Sunday, July 31, 2016

Warren Buffett On Gambling

What we should remember is that the stock market and investing not only are gambling, but actually forms of gambling that in many cases actually are worse than traditional gambling.

All stocks will eventually be worthless and all private companies will sooner or later surely disappear.

People who gamble know about the risk they are taking, but people who invest in stocks often forget that the risk is huge and that their stocks suddenly could become worthless and even overnight, which is not uncommon.

Stock markets regularly crash in general and so do individual stocks.

People addicted to the stock markets means you are going to have more crimes. We have no difference here compared to other forms of gambling like betting or casinos.

Personally, I even think that the stock markets - because they concentrate all wealth to the top 1 % - are more harmful for the society at large than casinos, which are places for entertainment and fun.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Security Official Warns That Russia Is Running Propaganda Campaigns In Sweden "All The Time"

Via Business Insider:

False information about subjects including Nato, immigration and terrorism, is spread on a daily basis in Sweden, Mikael Tofvesson of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) told Swedish radio on Wednesday.

"This is going on all the time. The pattern now is that they pump out a constant narrative that in some respects is negative for Sweden", Tofvesson said.

Psychological warfare includes a large range of activities intended to affect public opinion and political decision-making. While some disinformation is directly related to Russia, much of it focuses on issues like immigration and terrorism.

In its annual report last year, the Swedish Security Police, Säpo, said Russian propaganda was intended to "spread pro-Russian messages and to exacerbate worries and create splits in society".

From Russian Twitter trolls to supposed independent experts paid by foreign powers to spread their point of view in the media, there are many ways that disinformation can spread, according to MSB. The Russian propaganda channels RT and Sputnik News are also important channels for fake news.

Last year, a fake letter appeared in the news site The Local's forum, among other places, purporting to come from the Swedish Ministry of Justice addressed to the Ukrainian department of defence. In it, a prosecutor "admitted" that a Swede in Ukraine was guilty of war crimes, and promised to help cover them up. The Local removed the letter as soon as it was made aware of it.

The agency is now hiring six new staff members to combat disinformation, and expects to grow further.

"We already have a good team working on this", Tofvesson said.

The warning in Sweden comes as Russia's alleged attempts to say the US presidential campaign have come into the spotlight. Russian hackers are alleged to have compromised the Democratic National Committee's email accounts in an attempt to discredit Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Norwegian Engineers Are Attempting Something Never Done Before: Floating Underwater Highways

Via Business Insider:

Norway is contemplating some futuristic road projects.

Fjords are beautiful for sure, and Norway is basically nothing but fjords. But for those wanting to get from point A to point B with a fjord or two or seven in the way, they can be quite irksome, referring drivers to ferries.

This represents an enormous infrastructural problem for Norway, and the Norwegian parliament has decided that the E39 highway shall become ferry-free.

Bridges and tunnels - Norway already has many of them - wont always do the trick. Sometimes a gap is too deep for a tunnel to be a plausible solution, or too wide for a bridge - refering drivers to ferries.

Luckily, there is a new solution.

In a feasibility study, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration presents designs for the world's first submerged floating tunnels, that, if implemented, will let cars pass underneath the surface of fjords without hindering the entrance of ships.

The design features to antiparallel tubes floating with the help of pontoons and Archimedes' principle. Each tube will be big enough for two driving lanes.

The pontoons are spaced far enough apart to allow big ships to pass in between.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration is simultaneously looking at other possible solutions, like floating bridges, or a combination of a floating bridge and a submerged floating tunnel.

The submerged tunnel project is not the first of its kind to be proposed, but if Norway goes forward with the plans it will be the first time the concept is put to test in reality. And if it proves a success it could open up for similar solutions all over the world. One submerged tunnel that has long been suggested is a transatlantic highway connecting Europe with America through Iceland.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Only One Country Can Beat Sweden And Finland At Developing The Best Games In Europe

Via Business Insider:

Sweden and Finland have built up quite a reputation for their successes at game development: King (Candy Crush), Mojang (Minecraft), Rovio (Angry Birds) and Supercell (Clash of Clans) are a few of the wonders in recent years. But you can't rely forever on old merits.

Game Developers Conference Europe annually surveys game developers sentiments in its GDC Europe State of the Industry report.

This year Sweden has been dethroned as the country that 800 some game developers view as the country where the best games are made.

Instead, the UK has gained the industry's favor.

When asked which country in Europe is producing the best games the respondents named first the UK (24.7%), then Sweden (22.4%) and thirdly Finland (17%).

For Sweden that means a step back, while it's progress for Finland in comparison with last year's figures: Sweden (26.6%), UK (24.7%) and Finland.

UK's position seems to be growing stronger. GDC also reports that in response to the question 'where in Europe the best games will be developed in five years', 26.6% named the UK, 16% said Sweden, and only 11% named Finland.

The GDC notes that since the survey was carried out before the results of Brexit sentiment the outlook may change dramatically for next year, when the consequences have become more clear.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Analyst: The Danish Housing Market Risks Spiraling "Out Of Control" - Here's Why

Via Business Insider:

Negative interest rates could be about to cause some grave side-effects in Denmark. Tore Stramer, chief analyst at Nykredit in Copenhagen, warns that Danes might be struck by a new housing bubble, Bloomberg reports.

According to Stramer, the situation could spiral 'out of control' as the prolonged period of negative interest rates makes Danes all the more incautious to the eventuality that rates may rise again in the future.

In Stramers words to Bloomberg:

“To be concrete, there is a danger that Danes go blind to the risk of rates ever rising again. [...] That raises the risk of a major housing price decline, when rates at some point or other start to rise again”.

According to Bloomberg, some Danish banks, like Danske Bank, are assuming rates wont rise to positive figures until at least 2018. At the same time apartment prices are 5% higher now than they were when Denmark was hit by the housing bubble in 2006.

“It’s worth remembering that there’s a real risk that housing prices can see a dramatic fall, even though we’re not seeing a bubble in the classical definition of the term”, Stramer said to Bloomberg.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Brexit Leader Thinks Denmark And Sweden Will Be Next To Leave The EU

Via Business Insider:

Nigel Farage leader of U.K. Independence Party, headed the Brexit movementand and serves as a member of the European Parliament.

In an interview with McClatchy at the Republican National Convention, Farage predicted that Denmark, Sweden and Netherlands might be next in turn to leave the EU.

According to the Brexit leader, the countries share the sentiments that made Brexit possible in Britain: they don't want to loose more ccontol to the European Union, McClatchy DC writes.

“The only way you can take control of your country is to leave the EU and take control of your borders”, says Farage.

Perhaps we shouldn't take a half-hearted Trump-supporter's word on Scandinavian sentiment, but its at leasty true to say that Brexit has planted the idea of EU-membership referendums in the Nordic countries.

Polls from June showed that in Denmark, for example, the number of Danes in support of the EU has declined dramatically and that as many as 42% of Danes want a referendum on a potential DK-exit.

Some political parties have taken up the popular trend and spoken out in support of EU-membership referendums. In Finland there was a petition going around during the spring of 2016 for a Fixit-referendum.

However, it seems for the moment that the chaos that has followed in the wake of Brexit is discouraging the separatist sentiment. Everyone is waiting to see how the UK's independence experiment works out before making any rash decisions.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Time For Spotify's IPO Was Just Revealed - If It Can Prove Its Worth In Time

Via Business Insider:

Bloomberg cites five anonymous sources working at Spotify who claim that the company is aiming at a stock market flotation during the second half of 2017, contrary to founder Daniel Ek's recent claim that he doesn't intend to sell the company.

While that answers a long-standing question it does leave another one unanswered: Can Spotify live up to its valuation?

Spotify's was last valued at $8 billion dollars.

That's quite a lot considering Spotify has never once turned a profit in its ten year history. And as Bloomberg problematizes, if Spotify can't make ends meet, why would investors?

In order to live up to its astronomical valuation Spotify will have to show that it is actually a viable company. Amidst rising competition - particularly from Apple Music - Spotify will have to haggle down fees to record labels, which presently eat away more than 50% of revenues, and show that music streaming isn't a fleeting phenomenon.

Spotify is still growing at a quick pace, reportedly adding 10 million paying subscribers in the last year, as well as going from 89 million active users to 100 million during the first half of 2016, but the question is if it will be fast enough.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Dream Of An International Hub In The Nordics Is Alive - The Scandinavian Governments Want To Sell SAS

Via Business Insider:

Last week Björn Kjos, CEO and founder of the airline Norwegian, criticized the Swedish government for not doing enough to establish Stockholm as an international hub connecting flights to and from Asia, Europe, and America.

According to Kjos, Stockholm is strategically positioned for such an international hub, but it would require renegotiations of an agreement with Russia that practically allows only SAS to fly over Russian air space.

Such a renegotition was not feasible, because of the federal interests in Scandinavian Airlines however. But now, the Scandinavian governments have opened up for a sale of SAS.

The reason is that the governments no longer view themselves as the best strategic proprietors of the airlines.

"The whole European airline industry is under a lot of pressure and the market is not saturated in terms of consolidation. SAS needs to work in the long term with its strategic choices and in view of that I don't think a federal ownership is the best", says Mikael Damberg, Sweden's Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, to SvD.

Monica Mæland, Norway's Minister of Trade and Industry, has similarly expressed Norway's intention to sell SAS. The Swedish parliament has already given the government mandate to sell SAS, writes Veckans Affärer. But it all depends on finding the right buyer.

According to Jan Ohlsson, editor-in-chief of Travel Insider, the ideal situation would be one in which SAS was acquired by Chinese airlines wanting to get a foothold in Europe, writes DN. That could pave the way to creating a Nordic hub for internatiuonal travel, even without the involvement of Norwegian.

A sale of SAS ought also to increase the Scandinavian government's interest in seeing the way of other airlines.

If and when SAS is sold depends on finding the right buyer. As Monica Mæland, Norway's Minister of Trade and Industry, tells Norsk Telegrambyrå, "We are in no hurry to sell SAS".

Another obstacle is that enormous future pension costs make SAS quite unattractive to potential buyers.

"It's not difficult to sell SAS. But then someone has to take the huge pension bill. It's a catastrophic cost that no one wants to take responsibility for. The pension costs probably have to be reddemed by the Nordic countries. It's crazy, but that's what I think need to happen for someone to buy SAS", Frode Steen, professor at Norwegian School of Economics and fligh expert, tells NTB.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

China's Hubei Shennongjia Added To World Heritage List

Via Xinhuanet:

The 40th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Istanbul on Sunday decided to put China's Hubei Shennongjia on the prestigious World Heritage List as a natural site, bringing to 50 the number of listed Chinese properties.

Hubei Shennongjia is considered as a treasure of wildlife renowned with high plant diversity, said a report by the advisory body on China.

"Shennongjia has been a place of significant scientific interest particularly for botanists and the mountains have featured prominently in the history of botanical inquiry", part of the report was cited at the meeting.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Novus Incursus Tromocraticus Francogalliam Percussit

Via Ephemeris:

Nicaeae autoplaustrum tortuosum glandibus displosis in multitudinem se coniecit.

Nicaeae, praeclara via Ambulatio Anglica nominata novae mortiferae petitionis tromocraticae heri vespere theatrum fuit. Autocarrus velocissime in lineam tortam admotus cives diem festum rei publicae celebrantes adortus est, sed hoc non satis fuit: vector mitra praeditus ictus caeco impetu displodit. Adhuc LXXXIV mortui numerantur, plurimi vulnerati, ex quibus XVIII saltem gravissime. Caede facta, itinere duorum kiliometrorum confecto, tandem vehicularius a biocolytis occisus est. Ante obitum fertur iterum clamavisse “Allah magnus est”. Territor civis Francogallus a Tunisia oriundus agnitus est.

In Francogallia die 14 mensis Iulii cives Propugnaculum (Bastille) captum anno MDCCLXXXIX, signum Pristini Regiminis, memorant, unde existimatum est popularem tumultum initium habuisse. Tot familiae cum pueris in via aderant ut spectaculum pyrotechnicum intentis oculis contemplarentur, deinde ex improviso res tragica evenit. Praeter ictuum crepitum ubicumque clamor et eiulatus auditi sunt; tot cives territi in tabernas et cauponas confugerunt. Intermisso atroci cursu, longa series mortuorum et vulneratorum in via mansit.

Res horrenda in orbe deplorata est. Praeses Franciscus Hollande haec prope dixit: “Francogallia est prostrata, horrore perculsa ob rem tragicam et immanem, tamen natio fortior est et erit quam fanatici eam percussuri”; statum periculi publici in tota Fracogallia tre menses saltem aperte declaravit.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Westphalexit

Via Tech Crunch:

As technology advances, a world partitioned into nation-states makes less and less sense. That may sound crazy, if you take it as granted that our world must be divided into nations. But the whole concept of a “country” is a 400-year-old weird hack, riddled with crippling bugs, plagued by contradictions that sharpen each year. It is unlikely to survive this century.

So what comes next?

In 1648, European nobility and aristocrats got together in Westphalia, northwestern Germany, and signed treaties which ended both the Thirty Years’ War and the Eighty Years’ War. They also, in passing, laid the basis for the world as we know it today: one in which almost every scrap of land has been allocated to a “nation-state”, groups of humans defined by geography of all things, membership in which is the fundamental defining factor in human identities around the globe.

If you don’t think that’s true, try being Haitian or Zimbabwean, and see how different that is from your (presumably) rich Western citizenship. Oh, you have a green card? A work permit? An entry visa? Those are just other, lesser but still privileged, forms of nation-state membership. That, more than anything else except perhaps your health, is what most describes, and circumscribes, your life.

Does this not all seem a little odd and antediluvian to you, in today’s modern, ultra-networked, densely intertwined, post-geographic world? If you were going to redesign the social architecture of our world from scratch, would you begin with the nation-state as your basic building block? Really? Think about it. Really? I didn’t think so.

It may be hard to imagine a post-Westphalian world, given how much of our assumptions are built on the deep foundation of that structure; but to paraphrase the great Ursula K. Le Guin, “We live in nation-states. Their power seems inescapable–but so did the divine right of kings”.

Le Guin was actually talking about capitalism: let’s detour to discuss that for a moment. People tend to assume that those who believe in the end of the nation-state must be hardcore anti-government libertarians. This in turn is just evidence of how deeply Westphalia has infected the zeitgeist; people assume that the only alternative is, basically, no government at all. What a sad paucity of imagination.

In fact the Westphalian consensus has been withering away for many years. The nations of Europe joined together long ago into a European Union; Brexit is essentially a reactionary backlash against the decline of Westphalia. Its victory was mildly disheartening, in that it exemplified the petty, jealous form of xenophobia incentivized by nation-states.

But it was also a mere blip in the face of the overwhelming larger trend. Africa is moving ever closer to free movement among its 54 nations. It is following the lead of South America, which in 2009 adopted Mercosur’s Residence Agreement.

This increasing transnationalism seems like an inevitable side effect of the switched networks of IP packets and shipping containers drawing the four corners of our world ever closer together. But the EU, the African Union, Mercosur, etc., are still just umbrella organizations of nation-states, still limited by mere geography. That’s so twentieth century. Let us dream a little bigger.

Consider that finest of human inventions: the city. Both within and across nations, cities, and city people, often have far more in common with each other than with the rest of their nation. London, Paris, Tokyo, Toronto, Shanghai, New York, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Cape Town, Sydney — it is easy to feel more at home in all of these places than to go from any of them to a small rural settlement. This is true of both “elites” (a word now invariably used as a pejorative, outside of military contexts) and the legions of impoverished young students and travel-hungry twentysomethings.

Does it really seem likely, given all the above, that land borders and map colors will set the course of all human behavior forever? It seems to me that technology, by shrinking our world and forming ever denser connections all across it, is inciting the growth, in both number and size, of loose-knit transnational organizations which–over decades–will rise in importance until they begin to usurp our notions of national identities.

Thus far almost the only such organizations of real scale and importance are, of course, corporations. I’m faintly surprised that Google and IBM don’t already issue passports that holders can use to travel to, and work in, Westphalian nation-states.

But of course the Westphalians are jealous of sharing their power, and people are, rightly, deeply mistrustful of transnational corporations. Even–or maybe especially–tech companies. (As a deeply admirable and highly successful tech executive mused to me over dinner the other day: “I really think, at some point, the pitchforks will be coming for us in tech”.)

Some other form of transnational organization will have to be first. Only Nixon could go to China. I predict that international groups which initially seem trivial, or even laughable, will slowly grow in stature and importance until they become, in many ways, distributed nations of their own…without the limitations of that ugly hacks called a “state”. I don’t know which will be first, but I suspect it may already exist, in some nascent form. I also suspect that we will see a growing number of new city-states as this century progresses.

(Obviously I’m far from the first to predict this. Neal Stephenson did so more than twenty years ago with The Diamond Age, in which he described a world divided into dozens of different distributed nations, called “phyles”, each with its own scattered archipelago of territory around the world, along with cities and shared land where laws were dictated by the Common Economic Agreement among the phyles.)

Again, all the above may seem dubious, unlikely, or even completely insane, to anyone whose whole life has been steeped in a world defined by nation-states. But if you take a step back and look at that world, and how it’s changing, and the possibilities that new technology provides–I think you’ll find it’s hard not to see some livid writing on the Westphalian wall.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Natural Cycles Gets $6M To Convince More Women To Ditch The Pill

Via Tech Crunch:

Can an app stop you getting pregnant? In conjunction with daily input from a basal body thermometer it can indeed. European startup Natural Cycles, which also bills itself as a fertility tracking service, is today announcing a $6 million Series A funding round, led by Bonnier Media Growth, the venture arm of the Swedish media business. Existing investors Sunstone and E-ventures also participated in the round. This follows a $1.5 million seed raised last year.

Female-led health focused startups, such as the likes of Clue and Chiaro, have been grabbing attention and funding in recent years by pioneering smart services that cater specifically to women. Sometimes also underlining how male-dominated tech giants are lagging behind the curve in this area.

Natural Cycles, which was founded back in June 2013, is led by a wife and husband physicist duo, Dr Elina Berglund and Dr Raoul Scherwitzl. It expanded out of its Nordics home base in October 2014, adding the UK to its market roster then and now claiming more than 100.000 active users across 161 countries. It’s a subscription based service, with reported revenues of $2M in 2015 — its first full year of trading.

The science behind the app is based on the fact that a women’s body temperature rises after ovulation so if you’re able to accurately track body temperature, algorithmically correcting for fluctuations that might be caused by other factors such as drinking alcohol, then you’re able to identify when ovulation is occurring — and thus correctly pinpoint a women’s fertile window (coupled with factoring in sperm survival rates). So of course the app can be used for both planning and preventing pregnancies.

Natural Cycles uses a simple red or green color-code system to inform app users whether there may be a risk of them getting pregnant on a given day if they have unprotected sex, or whether there is no risk. Users do have to manually input their temperature data. A prior plan to develop a wireless thermometer to simplify that part of the system has so far been put on hold, co-founder Scherwitzl tells TechCrunch, in favor of funding research to quantify accuracy rates.

At this point the team has conducted one large scale study, involving 4.000 women, to investigate failure rates for the app — which he says pegs the accuracy as about the same as using the contraceptive pill. Using the Pearl Index metric, which is based on typical usage — so accounting for human error — seven out of 100 women using the system would get pregnant vs nine out of 100 using the pill. While on a perfect use basis, where you take human error out of the equation, the study indicated Natural Cycles would have a failure rate of five out of 1.000 women vs three out of 1,000 women for the pill.

Conducting more research to underpin the product is part of the plan for the new funding — including what Scherwitzl dubs a “gold standard” study of usage vs using the contraceptive pill.

“One large study we want to do is… a randomized control study”, he says. “Right now we use women using our product in real life and see how many get pregnant. Now we want to make a randomized control study against the contraceptive pill. So 1.000 women will use our product for one year, 1.000 women will use the pill for a year and when they come to the clinic first they will not know what they will get for a year… It will be very interesting to see how women experience different birth controls”.

The team also intends to perform other clinical studies to investigate factors that can affect fertility.

“It’s very interesting now that we have all this data on fertility. You can really understand what affects fertility. That has been studied in the literature but we have a really large data-set now, very high quality data — so that will be very interesting to just dig into it and see what we find”, adds Scherwitzl.

Simplifying natural contraception via an easy to use app plus digital subscription service in order to widen access to non-pharmaceutical contraception is the core business proposition — and one with a massive potential market size if enough women can be convinced of the method’s reliability. And convinced enough to ditch the pill.

So far Natural Cycles has done especially well in its home market of Sweden, managing to capture four per cent of the local contraception market within eighteen months, according to Scherwitzl. But their ambition scales far beyond home turf — with the new funding to be funneled into expanding the team and backing a big push in the US market.

“We’re really planning to build a very large company. The vision is really to increase choice in contraception and accelerate time to pregnancy — a world where every pregnancy’s wanted,” says Scherwitzl. “We want to provide the best possible product and services related to that”.

“One of the biggest problems in contraception is the lack of innovation”, he adds, discussing the competitive landscape.

“Pharmaceuticals have retracted their funding from that area, not completely but dramatically — so there’s not many new things in the pipeline… so I think the more that work on it, the better it will be for society. And for women and men to have more to be able to choose from. It’s something you want to decide what fits best for you and not just from a set of three, four, options.

“Pharmaceuticals is an interesting one because they are protecting their market. That’s important to watch what they do — how they react to this new wave of apps, digital companies coming in to the market. That’s new territory and also that’s new territory for them”.

While there are very many digital apps/products focused on fertility and on serving couples that are trying to get pregnant at this point, Natural Cycles’ early positioning as a contraception app helped the startup stand out in a crowded space. But Scherwitzl notes that many of the women who have used it for contraception have also used it for getting pregnant. So it’s now doing more to emphasize that potential use case too.

“We got a lot of natural influx of women using it for getting pregnant and that’s something now that we’ve started to develop further”, he says, claiming that use of the app can help women get pregnant faster by telling them when their fertile window is.

“This is is a new study that we’re working on that will come out soon”, he adds.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

It's Official: Finland Is The Most Progressive Country In The World

Via Business Insider:

It is often reported that the Finnish economy is stagnant, that competitiveness is low and that major industries are lagging. Finland has even been called the new 'sick man of Europe'. But economics apart, Finland seems to be doing a lot of things right.

On a new measure of societal progress, that goes beyond GDP, Finland is the top scorer in the world.

According to the Social Progress Index, by the American think-tank Social Progress Imperative, Finland is the most socially progressive country in the world and all Nordic countries are within the top 10.

The index is unique in the sense that it doesn't include GDP, but instead focuses entirely on different social and environmental indicators. The total score is an average from three sub-components: basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing and opportunity.

Finland performs best in nutrition and basic medical care, access to basic knowledge and in personal rights. There is room for improvement however, in the health and wellness component and in access to advanced education.

Social progress is defined thusly by the thinktank: "The capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential".

The stated goal of the index is to create a framework for leaders in government, business and civil society to benchmark and accelerate progress.

Though the index doesn't take into account GDP, the thinktank notes that high-income countries tend to achieve higher on the index than low-income countries, but the relationship is not linear.

Social progress index results 2016: 1. Finland 2. Canada 3. Denmark 4. Australia 5. Switzerland 6. Sweden 7. Norway 8. Netherlands 9. United Kingdom 10. Iceland .. 19. United States .. 75. Russia .. 84. China .. 133. Central African Republic