Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A Chunk Of Polar Sea Ice Bigger Than India Has Vanished

Via Business Insider:

Sea ice off the coast of Antarctica and the Arctic hit record lows in November, and scientists are now reporting that, as of December 4, we’ve lost 3.76 million square kilometers of the stuff - more than the total area of India.

As startling as that is, at this point, we shouldn’t really be surprised - last month, temperatures in parts of the Arctic rose 20 degrees Celsius (36°F) above normal, and 2016 is on track to be the hottest year on record.

"There are some really crazy things going on", Mark Serreze, director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) told Alister Doyle for Reuters.

"It's an extraordinary departure from the norm", added Anders Levermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Serreze and his team report that in November 2016, Arctic sea ice extent averaged 9.08 million square kilometers (3.51 million square miles) - the lowest November for Arctic sea ice on record.

That’s 800.000 square kilometers (309.000 square miles) below November 2006, which held the previous record for the lowest levels of sea ice in November.

It’s also 1.95 million square kilometers (753.000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average for November.

Antarctica, which has so far appeared more resilient to the effects of rising temperatures than the Arctic, also started to rapidly decline in November, and it too set a record low for the month.

NSIDC reports that once Antarctic sea ice reached its annual maximum extent on August 31 - way earlier than expected - it's been declining fast, and it’s now 1 million square kilometers (386.000 square miles) below the previous record low, set in 1986.

It’s also 1.81 million square kilometers (699.000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average, bringing the total amount of sea ice lost from Earth’s two poles to 3.76 million square kilometers - roughly equivalent to the area of two Indonesias, and more than double the area of Alaska.

The "almost unprecedented" disappearance of sea ice comes at a time when the Arctic sea ice is usually starting to recoup its losses from the previous summer, but with unusually high temperatures in the sea and atmosphere right now, it hasn’t been given the chance to recover even slightly.

"It looks like a triple whammy - a warm ocean, a warm atmosphere, and a wind pattern all working against the ice in the Arctic", Serreze told Oliver Milman atThe Guardian.

While the Arctic’s fate has been pretty straightforward over recent years - above average temperatures equals above average sea ice loss - Antarctica has posed more of a challenge for scientists to decipher.

Despite sea ice in the Arctic having never been so depleted, the melt-off in Antarctica has been far more subtle, and at some points in recent years, its sea ice has actually expanded.

But now that we’ve seen 1 million square kilometers disappear into the ocean - more than double the previous 1986 record - the cracks (literally) are starting to show.

As Serreze told Reuters, the twin record lows might be "blind dumb chance", but the worry is that, "Antarctica is the sleeping elephant that is beginning to stir".

One sign that Antarctica is headed for a delayed, but devastating, response to climate change was the appearance of thousands of strange blue lakes back in August - the exact same kind that caused Greenland’s ice sheet to lose a whopping 1 trillion tonnes of ice between 2011 and 2014.

"[East Antarctica is] the part of the continent where people have for quite a long time assumed that it’s relatively stable", one of the researchers who spotted the lakes, Stewart Jamieson from Durham University, said at the time.

"There’s not a huge amount of change, it’s very, very cold, and so, it’s only very recently that the first supraglacial lakes, on top of the ice, were identified".

As you might have guessed, none of this has positive implications for the fate of humanity, because all that sea ice is melting into the ocean and in doing so, it amplifies the warming process by exposing the 'dark sea' that was once beneath it to sunlight, and this in turn causes more ice to melt.

We've already lost five Pacific islands to rising sea levels this year, we might have to start looking at this as the eventual reality for humanity:

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Nordics Are Ramping Up Their Fintech Ecosystems With Three New Innovation Hubs

Via Business Insider:

After London, the Nordics are Europe's second hotspot for fintech. The first innovation wave produced success stories like Klarna and iZettle in Sweden; MobilePay in Denmark, and Holvi in Finland.

The next wave is well underway, as one in ten investments in the Nordics go to fintech startups, according to TechCrunch.

Sweden is the leader, having attracted almost a fifth of European fintech investment in 2015. It is now on track for another record year.

Now, Nordic fintech entrepreneurs are getting dedicated physical facilities to match this success.

2017 will see New dedicated Fintech hubs in Stockholm and Copenhagen; in addition to a corporate-sponsored accelerator in Oslo.

These initiatives follow the trend that bigger Fintech hubs like London, Singapore and New York have set with their numerous fintech incubators, often in partnership with leading banks, insurers and investors.

The new Nordic hubs and accelerators should help early stage startups in The Nordics get mentoring, networks and access to partners. Most of the Fintech investments in the Nordics are indeed in the smaller $1-3 million range, according to Neil Murray of The Nordic Web. He told TechCrunch:

"[..] Despite the increasing amount of investment, the ecosystem is still at a fairly early-stage and the Nordics potential to be a fintech hub is still in its infancy”.

Here are the new Nordic hubs.

Stockholm FinTech Hub KPMG announced last week it will launch Sweden's first physical platform for fintech innovation. Other partners include NFT Ventures, Invest Stockholm and venture capital firm BLC Advisors.

Stockholm FinTech Hub, launching in Q1 2017, is independent and not-for-profit. It will also host startups from the emerging InsurTech and RegTech areas, and bring together relevant actors within the financial sector, in order to boost innovation:

“Stockholm FinTech Hub will be an enabler and a vital link between startups, regulators and established financial institutions" said Matthew Argent, co-Founder of the Stockholm FinTech Hub and partner BLC Advisor, to Finextra.

Argent continued:

“The ecosystem of FinTech-startups and high growth companies in Sweden is one of the best in the world. But to keep the excellent standards up in a global market we need to evolve the support ecosystem that supports these companies".

Copenhagen Fintech Copenhagen is already a Fintech hotspot with its annual Money 20/20 conference, which gathers the world's leading investors and entrepreneurs. '

Now it has announced "the first fintech hub in the Nordics". The Copenhagen Fintech co-working space is a partnership between Financial Services Union Denmark, the City of Copenhagen and the Danish Bankers Association. Some 40 fintech entrepreneurs have already moved into the hub, according to Copenhagen Fintech. At the hub's launch, Copenhagen's mayor told about the city's ambitions to Computer Weekly:

“I want Copenhagen to be a city laboratory for designing and testing new technology”

Oslo: DNB NXT Accelerator Norway's biggest bank, DNB, is keen on following the Fintech boom. It recently joined forces with a local incubator, StartupLabs, to launch the "DNB NXT Accelerator", which incentivizes entrepreneurs to come up with solutions that the bank can use.

Other Norwegian developments: last month, a separate accelerator located outside Oslo, called Fintech Factory, just completed its first Fintech cohort.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Skype Co-Founder Niklas Zennström Just Backed A Mini Plane Company In €10 Million Round

Via Business Insider:

Niklas Zennström, Skype's cofounder and former CEO, is backing a company building car-sized aircraft in Germany through his venture capital firm Atomico.

Lilium Aviation, a two-year-old Munich startup, received €10 million (£8.4 million) on Monday from Atomico and other investors to help it develop the personal electric planes that are capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL).

Founded by four entrepreneurs in 2014, Lilium envisages building a quiet, lightweight commuter aircraft that will be capable of flying between cities at a height of 3,000m. It is gearing up to test its first full-sized prototype early next year.

With an expected range of 300km and estimated top speed of up to 300km/h, the Lilium Jet is aiming to make inter-city travel, faster than any widely available mass transit system. San Francisco to Palo Alto would take less than 15 minutes, while Munich to Frankfurt would take just over an hour.

"This is a really good example of founders who are using deep technology to take on a very big problem", said Zennström, who has joined the board of the company, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. "The way we deal with transportation today is broken. There are congestions and to get from East London to West London takes forever. There is pollution in our cities with carbon dioxide so we get climate change".

"Of course you have electrical vehicles and autonomous vehicles to deal with some of those things but really to solve it in a big way we think you need to take to the skies".

Atomico, which was set up in 2006 and has raised over $600 million (£472 million) to invest in startups, also backed Lilium in a smaller undisclosed round in June. Lilium said it intends to use the new money to expand its existing team of 35 aviation specialists and product engineers.

Other companies are also building personal planes but they're going about it in a different way. "Others are taking the concept of a drone and making it really big", said Zennström. "The problem with a drone is the propellers have to create lift all the time so it's going to use a lot of electricity. But Lilium, they're just using thrust to get it up and then it transitions to flight mode with the wings using much less energy. About the same as an electrical car. It's extremely energy efficient".

Lilium claims that its aircraft - powered by 36 directable electric fans, mounted along the wings and front pods - will be quieter than helicopters and other competitors, while also requiring less infrastructure.

Lilium CEO Daniel Wiegand said in a statement: "When we founded Lilium we had a single, simple goal - to design the best possible means of transportation for the 21st century. With our technology we can triple the radius of people's lives while preserving our environment, avoiding congestion and eliminating the cost of infrastructure. We can also flexibly connect whole states to single metropolitan areas".

"A personal vertical take-off and landing aircraft has been the dream of generations. It is the ultimate means of transportation. Together with Atomico we share the vision to make this dream come true for everybody, in the form of the VTOL Lilium Jet".

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Hong Kong Remains Freest Society And Economy

Via The Swedish Wire:

More than 20 years after cutting ties with the U.K., Hong Kong has maintained its economic vitality, even as concerns swirl about the health of China, according to free market think tank Fraser Institute.

The institute's annual Economic Freedom of the World report showed Hong Kong topping the list of the world's most free economies, with Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland and Canada rounding out the top five. However, America mired in the 16th spot for the second consecutive year, the institute noted.

"Economic freedom leads to prosperity and a higher quality of life, while the lowestranked countries are usually burdened by oppressive regimes that limit the freedom and opportunity of their citizens", said the report's authors, Fred McMahon and Michael Walker, in a statement.

Hong Kong has also been ranked the world’s most competitive economy by a Swiss institute. The World Competitiveness Yearbook 2016 released by Switzerland’s International Institute for Management Development (IMD) on Monday saw Hong Kong rise from second place last year to first place. It was followed by Switzerland, the US and Singapore.

Financial Secretary John Tsang said in a statement on Tuesday that he was delighted by the ranking.

“In light of the fierce competition in the global arena, we will strive to uphold our prevailing competitive edge and continue to search for new growth areas, so as to strengthen our position as an international financial, trading and business centre and enhance Hong Kong’s long-term competitiveness”, he said.

What's more, Hong Kong has reaffirmed its No 1 status as the freest jurisdiction in the world. The city again topped the global Human Freedom Index survey, beating off Switzerland, New Zealand, Ireland, and Denmark. The index measures 76 indicators of personal, civil, and economic freedoms, in 156 countries and jurisdictions.

However, Beijing’s increased involvement in the city’s affairs puts that top ranking in danger, the Fraser Institute of Canada has warned.

“While the freedom index doesn’t measure democracy, democracy remains the best safeguard of personal freedoms, so if China encroaches on its ‘one country, two systems’ relationship with Hong Kong, we can expect Hong Kong’s ranking to drop”, said Fred McMahon, the Dr Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom at the Fraser Institute and editor of the study.

Deloitte believes that Hong Kong, which is a long-established financial center, ranks highly on the GFCI yet lower than that of London, Singapore, and New York. Although higher than London and New York in terms of DB, Hong Kong has the lowest GII among the five cities.

Friday, December 02, 2016

654.000 People Living With HIV/AIDS In China

Via The Swedish Wire:

Today is World Aids Day, and the state-owned Xinhua News Agency reports that “there were 654.000 people living with HIV/AIDS in China by the end of September, with 201.000 deaths”. According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexual transmission accounted for 94 percent of infections. In addition, there were 96.000 new cases reported in the first nine months of 2016.

Xinhua also notes today that a “domestically developed, long-acting injectable HIV drug has been put forward for approval by the China Food and Drug Administration, and will become the first of its kind to be generally available if approved”. The drug is known as Albuvirtide.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has published a Q&A with Dr. Gao Yaojie, a retired gynecologist who uncovered a major HIV outbreak in central China in the late 1990s. The outbreak remains a sensitive topic in China even now, as it was caused by “an unsanitary blood collection and sales network, abetted by local officials”. Impoverished residents of Henan Province were selling their blood. After plasma was extracted, “the rest of the pooled blood, now often carrying HIV or other infections, was reinjected into donors, so they could give more frequently”.

Sweden the first country to achieve UNAIDS/WHO 90-90-90 target

Sweden has become the first country to achieve the UNAIDS/World Health Organization (WHO) 90-90-90 target, research published in HIV Medicine shows. At the end of 2015, 90% of HIV cases in Sweden were diagnosed, 99.8% of people were linked to care and 95% of people taking antiretrovirals for at least six months had a viral load below 50 copies/ml.

“We believe that Sweden is the first country to achieve the UNAIDS/WHO 90-90-90 goal”, comment the investigators.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has dramatically reduced rates of HIV-related illness and death and the infectiousness of people taking treatment.

UFO And Light Phenomenon In Los Angeles

Via Unknown Country:

This object and light form appeared above the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles on November 29. The witness reported to MUFON that he had taken the pictures without noticing the object, only the light form.

There was also a less clear event in Northridge, CA on the same night, and we have unconfirmed reports of other events in the Los Angeles area as well.

The Hollywood Hills sighting is graded A.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Volvo Cars Faces 10% Luxury Car Tax In China

Via The Swedish Wire:

China will slap on a 10% sales tax on luxury cars starting in December, local Chinese media said Thursday citing a notice issued by the State Administration of Taxation.

People in China buying Volvos may therefor have to think twice before investing in the Swedish car model.

The tax on cars – including the Ferrari GTC4Lusso, Bentley Bentayga, and Aston Martin DB9 – is a bid to combat conspicuous consumption, promote more efficient vehicles and reducing green house gas emissions, local media said. The State Council has approved the change.

The Swedish car maker was bought by Chinese Geely in 2010. China sales have been a major force in Volvo’s recovery from years of poor performance under Ford, the Financial Times said. Sales have tripled over the past three years, making China Volvo’s largest single-country market.

Volvo sold more than 63.000 cars in China in the first nine months of 2016, up from 57.000 in the same period last year.

It plans to sell 800.000 cars annually by 2020 — a third of those produced in China — with 200.000 for domestic sale and the rest for export.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

UFO Flap In Turkey

Via Unknown Country:

This is one of a number of videos of unusual lights that were observed over the Turkish capital of Istanbul and other locations across the country on the night of November 26. The video begins with a small light, then moves to something larger and more complex. It ends with the unexpected sound of a jet passing an apartment building at low altitude and frightening the occupants. There is also some footage of people having difficulty with an escalator, but it doesn't seem to be related.

The usual YouTube trolls are seen making the usual comments that it's all fake, etc., etc., in the comments section. In fact, the large light with the smaller ones moving around it may well be a genuine unknown. Also, the extent of comment on social media about the sightings that people were experiencing across the country that night make prosaic explanations less likely.