Ex-Google Engineer Launches Blockchain-Based System for Banks

A former Google engineer, whose speech recognition software is used in more than a billion Android smartphones, has launched a company that uses blockchain technology to build a new operating system for banks.

Ex-Google Engineer Launches Blockchain-Based System for Banks

Paul Taylor, a Cambridge University academic with an expertise in artificial intelligence, speech synthesis and machine learning, started working on the system, called Vault OS, two years ago in a basement in London’s district, known for being a tech start-up hub.

Blockchain technology has captured the imagination of the financial industry, with advocates saying it has the potential to shake up how markets operate. The technology, which underpins the digital currency Bitcoin, creates a shared database in which participants can trace every transaction ever made.

The ledger is tamper-proof and transparent, meaning that transactions can be processed without the need for third-party verification.

“Most of the banks are using systems that were written in the 80s and 90s, and they just are not ready for the security-conscious internet app age at all,” Taylor told Reuters. “What the blockchain does is provide a very secure way of storing transactions.”

The system also negates the need for costly in-house data centres, as it uses cloud-based systems, which banks can use on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, which means that there is no single point of failure.

Taylor said major high-street banks were spending around a billion pounds ($1.3 billion) a year on computer technology, much of which he said was being used for propping up the current “legacy” systems rather than on any innovative technology.

Blockchain is still a nascent technology and is reckoned to still be five to ten years away from widespread adoption. Its reputation has suffered somewhat from its association with bitcoin, which has seen several company failures, including Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox filing for bankruptcy and leaving investors approximately $500 million in the red.

The startup has been working with about ten banks, Taylor said, at least one of which would be starting a trial using the new system in August. He expects the system to be up-and-running within about a year.

Three Astronauts Blast Off for ISS in Upgraded Soyuz Craft

Three astronauts blasted off into the early morning sky in an upgraded Soyuz spacecraft from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome Thursday, heading towards the International Space Station.

First-time astronauts Kathleen Rubins of Nasa and Takuya Onishi of the Japanese space agency set off for a four-month mission at the ISS with Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin at around 0136 GMT.

Three Astronauts Blast Off for ISS in Upgraded Soyuz Craft

“All is well on board!” said mission control in commentsrelayed by Nasa TV, which broadcast footage of the launch in Kazakhstan.

Footage also showed Ivanishin and Onishi giving each other fist bumps to celebrate the successful launch.

Features of the new Soyuz series include upgraded boosters, an improved navigation system, strengthened shielding from debris and more cells on the craft’s solar panels.

The trio’s launch was delayed by two weeks as Russian space officials carried out further software tests on the modified vehicle.

The craft’s journey to dock at the ISS will take two days – longer than the usual six-hour flight – to give ground control more time to monitor the tweaked system’s performance.

Nasa’s Kate Rubins will be the first woman aboard the ISS since Italian Samantha Cristoforetti returned to earth with the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman (199 days) in June last year.

The molecular biologist-turned astronaut will also become the first person to sequence DNA in space during her mission.

“Rocket is on the launchpad, crew is ready to go! #AstroKate” the Nasa Astronauts Twitter handle tweeted prior to her launch.

Rubins’ launch caps an exciting week for Nasa as the US space agency’s unmanned Juno spacecraft entered orbit around distant Jupiter Tuesday after a journey of nearly five years.

Onishi, who trained as a pilot on Japan’s largest commercial airliner, is the eleventh Japanese national to enter space.

His journey to the ISS, where he will participate in experiments connected to the Japanese space agency’s Kibo program, coincides with the Tanabata star festival celebrated across his homeland.

The last Japanese astronaut to spend time at the ISS, Kimiya Yui, returned to earth from the ISS in December alongside Nasa’s Kjell Lindgren and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.

Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin has already logged over 165 days in space following his first mission at the ISS in 2011 and 2012 and has a background as a military pilot.

Following docking at ISS, Rubins, Ivanishin and Onishi will join current ISS commander Jeff Williams of Nasa and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin.

The ISS space laboratory has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,400 miles per hour) since 1998.

Space travel has been one of the few areas of international cooperation between Russia and the West that has not been wrecked by geopolitical tensions over Ukraine.

Snapdeal Announces Changes to Simplify Seller Policies

E-commerce major Snapdeal has reduced the marketing fees for over 120 sub-categories, including for digital products, electronics, women’s fashion, FMCG products, as part of its policies to attract more sellers to its platform.

Snapdeal Announces Changes to Simplify Seller Policies

The changes have been incorporated on the basis of the feedback received from sellers and will be effective from this week, a company statement said.

However, the marketing fee for nearly 30 sub-categories has been increased marginally, it added.

While the reduction in fee ranges from 0.2-18 percent, the increase ranges from 0.5 to 5.5 percent, it said.

Snapdeal has also simplified policies for its self-serve platform which helps sellers resolve their queries easily. This is expected to enable the sellers avoid penalties due to ignorance or complexity.

To reduce the hassle of return of sold goods, or exchange, Snapdeal said it will bear the cost for reverse pickup and payment collection, while packaging and shipping will be borne by sellers.

“We believe reduction in marketing fees will foster growth for our sellers. We have worked closely with our sellers and based on their feedback. We have made these policy changes to make them in-line with e-commerce industry best practises,” Vishal Chadha, Senior Vice President, Market Development, Snapdeal, said.

The policy refresh is a part of Snapdeal’s initiatives to make the seller journey more transparent and frictionless.

Honor 8 With Dual 12-Megapixel Cameras

Huawei Terminal’s Honor brand, as promised, on Monday unveiled its new Honor 8 smartphone at an event in China. The new smartphone will be available in China starting July 19 and will come in three versions – CNY 1,999 (approximately Rs. 20,000) for the 3GB of RAM and 32GB of inbuilt storage model, CNY 2,299 (approximately Rs. 23,000) for the 4GB of RAM and 32GB storage model, and CNY 2,499 (approximately Rs. 25,000) for the 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage model. The Honor 8 is currently up for pre-orders in China. The Chinese company has so far not revealed availability plans for the Honor 8 outside China.

Honor 8 With Dual 12-Megapixel Cameras Launched

As rumoured for weeks, the biggest highlight of the Honor 8 is its dual-rear camera setup. It sports 12-megapixel dual-rear cameras with dual-tone LED flash and also features laser autofocus. There is an 8-megapixel front-facing camera on board as well. The smartphone sports a USB Type-C port and also supports fast charging. There is fingerprint scanner at the back of the handset. Another notable feature of the Honor 8 is its 7.45mm slim build and that it comes with a metal frame and a glass back.

The Honor 8 features a 5.2-inch full-HD (1080×1920 pixels) LTPS LCD display and comes with a pixel density of 423ppi. It is powered by an octa-core Kirin 950 processor clocked at 1.8GHz. The smartphone supports expandable storage via microSD card (up to 128GB). The Android 6.0 Marshmallow-based Honor 8 runs EMUI 4.1 on top. The smartphone features hybrid dual-SIM slot which means users can either use two SIM carss or one SIM card and a microSD card for storage expansion. It measures 145.5x71x7.4mm and weighs 153 grams.

The Vmall listing confirms that the Honor 8 is compatible with 4G LTE bands in India. Other connectivity options include Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, 3G, GPRS/ EDGE, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC, and Infrared sensor. The handset packs a 3000mAh non-removable battery.

Complete List of ‘Ok Google’ Voice Commands Published

Google keeps adding new voice commands to its ‘Ok Google’ hotword recognition, and it can be quite a chore to keep a track of additions. Thus, a charitable developer has come up with a complete list of commands that users can easily refer to.

Complete List of 'Ok Google' Voice Commands Published

Developer Kristijan Ristovski (aka Kitze) has launched a website, ok-google.io, where users can find the list of all the commands. It also includes over a thousand variations of the commands.

“Annoyed by the fact that every once in a while a new “complete list of google now commands” appears online, I decided to create this project,” writes Kitze. He has revealed that the project will be open sourced soon and anyone could report bugs or issues on GitHub. Kitze will update the list with new commands.

The website shows the commands according to the categories namely People & Relationships, Weather, Conversion, Math, Device control, Social apps, Reminders, Flight & Travel, Easter eggs, Sports, Web Browsing, Movies & TV Shows, Messaging, Gmail integration, Definitions, Stocks, Music, and Reminders among others.

Google’s voice-personal assistant, Google Now, has over the years improved and received several upgrades to become smarter. The company updated its Search app to expand the ‘Ok Google’ hotword recognition adding the feature to any webpage in the in-app browser. Google last year announced that it was using better acoustic models for its Voice Search feature, which used less computational resources, was more accurate, more robust to noise interference, and faster.

Google recently brought Hindi Voice Search for its Maps for iOS and has added multilingual voice search as a part of the Google Search update for Android.

Stunning Images Reveal Jupiter Ahead of Juno’s Arrival

Researchers at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have captured stunning new images and prepared the highest-resolution maps to date of Jupiter, a week ahead of the arrival of Nasa’s Juno spacecraft at the giant planet on July 4.

Stunning Images Reveal Jupiter Ahead of Juno's Arrival

The images were captured at the thermal infrared wavelengths using a newly-upgraded thermal imager called VISIR.

“We used a technique called ‘lucky imaging’, whereby individual sharp frames are extracted from short movies of Jupiter to ‘freeze’ the turbulent motions of our own atmosphere, to create a stunning new image of Jupiter’s cloud layers,” said Leigh Fletcher from University of Leicester.

“At this wavelength, Jupiter’s clouds appear in silhouette against the deep internal glows of the planet. Images of this quality will provide the global context for Juno’s close-up views of the planet at the same wavelength,” he added.

Jupiter’s high resolution maps, which reveal the present-day temperatures, composition and cloud coverage within the planet’s dynamic atmosphere, and show how giant storms, vortices and wave patterns shape its appearance, will help set the scene for what Juno will witness in the coming months.

The ground-based campaign in support of Juno is led by Glenn Orton of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Once in orbit around Jupiter, Juno will skim just 5,000 km above Jupiter’s clouds once a fortnight – too close to provide global coverage in a single image.

The Earth-based observations supplement the suite of advanced instrumentation on the Juno spacecraft, filling in the gaps in Juno’s spectral coverage and providing the wider global and temporal context to Juno’s close-in observations.

Fletcher presented the observations at the National Astronomy Meeting in Nottingham on Monday.

Hasselblad X1D Medium Format Mirrorless Camera

Hasselblad has announced a ground-breaking new camera called the X1D, which is the world’s first compact mirrorless medium format camera. A medium format sensor is typically much larger than a full-frame sensor which lets you capture way more detail and much better dynamic range. To be able to use this in a compact form-factor of a mirrorless camera is quite an achievement.

Hasselblad X1D Medium Format Mirrorless Camera Launched at $8,995

As you would have guessed, the X1D doesn’t come cheap as you’ll be forking out around $8,995 (approximately Rs. 6,11,900) for just the body, without taxes. Two new XCD lenses were also announced for the camera which will retail at $2,295 (approximately Rs. 1,56,000) for the 45mm f/3.5 and $2695 (approximately Rs. 1,83,400) for the 90mm f/3.2. You can order one from these locations in India.

The X1D is handmade in Sweden and boasts of a 50-megapixel CMOS sensor and an ISO range of 100-25600. The camera weighs 725 grams and features Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, built-in GPS, full-HD video recording, stereo microphone, mini-HDMI and is completely weather-proof. The X1D offers a 3-inch touchscreen with a 920K-dot resolution along with an electronic viewfinder with a 2.36M-dot resolution.

Commenting on the announcement Perry Oosting, Hasselblad CEO said, “The X1D marks a pivotal point in Hasselblad’s rich 75-year history. This camera makes medium format photography available to a new generation of Hasselblad users, while pushing the existing limits of photography to new heights.”

WhatsApp May Soon Get Improved Music Sharing, Larger Emojis

In addition to the upcoming features that had been spotted earlier this week – mentions and group invite links – it appears WhatsApp is also set to get improved music sharing features and larger emoji.

WhatsApp May Soon Get Improved Music Sharing, Larger Emojis

Reported by German publication Macerkopf, the upcoming features were spotted in the WhatsApp for iOS beta, just like mentions and group invite links. Let’s start with music sharing. The report notesthat users can now share songs with their contacts. The songs can be stored locally, or users can link to the song on Apple Music. The recipient will see album art as well as a music icon. Currently shared ‘audio’ files do not have this functionality.

Coming to larger emoji – the move follows Apple’s unveiling of larger emoji with iOS 10, and WhatsApp appears to be preparing for their introduction, using what’s said to be the same size of emoji – three times bigger than regular ones.

Another feature recently spotted in the WhatsApp Beta for iOS changelog was gif image support. However, general WhatsApp for iOS users haven’t received gif image support so far.

Earlier this month, WhatsApp received a feature that allowed users to quote messages when replying. The user needs to long press a message in any conversation to see a reply option pop up alongside star, delete, forward, and copy.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has been adding new features steadily, and the most anticipated is video calling, which was recently spotted in testing on the Android beta app. To recall, the last major update to the platform was last month – the addition of document sharing on WhatsApp Web. Shortly before that, the company rolled out its first desktop app for Windows and OS X.

Should You Pop Vitamin D Pills Regularly?

Vitamin D supplements have no significant effect on preventing heart attack, stroke, cancer or bone fractures, according to a review of scientific evidence published Friday.

Researchers led by Mark Bolland of the University of Auckland in New Zealand looked at 40 high-quality trials to see if supplements met a benchmark of reducing risk of these problems by 15 percent or more.

Should You Pop Vitamin D Pills Regularly?

Previous research had seen a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and poor health in these areas. But the new study, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, strengthens arguments that vitamin D deficiency is usually the result of ill health — not the cause of it. Its authors say there is “little justification” for doctors to prescribe vitamin D supplements as a preventive measure for these disorders.

“Available evidence does not lend support to vitamin D supplementation and it is very unlikely that the results of a future single randomised clinical trial will materially alter the results from current meta-analyses,” they write.

Vitamin D is a key component for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. It is produced naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight or derived from foods such as oily fish, egg yolks and cheese.

In March last year, British scientists, in a comparison of 4,000 women, found that vitamin D supplements taken in pregnancy made no difference to the child’s bone health. And in September 2012, researchers at New York’s Rockefeller University saw no evidence that vitamin D supplements lowered cholesterol, a factor in heart disease, at least over the short term.

In contrast, a November 2012 investigation into pregnant women who lived in high-latitude, northern hemisphere countries with long, dark winters found a link between low levels of natural vitamin D and an increased risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) in their offspring.

For these women, taking vitamin D supplements to offset the effects of long periods without sunlight could be advisable, according to that research.

Excess Vitamin A May Damage Your Immune System

Vitamin A is an essential, fat-soluble vitamin with many diverse health benefits.  It promotes eyesight by converting light into brain signals that allows to us to perceive images. It aids in the differentiation of cells of the skin and helps the heart, kidneys, and other organs to function properly. It protects against infection by helping create healthy white blood cells and promotes healthy skin.

Excess Vitamin A May Damage Your Immune System

Since Vitamin A cannot be produced in our body, it has to be derived from our diet. While eat, fish, poultry and dairy foods have preformed Vitamin A, plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables contain the other type – pro-Vitamin A. Deficiency of Vitamin A may lead a decrease in immune function, dry skin, problems with reproduction and cessation of bone growth.  But this new study, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, shows that excess of vitamin can also be harmful.

Too much Vitamin A shuts down the body’s trained immunity, opening door to infections to which we would otherwise be immune, says a new study. According to the study, excess Vitamin A makes the body ‘forget’ past infections. The findings suggest that although Vitamin A supplementation can have profound health benefits when someone is deficient, supplementation of the vitamin above and beyond normal levels may have negative health consequences.

“This study helps to explain the mechanisms of anti-inflammatory effects of vitamin A and by doing so opens the door to identifying novel ways to modulate the immune response and restore its function in situations in which it is dis-regulated,” said one of the researchers Mihai Netea from the Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

The amount of vitamin A needed depends on age and reproductive status. Getting too much vitamin A can also cause dizziness, nausea and even death.

To make this discovery, Netea and colleagues stimulated immune cells, isolated from volunteers, with Vitamin A and saw that the cells produced fewer cytokines, key proteins that help ward off microbes, upon stimulation with various mitogens and antigens. Furthermore, the cells were also stimulated with various microbial structures, which resulted in long-term activation or training of the cells. When the same experiments were performed in the presence of vitamin A, the microbial structures were no longer able to activate the immune cells.