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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 23rd Mar 2016

Having a drawer filled with dark chocolate will boost your brain – we really mean it! But it's not the only food to do so. From folklore medicine to Aztec warrior usage, we unveil five snacks that have a long history of increasing concentration.

Sunflower seeds will help boost concentration
In 2009 the University of California estimated that we are bombarded with 34GB of information a day, twice as much as 30 years ago – a figure that has undoubtedly skyrocketed since the study took place. Office workers, meanwhile, are interrupted on average every three minutes.

Small surprise, therefore, that our concentration spans are shrivelling. In fact, while the average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds. This further highlights the affects of an increasingly digitalised lifestyle on the brain.

There have been numerous suggestions for increasing concentration, spanning keeping your email inbox tidy to mastering the art of time management. However, what if you could boost brain activity simply by nibbling food? Can it actually sharpen our minds? Well, the answer is yes, more or less.

That's what online health retailer MuscleFood.com suggested as it compiled a list of snacks that you should be eating while at work.

We've selected five of the best brain power inducing suggestions which we could back up through research, or had a long history of being used to clear "brain fog":

(1) Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are high in dopamine – a brain chemical involved in increasing motivation and concentration. Its offered Vitamin E can actively protect brain membranes from damage and is known to boost memory as well.

A healthy nervous system means both clearer and happier thinking, according to research. In fact, Readers Digest's "Fight Back with Food," suggested under-consumption of omega-3-rich foods may actually lead to depression.

And according to John Heinennan in the "Encyclopedia of Fruits Vegetables Herbs", this is the way they work: "Tobacco releases stored sugar (glycogen) from the liver and this perks up one's brain. Sunflower seeds provide calories that give the same mental lift."

(2) Eggs
Waking up slightly earlier to cook eggs for breakfast will help you in the long run. The protein inside eggs is the highest-quality protein of any food. That protein can make you feel fuller for longer periods of time, causing you to maintain more stable blood-glucose levels. The high-quality protein in eggs also forms a necessary component of important neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine.

These are chemicals that brain cells use to communicate among themselves. The net effect of all these processes on the brain is an enhanced feeling of energy and alertness.

Researchers at Boston University also found people who got plenty of choline (present in eggs) in their diets performed better on memory tests and were less likely to show brain changes associated with dementia.

(3) Chia seeds
Chia seeds benefit the body by delivering maximum nutrients with minimum calories and promotes digestion, energy and detoxification. Its history, however, is quite intriguing. Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to give them high energy and endurance, suggesting that just one spoonful of chia could sustain them for 24 hours.

Similarly, the isolated tribe of Tarahumara Indians is known for a remarkable feat. They often run for hundreds of miles and scale mountains without injury or rest. Their legendary endurance puts gold medal Olympic marathon runners to shame.

Many believe the chai they constantly keep with them is so packed with nutrition, that one or two mouthfuls will fuel a Tarahumara runner for an entire day.

(4) Rosemary
In folk medicine, rosemary has been associated for centuries with helping people develop a good memory. In fact, Ophelia in Hamlet told her brother Laertes: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." Its link to extending brain power also includes boosting concentration.

The Tudors also believed that rosemary had the power to enhance memory. It's no speculation though, as researchers found that by sprinkling rosemary over snacks, or, strangely enough, by sniffing it, will enable people to remember to do things. It's a pretty nifty tool for the workplace!

In fact, sniffing it could increase your cognitive memory by 75 per cent.

(5) Dark chocolate
Rejoice! There's now a reason to stock up on dark chocolate. And it's exactly because of the happy feeling you're experiencing upon hearing that fact that chocolate has made it onto the list: It boosts your mood. Furthermore, it's known to significantly increase your focus.

Researchers at Northern Arizona University tested the mental responses of participants who ate chocolate of various levels of cacao content. Participants who ate chocolate with 60 per cent cacao – the minimum level of cacao to count as dark chocolate – were more alert and attentive. The downside was increased blood pressure.

There may be a way around that though. Those who consumed dark chocolate with the amino acid L-theanine, which is a relaxant found in green tea, experienced an immediate drop in blood pressure. There you go, a heady mix of dark chocolate and green tea will do the trick!

Source: realbusiness.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 22nd Mar 2016

Apple just announced a new, 9.7-inch iPad Pro — smaller than the original, gigantic 12.9" iPad Pro model, but with the same support for the Apple Pencil stylus and with a better camera.

The new iPad Pro starts at $599 for a model with 32GB of storage, and $749 for 128GB. It starts shipping on March 31st, with preorders opening this week.

Apple is doubling down in the iPad Pro's ability to replace a traditional laptop, in both the bigger and smaller sizes. And the company isn't shy about using it to steal away Microsoft users.

"You might not know this, but the majority of iPad Pro users are coming from a Windows PC," says Apple's Phil Schiller.

At 9.7 inches, the new iPad Pro has the same screen size as Apple's very first iPad, released in 2010. But just like its bigger cousin, the new iPad Pro is designed around productivity and high-end graphics and audio. And it supports a smaller version of the Apple Smart Keyboard cover for the iPad Pro.

Schiller hypes up the new iPad Pro's specs, including an A9X chip, which he bills as the company's fastest processor ever. It also has "pro audio" speakers, and tons of graphical juice under the hood for gaming.

"That's more than an [Microsoft] Xbox 360, in a device you hold in your hand," Schiller says.

apple ipad pro pricingSteve Kovach/Tech Insider

The new iPad Pro also boasts a retina screen, including a new technology that adjusts the screen's reflectivity based on the level of light, to make it more like working with a sheet of real, actual paper.

It also sports a 12 megapixel camera that also lets you take 4K super-high resolution video, which is better than the original iPad Pro.

The iPad Air 2, which used to be Apple's flagship 9.7-inch iPad, is sticking around — but it's getting a price drop to $399. The iPad Air 2 hasn't gotten a refresh since late 2014, so the new iPad Pro is going to be the prime choice for the performance-conscious.

That means the iPad line starts at $269 with the smaller iPad mini, goes up to $399 with the iPad Air 2, $599 for the new, smaller iPad Pro, and $799 for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The original, gigantic iPad Pro is also getting a 256 gigabyte model that starts at $1099.

Launching a new iPad Pro is a bold move, given that the original model failed to set the tablet market on fire since its late-fall release.

Still, given that one of the biggest criticisms of the iPad Pro was its huge size — and given that Apple's Phil Schiller says that the 9.7" screen size is the best-selling iPad screen to date— Apple is clearly hoping a new form factor will kickstart a boom.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 22nd Mar 2016

Apple unveiled its latest iPhone, the iPhone SE, at an event on its Cupertino, California, campus on Monday.

It's going to cost $399 without a contract, or free with a two-year contract — significantly less expensive than other new iPhones were when they first launched.

You can preorder it on March 24, and it will go on sale in stores on March 31.

The SE has a similar body to the iPhone 5S, but with updated components.

"It's got advancements that will make it the most powerful 4-inch phone ever," Greg Joswiak, head of iPhone marketing, said.

According to Apple, the SE will have the same processor as the 6S. The A9 chip in the SE will allow it to turn on when a user says "Hey Siri" and will enable Apple Pay, which is a way to use an iPhone to pay at certain credit-card terminals.

The iPhone SE will also have a 12-megapixel camera, which should be as good as the camera currently in the iPhone 6S. It will also be able to take Live Photos, an Apple photography feature that adds subtle movement to a still picture.

Full specs are available from Apple's website.

The SE comes in rose gold, a pinkish finish previously available only on the iPhone 6 and 6S.

One banner feature the SE will lack is 3D Touch, a new type of multi-touch technology that lets the iPhone sense how hard the user presses down.

Apple is hoping that the iPhone SE can tap into an underappreciated market — people who like small phones — and can help turn around sluggish iPhone sales trends by accelerating existing users' upgrade cycles.

Data show that one-third of iPhone users are still using a 4-inch iPhone, and analysts have predicted that Apple could sell as many as 15 million iPhone SE units in its first year.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 22nd Mar 2016

Service providers aren't to be trusted, Snowden says at Free Software Foundation's LibrePlanet event at MIT

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden opened the Free Software Foundation's LibrePlanet 2016 conference on Saturday with a discussion of free software, privacy and security, speaking via video conference from Russia.

Snowden credited free software for his ability to help disclose the U.S. government's far-reaching surveillance projects – drawing one of several enthusiastic rounds of applause from the crowd in an MIT lecture hall.

"What happened in 2013 couldn't have happened without free software," he said, particularly citing projects like Tor, Tails (a highly secure Linux distribution) and Debian.

Snowden argued that free software's transparency and openness are cornerstones to preserving user privacy in the connected age. It isn't that all commercial products are bad, nor that all corporations are evil – he singled out Apple's ongoing spat with the FBI as an example of a corporation trying to stand up for its users – merely that citizens should not have to rely on them to uphold the right to privacy.

"I didn't use Microsoft machines when I was in my operational phase, because I couldn't trust them," Snowden stated. "Not because I knew that there was a particular back door or anything like that, but because I couldn't be sure."

Private data, these days, only stays private at the sufferance of the major tech companies that administer devices and services, he argued. Given the increasing centrality of smartphones and social networks and the myriad of other digital communication methods to modern life, simply trusting that those tech companies will protect their users' privacy is insufficient.

Relying on corporations to protect private data is bad enough in a vacuum – but Snowden pointed out that many tech giants have already proven more than willing to hand over user data to a government they rely on for licensing and a favorable regulatory climate.

He particularly singled out service providers as being complicit in overreaching government surveillance.

"We can't control telecom partners," Snowden stated. "We're very vulnerable to them."

However, protecting privacy is gaining mindshare, he added. Increasingly, a digitalpublic concerned with keeping its private data to itself is getting behind the idea of pushing back on the tech industry and the government.

"We're no longer passive in our relationship with our devices," he said.

But awareness must be raised still further, and alternatives have to be offered by the free software world. Encrypting everything that can be encrypted is one way to preserve privacy, as is self-hosting.

"Even mass surveillance has limits," Snowden said.

Even if tech companies don't actively partner with the government on surveillance, there are huge vulnerabilities in important systems, he noted. A need for stability compromises the ability to patch security holes in anything like a timely manner, particularly in the enterprise.

"It's not just a question of stable – stable is important," Snowden said. "But increasingly, due to the pace of adversary offensive research [being] so fast, that if our update cycles are not at least relevant to the attack speed, then we're actually endangering people."

Source: networkworld.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 22nd Mar 2016

The head of Apple's operating system iOS confirmed that open but unused apps do not affect iPhone battery life after a customer emailed boss Tim Cook.

The customer from Ohio, known as Caleb, asked Mr Cook whether closing down "multitasking apps" improved battery life and whether it was something the chief executive did himself.

Senior vice-president Craig Federighi replied "no and no".

However, other smartphone batteries can benefit from app closure.

Microsoft advises Nokia Lumia owners to close apps that aren't in use on a web page about extending battery life.

Android creator Google suggests identifying and closing apps that are not often in use but warns that frequent use of its Overview device manager to do this will in itself drain the battery.

"You can view and optimise your device through closing running apps and uninstalling unnecessary apps," said Samsung in an announcement about a new "smart manager" app for the Galaxy 6.

While many Apple users do shut down apps in the belief it extends the iPhone battery this is not advice explicitly given by the firm itself.

It only recommends disabling apps from carrying out background refreshes in a list of tips about saving power.

The BBC has contacted Apple for comment.

Former chief executive Steve Jobs would sometimes reply directly to unsolicited emails - generally in very few words - but Tim Cook appears to be less forthcoming.

Caleb shared his unusual correspondence with the website 9to5mac.

"On a technical level, most of the apps are either frozen in RAM or not running at all, the system just displays them as a history for consistency. This is why the battery life impact is negligible," reporter Benjamin Mayo notes.

Caleb himself appears to be surprised by the attention the emails received.

"That went more viral than I thought it would," he tweeted.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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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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