stay with for a long time to come.

Source: realbusiness.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 21st Mar 2016

Kanye West is not a rapper – 14 jobs he can do without $1bn Mark Zuckerberg investment
18 March 2016 · By Zen Terrelonge

Kanye West wants to be known as an entrepreneur, not a rapper, and following his request for $1bn of investment from Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian’s husband has kept littering Twitter with his thoughts. As such, Real Business found the eccentric celebrity businessman has the skills to fill numerous job roles.

West wants to "bring dope shit to the world"
There is a fierce amount of talent in the Kardashian-West household, it seems. A March study found that reality TV star Kim Kardashian has had more impact on the tech industry than any other woman, according to 64 per cent of Brits.

Prior to that, a separate report in December 2015 found the selfie-loving tech pro was placed third by UK students in a ranking of the top eight business role models. Kardashian came ahead of the likes of Karren Brady, Tim Cook and Larry Page.

With that particular industry sewn up, husband Kanye West appears to be looking for a change of career.

You may recall his February funding plea to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg to “invest 1 billion dollars into Kanye West ideas” – and help him out of $53m debt.

With Zuckerberg in ownership of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, West went rogue and sought the capital via enemy network Twitter.

Bet Jack Dorsey was both miffed and relieved.

West modestly used a series of follow-up tweets to serve as his CV in an attempt to lure in Zuckerberg.

Indeed. You can never have too much dope shit.

While West can often be found dumping his thoughts on Twitter these days, the star hasn’t actually crossed the 800 tweet threshold yet, even though he joined back in July 2010. Formerly social media-shy, it’s only really been 2016 that has seen him ramp up his activity.

West has been eager to push his fashion line on the social network, and has even declared he is no longer a rapper – despite aggressively promoting his new music – and claimed he is proud as an entrepreneur.

To that end, we’ve acted as career advisor for West, using his tweets as a CV to decide the working paths he has the ability to walk down. You may even find yourself feeling inspired and ready to join him on a new journey.

14 alternative job roles for Kanye West:

(1) The business mentor

(2) The store manager

(3) The teacher

(4) The negotiator

(5) The care assistant

(6) The analyst

(7) The personal shopper

(8) The construction worker

(9) The relationship counsellor

(10) The event manager

(11) The social worker

(12) The film critic

(13) The handyman

(14) The life coach

Well, you heard the man – enjoy!

Source: realbusiness.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 16th Mar 2016

To gain entry into the most exclusive club in Los Angeles, there is no need to wear a trendy outfit or to slip the bouncer a Benjamin. In fact, there isn’t even a line.

Instead, admission requires the approval of a scrupulous jury of 1,500 women. And if those women decide to let you into their secret club, a Facebook group called ‘Girls Night In,’ all 1,500 of them will become your very best friends.

‘Girls Night In’—or GNI, as its members call it—is like a giant online slumber party, one that never ends, slips into your pocket and can be called upon at any moment in the day that you need it. It is a constant stream of brutally frank chatter about relationships, work, sex, race, gender and, yes, cats, along with a bizarrely large quantity of nude selfies. It is made up mainly of women in their 20s and 30s who live in the Los Angeles area. Among its ranks are Instagram-famous models, former reality show contestants, celebrity makeup artists and the quasi-famous girlfriend of a very famous singer.

Lest you be confused (or hope to try to join it), you should know that it’s not actually called ‘Girls Night In,’ but rather changes names constantly based on a rotating series of inside jokes. Getting in requires recommendations from at least three women already in the group. “If you meet a nice girl in a bathroom while you are drunk i am really happy for you and for her but that’s not cause to add her to this group,” its rules advise. The rules of membership read even stricter: “EVERYTHING POSTED IN THIS GROUP IS PRIVATE, TOP SECRET AND SHOULD REMAIN IN THIS GROUP. SHARING INFO OR POSTS FROM THIS GROUP WITH OTHERS WILL RESULT IN EXPULSION FROM THE GROUP AND PUBLIC SHAMING.” Amazingly, people honor the no-sharing rule.

The members rely on the group’s hive mind to make decisions large and small.
If you get invited into ‘Girls Night In,’ it will probably change your life. It’s like joining a sorority—a digital sisterhood where women vent, fight, offer advice, trade tips, crack jokes and critique each other’s selfies. It’s an interactive, communal diary, and a support group for womanhood. But most important of all, it’s a focus group for your life. If you’re wondering how to respond to a text from a dude, whether you should buy that jumpsuit you’re trying on at Fred Segal or if your boobs looks smoking, just post your inquiry to the group for real-time feedback.

“It’s like your 1,000 best girlfriends on a group text,” founder Annaliese Nielsen told me. It’s a female hive mind and it might be the future of friendship.


Nielson, 32, has always been fascinated by meeting people on the internet.

“As soon as we got a computer all I did was use the internet to talk to other people,” she told me. “I was popular at school and had a ton of friends, but I was extremely interested in using the internet to talk to strangers.”

Nielsen, who started the altporn site Gods Girls in her twenties, now runs Crushee, which is like a dating site but for finding new friends. The consummate party girl, Nielsen plans weekly ‘Girls Night In’ meetups at bars and night swims at the Roosevelt Hotel’s popular pool in the summer. With her voluminous blond hair, Nielsen radiates glamor, yet also comes off as extremely down-to-earth. Group members routinely describe her as “fascinating,”

Annaliese Nielsen, the founder of the exclusive L.A. Facebook group Girls Night In

Two years ago, Neilsen spun ‘Girls Night In’ out of another Facebook group called Girls Night Out that had begun as a few hundred girls from the L.A. party scene but ballooned into a monster group with tens of thousands of members. Nielsen wanted to create a place on the internet where women could feel safe talking about anything.

“Sometimes when you ask your best girlfriends for advice they’re so biased toward you,” she told me. “If you’re being shitty to a guy they probably won’t even tell you because they’re ‘on your side.’ People who are a little more removed from each other can be more objective.”

In some ways, Nielsen’s vision was not so different from how people have always used the internet. From the early internet network Usenet to LiveJournal in the aughts to Facebook and Twitter now, online social networks are where we turn for support, commiseration and advice.

What’s different about ‘Girls Night In’ is the outsize role that the group plays in its members’ lives: many of its users submit their every decision, large and small, to the group, for its members’ feedback in real time. Many members post up to 10 times a day, and comment on other posts dozens of times more. (Women who don’t comment regularly are booted from the group.) Rather than turning to one or two really good friends for advice, the women of ‘Girls Night In’ consult a carefully curated crowd, constantly.

“It’s my life,” one 32-year-old member told me, echoing the comments of many others. “I rarely go on ‘normcore’ Facebook, as we call it. The group is my community, it is my support system. I almost always have the page open and am engaged in it most of the day between real life.”

Six years ago, Facebook debuted groups, along with the option to make them either “closed” or “secret.” To join a closed group, you need permission from the group’s creator. Same for secret groups, but secret groups also don’t show up in search. According to Facebook, most of those groups are small groups of friends and family composed of less than 100 people. But bigger secret groups like ‘Lolo’s Logic,’ ‘Binders Full of Women Writers’ and ‘Girls Night In’ are digital clubhouses where the network’s most interesting conversation and genuine social interaction now take place, instead of in public.

Facebook isn’t actually uncool. You just can’t see how the cool kids are using it.

Private Facebook groups like ‘Girls Night In’ are a fenced-off corner of the social media world where people speak honestly using their real names without fear of repercussion. You can post a boob shot knowing commenters will tell you how great they look but not repost it anywhere else on the web. You can air your angst about being married but still being upset about your ex-boyfriend of six years ago getting engaged. You can post a question knowing it will get a flurry of responses, and that they will be honest ones from people whose judgement you trust.

💅🏾 💅🏾 💅🏾

When I joined ‘Girls Night In,’ I felt a little like Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron in “Mean Girls” eating at the Plastics’ lunch table for the first time; it was like entering a completely different social world. I came to think of it as “Girl Internet”—and “Girl Internet” has a lot of rules.

The number one rule of “Girl Internet” is that no one can share what someone else posted outside of the group. The members agreed to let me join to write this story on the condition that I agreed to honor the group’s rules of secrecy unless I had permission to do otherwise. Nielsen told me that when the group first started, lots of women were removed for things like telling a guy about something that a member posted about them or tattling on someone to their boss.

“Now that the group is a fairly integral part of a member’s life,” she said. “I think they value it more than they value whatever they could gain by gossiping about it.”

I whiled away hours on the group Facebook page and spoke with more than two dozen members. Most of them told me that they spend up to six hours daily interacting with the group, and that its members now make up the vast majority of their offline social network, too. Multiple women told me the group’s dominance in their lives had created rifts with their best friends and romantic partners.

“My boyfriend is upset because I’m always on my phone,” one of them told me. “It’s the same issue a lot of couples face in this new age of technology. But instead of just being glued to my phone, it’s all messaging with GNI friends. Whenever there’s a question of ‘what are you doing’ or ‘who are you talking to’ the answer is always GNI. Always.”

"Most of my friendships are ALLLLL because of this amazing group," said Liz Moss, a member of Girls Night In.

It’s easy to see how it can be addicting. When I posted to the group to introduce myself, the post racked up hundreds of likes and more than 200 comments within an hour. There is always someone to give you instant advice or an ego-boosting “like” on that rant about your shitty day. If you post a selfie of your new haircut, hundreds of people will probably like it. It’s friendship on demand—if one person isn’t around to give you a virtual hug, inevitably someone else will be.

The other day, a woman posted to the group that a police officer had pulled her over. He didn’t ticket her, but did later Google her, found her number and texted her.

“I called the LAPD and reported because i felt so violated,” she wrote. “idk… did i do the right thing? i just wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

It’s friendship on demand—if one person isn’t around to give you a virtual hug, inevitably someone else will be.
She told me that she felt guilty reporting him, because he hadn’t given her a ticket, and wanted reassurance from the group that she’d done the right thing. She got that reassurance in the form of angry emoji, sad emoji and 53 comments equally outraged by her encounter.

Often the inquiries are moral (whether to keep a gifted cobra skin bag), practical (how to get mac-n-cheese off a suede couch) or just plain funny (“should I get a fake baby so I can drive in the carpool lane?”). Querying the group is better than just Googling or checking Yelp.

"GNI sort of worked to rehabilitate my relationship with women and how I view women in general," said Girls Night In member Selena Rox. "I didn't know much about feminism or how badly I needed it until I became apart of the group."

‘Girls Night In’ will happily be your therapist, too. A filmmaker who goes by Rae Threat told me that the group helped her accept her body and deal with an anxiety-causing case of psoriasis.

“I’m a completely different person from before I joined the group to who I am right now,” she told me. “I go out and don’t double-check my face for redness anymore. I don’t think that I’m too fat to feel beautiful. I happily greet people instead of shying away.”

Women in the group told me that it had helped them get jobs, informed them about politics and taught them how to be feminists. People talk about how to deal with being raped, cheated on or how to deal with their daughter being assaulted. During a recent medical emergency, one member posted that she needed help and hundreds of commenters rushed to assist her, online and off.

“I can post about the terrible and amazing things that happen in my life and I have a support system,” she said. “I cannot imagine my life without this group.”

Members are well aware that to outsiders all the selfies and gossipy chatter might make them come off as silly or vain.

“Yes, we have nude threads, which may seem narcissistic to some people, but considering how much women are judged and made to feel bad about our bodies, these silly threads can be a big confidence boost,” Chara, another member told me. She told me that she has used the group as a place to vent about an ex, as well as a place to find emotional support after she was raped.

“I can post about the terrible and amazing things that happen in my life and I have a support system. I cannot imagine my life without this group.”
Often, I was amazed by the kindness women in ‘Girls Night In’ extended to each other.

Terra Shapiro, a hairstylist and salon owner, told me that when she needed a cosigner on a loan to buy a car, 10 girls she had never met offered and one wound up actually cosigning the loan. After another woman’s house burned down, Nielson said the group raised more than $20,000 to help her. Recently, the group pooled money to pay the vet bills for a member’s sick bunny. After Nielsen posted that her grandfather was ill in Malaysia, she woke up the next morning and a flight had already been booked for her by the group.

As members have moved out of L.A., it has spawned spin-off groups in San Francisco, London, New York, Chicago and Miami as well as more than 20 groups devoted to subtopics such as cooking, intersectional feminism and Bernie Sanders.

Frequently members discuss what it’s like to be so “close” to 1,500 other people. It is isolating in a way—the group has its own language and political point of view and a specific kind of moral code. To be part of the group’s hive mind, you need to fit in, and that means adopting group-wide social norms. At least publicly, the women all seem to support Bernie and abortion and Kim Kardashian’s right to post as many nude selfies as she likes. Members who stray from these norms sometimes find themselves alienated or even chastised. Sometimes it eventually causes them to leave.

“There aren’t really Republicans,” a member named Natasha told me.

""From politics to periods, racism to relationship questions, and classism to car advice, this group provides a wealth of compassionate, learned, and intersectional information that helps us better ourselves and the world around each of us," said GNI member Eugenie Grey.


As I scrolled through post-Botox selfies, bad date tell-alls, and heart-wrenching confessions of traumatizing childhoods, it seemed at first that ‘Girls Night In’ was a group of women who were simply addicted to oversharing. In ‘Girls Night In,’ there is no thought or feeling too mundane to post.

But over time, I realized that ‘Girls Night In’ is just the natural end result of constant connectivity. This is what happens when you are surrounded by people who are always up to hear about your day and offer support. The desire for that constant, supportive communication is why services like fake girlfriends exist and why millions of people in China regularly talk to Microsoft’s digital assistant Xiaoice. ‘Girls Night In’ offers the same appeal, except from real life humans who you don’t have to pay.

While working on this story, I would sometimes have a funny thought, a joke I might want to text to my group of girlfriends but, because it was either the middle of the workday or the middle of the night, I’d reconsider. Then I would wonder what it would be like to post my inner monologue to ‘Girls Night In’ and instantly achieve the praise I was seeking.

Sometimes, in real life, it can be hard to connect—friendships exist across a log of missed calls, awkwardly unliked Facebook posts and unanswered texts. We’ve all probably felt the disappointment of texting your bestie with something urgent and then not hearing back for hours. But in ‘Girls Night In’ the expectation of connection is always fulfilled. Perhaps, in our increasingly connected culture, all of us really need 1,500 best friends, too.

Source: fusion.net
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 16th Mar 2016

A man has been charged with hacking the Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts of celebrities and stealing nude photos and videos from them.

The US authorities say Ryan Collins has agreed to plead guilty to the offence.

Prosecutors have recommended that he face a jail term of 18 months, although a judge could extend that to five years.
The 36-year-old is alleged to have stolen usernames and passwords via a phishing scam.

The Department of Justice said that Pennsylvania-based Collins had admitted to breaking into more than 100 accounts between November 2012 and September 2014.

He is said to have achieved this by sending emails to the victims that pretended to be from Google or Apple requesting their login details.

"[The] defendant used numerous fraudulent email addresses designed to look like legitimate security accounts from various internet service providers, including, for example, email.protection318@icloud.com, noreply_helpdesk0118@outlook.com and secure.helpdesk0119@gmail.com," said court filings.

Collins is accused of accessing at least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts.

Once he had fooled their owners into handing over their details, prosecutors say, he searched through the victims' online data.
"Through his phishing scheme [the] defendant was also able to access full Apple iCloud back-ups belonging to numerous victims, including at least 18 celebrities, many of whom reside in the Los Angeles area," the court papers state.
"Many of these back-ups contained nude photographs and videos."

Naked photographs of Jennifer Lawrence were leaked online after an iCloud hack in 2014

The celebrities are not named, but the attacks coincide with stolen photos of the actresses Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and others being posted to the internet in 2014, which was blamed on an iCloud breach at the time.
Collins has not been accused of uploading the images for others to see.

"By illegally accessing intimate details of his victims' personal lives, Mr Collins violated their privacy and left many to contend with lasting emotional distress, embarrassment and feelings of insecurity," said David Bowdich, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office.

"We continue to see both celebrities and victims from all walks of life suffer the consequences of this crime and strongly encourage users of internet-connected devices to strengthen passwords and to be sceptical when replying to emails asking for personal information."

The FBI added that the case against Collins was part of an "ongoing investigation", indicating that there may be further arrests.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 16th Mar 2016

The prefix "cyber-" is now a handy way of denoting words to do with the internet - from cybercrime, cyberbullying and cybersecurity to improbable activities such as cybersnogging. It followed an eventful path to reach its modern meaning,

In ancient Greek kubernao meant "steer a ship" and kubernetes was a steersman. Homer tells how the gods smote Odysseus's ship, so that the toppling mast crushed the steersman's head (kuberneteo kephalen).

The normal Latin transliteration of kubernetes gives us "cybernetes" - though practical seafaring Romans worried less about the rules and turned kubernao into guberno, from which we get "govern".

Plato used "kubernetika" to mean skill in steering, and in the 1940s the American mathematician, Norbert Wiener, derived from it "cybernetics" to mean "control and communication theory, whether in the machine or in the animal".
In the popular imagination the term cybernetics and therefore cyber- became associated especially with humanoid robots, or similar controlled creatures such as the Cybermen, who first appeared in Doctor Who in 1966.

Cyber- words became a popular theme to do with robots or near-robots, including Dr Who's enemies the cybermen
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978) the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation calls a robot "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With".

The progression from ancient helmsman to comic robot is clear enough and the common theme is control. But how did cyber- go on to its present association with the internet?

The link is the term "cyberspace" - the virtual electronic world in which we explore, play, learn and share information.
Theoreticians of cyberspace such as Howard Rheingold acknowledge that the word comes from the science fiction writing of William Gibson, particularly his 1984 novel Neuromancer.

Its hero longs to return to the online world from which he has been banished, and the book lyrically describes virtual reality folding "through a dozen impossible angles, tumbling away into cyberspace like an origami crane".

But Gibson's account of how he coined the term cyberspace contains a lesson for anyone who reads too much into the derivations of words.

He tells how he needed a "really hot name" for the arena in which his stories would be set, and cyberspace "sounded like it meant something or it might mean something, but as I stared at it, my whole delight was that I knew it meant absolutely nothing".

If he had fancied instead something like "infosphere" or "digiworld", our terminology might be very different.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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