Monday, July 24, 2017

Denmark Now Has More Electric Car Charging Docks Than Petrol Stations — But Will They Be Used?

Via Business Insider:

The number of electric car charging docks across Denmark have overtaken the amount of petrol stations, finds a new report from the Danish Energy Association.

With more than 1300 charging pods, E.ON is by far the biggest provider in Denmark. The company acquired a 770-station strong charging network from U.S.-based operator Better Place after it went bankrupt in 2013. Moreover, the German utility giant recently launched a mobile charging solution with parking app Easypark, which enables customers to use their phone when charging.

But despite all the flourishing electric vehicle infrastructure, the prospects for Denmark catching up with Norway in terms of EV-adoption look bleak right now. The country's EV-sales have plummeted after the Danish government decided to cut back subsidies for electric vehicles.

So far in 2017, only 182 electric cars have been sold in Denmark overall, and just 17 of those sales have been to private consumers, according to The Copenhagen Post. That’s a steep decline from the 4.605 sold in 2015 (albeit a sales spike that ensued in anticipation of the subsidy cutbacks).

There is little doubt that electric vehicles will become the norm in the next decade, as evidenced by Volvo's commitment to phase out conventional car engines. But whether or not government shoulds use taxpayer money to make that future arrive faster, remains a point of contention.

The Danish government miscalculated its attempt to expose EV-makers to market forces, as it's now revisiting its policies in order to smooth out the transition — and consequently, to make all those charging stations more relevant again.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Finnair Was Named The Best Airline In Northern Europe For The 8th Consecutive Year

Via Business Insider:

After holding the title over the past seven years, it should not come as a surprise that Finnair has once again been named Northern Europe’s best airline at the World Airline Awards. The award is based on a customer satisfaction survey organized by Skytrax, comprising 325 airlines and 19 million survey participants.

It may actually be misrepresenting to limit Finnair’s prestige to Northern Europe. The airline consistently performs well also on the global scene. For example, Finnair has been named one of the safest airlines in the world, and amongst the most punctual. Also, last year AirHelp found Finnair to be one of the ten best airlines in the world, based on quality performance, delay time and claim processing. The same ranking found Norwegian Air Shuttle and Icelandair to be amongst the ten worst airlines in the world – which may be reason to say that ‘being the best in Northern Europe’ kind of misses the point.

High performance is no reason for Finnair to get lax though. The airline is putting special emphasis on improving the passenger experience by developing its digital services. Earlier this year, Finnair participated in a trial of face-recognition check-in technology at Helsinki airport (which incidentally is one of the 10 best airports in Europe) in collaboration with airport operator Finavia. This year Finnair also became the first airline to accept the Chinese digital payment service Alipay onboard its planes, also in conjunction with the adoption of the technology at Helsinki airport. All long-distance flights by Finnair now also offer its Nordic Sky Wi-Fi service. It’s clear that being an innovator is part of the airline's strategy to survive in the ever more competitive space.

“Digital development is one of our central strategic goals, but we’re continuously improving all aspects of the customer experience, like, for example, our collaborations with high-profile cooks in business class on long-distance flights, and the improvement of our lounge experience through new partnerships”, says Piia Karhu, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience at Finnair.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Finnish Innovators Have Invented A New Material To Wrap Up The Packaging Market – No Plastic, No Harmful Chemicals And Completely Recyclable

Via Business Insider:

Kotkamills has developed a new paperboard material that can be totally recycled after use. The material is water- and greaseproof, but that is achieved without using plastics, and it also does not contain harmful fluorochemicals. Packaging for food and drinks normally uses polyethylene coating to achieve the same features, which makes recycling difficult and expensive, so waste board is usually incinerated.

Kotkamills, based in the southern Finnish coastal town of Kotka, has developed a chemical combination, which changes the paperboard’s properties to make it naturally resistant to grease and liquids – at least long enough for its use by consumers. The company’s coffee cups were recently tested by YLE and were found able to hold hot and soft drinks for more than two days.

The resistance even worked for alcoholic beverages, though only for a couple of hours. But YLE pointed out that 39% of all disposable paper cups on the market are only able to contain spirits for a few hours – and that’s still more than enough for the overwhelming majority of consumers.

The new coating is, needless to say, a closely guarded secret. Kotkamills CEO Markku Hämäläinen revealed that he and a colleague developed the chemical mixture to form a coating that combines the proofing needed whilst the product is being manufactured with seams that keep together and do not tear or leak when being used.

The end product is totally recyclable after the ink has been removed during the pulping process and involves no fluorine compounds whatsoever. The quality is high enough that the recycled pulp can even be made into copy-grade paper, as the paperboard contains a large amount of short fibre.

The new packaging product, marketed under Kotkamills’ AEGLE brand, has already received certification and orders from Germany, Norway, UK as well as Finland.

“It’s mostly folding box board for consumer products such as packaging for medicines, cosmetics and alcohol”, Hämäläinen says, “Though a combination of folding box board and barrier board is also used for food packaging such as chocolate and frozen fish”.

Although Hämäläinen cannot name potential customers for the cup stock, it is whispered that major brand owners such as McDonald’s and Starbucks have shown interest in Kotkamills’ ISLA-brand paper cup, which awaits final certification after having passed thorough testing.

“Now we will start marketing the cups and I am sure orders will come fast as the brands are eagerly waiting to use it as soon as the necessary qualifications have been granted - by August at the latest”, he told Business Insider Nordic.

“Fluorochemicals are still widely used in fast food packaging, even though studies have shown them to be unhealthy and may cause cancers,” Hämäläinen, “Our products are moisture-resistant without presenting a health hazard”.

Kotkamills’ new main owner, Finnish private equity MB Funds, was behind the €170 million ($196 million) conversion of a board machine last year as part of a €210 million upgrade of the whole Kotka plant. With 400.000 tons in annual capacity “There is more than enough to satisfy European annual demand of a maximum of 300.000 tons, some of which do not need plastic-free quality for all uses, so we will target the USA, which is much bigger”.

Hämäläinen is confident of the new products’ success. Green should turn into gold as there are no similar rival products, neither in folding board packaging nor disposable cups.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Xi Wraps Up Three-Day Hong Kong Trip

Via Xinhuanet:

President Xi Jinping ended his three-day trip to Hong Kong Saturday after attending celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China, and the inauguration of the fifth-term Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government.

He also inspected the special administrative region.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Stockholm Issues 90 Percent Of All Stock Market Capital In The Nordics – Here’s The Secret Behind Sweden's IPO miracle

Via Business Insider:

From early stage startups all the way to the stock market, the last decade has proved that Sweden is doing something right.

This year – well on track towards a new record in the amount of Swedish listings – Nasdaq Stockholm’s main market has issued 1.4 billion euros in capital, which is almost 90 percent of the Nordic total of 1.6 billion. The ratio on the alternative First North markets have been equally skewed towards Sweden.

Moreover, three three companies with the largest IPO’s in the Nordics this year – Munters, Ambea and Medicover – have all rung their bells in the Swedish capital. The same was true of the three largest IPO’s in 2015 – all Swedish.

Adam Kostyál, the Head of Listings of EMEA at Nasdaq Inc, is mighty impressed with these fertile conditions; which he thinks is underpinned by Swedish households’ positive attitude towards equity.

"What other markets can learn is that it’s a very active market, and a very knowledgeable one. This means that households are willing to take on the risk of managing equity ownership. That’s fundamentally interesting, because the rest of Europe is against that. It’s more debt-driven", he told BI Noric during a record-breaking morning last week, when five companies listed simultaneously on Nasdaq Stockholm.

Although last year saw Copenhagen dominate Nasdaq Nordic, with listings of payment giant Nets Group (€2.1bn) and DONG Energy (€2,3bn), Stockholm’s main market raised 90% percent of the Nordic capital in 2015 as well. An dominance that's unrivalled not only in the Nordics, but in most of Europe too.

“In Sweden, you have a perfect ecosystem. A good retail base, on top of which you have an institutional base of small and medium-sized funds, investors and advisors that can thrive around this ecosystem. They can then recommend [the stock market] going forward, both for companies and for investors. So this is what we’re missing in the rest of Europe. Also on the Nordic level this is quite unique”.

Kostyál notes that Nasdaq is looking to share some of the learnings across the Nordics.

"We are working actively in all markets where we are present - including Copenhagen and Helsinki - to see what we can recommend, both regarding tax aspects and different incentives, to make sure that we can develop this kind of market in each geography".

Nasdaq Nordic - 2017 YTD

Nordic Listings: €1.6 bn

Stockholm Listings: €1.4 bn

2017 – Largest IPO’s to date (all in Stockholm)

Munters €414 million

Ambea €209m

Medicover €208m

Nasdaq Nordiq – 2016

New Listings: €7.2 bn

Stockholm Listings: €1.6bn

Nasdaq Nordic – 2015

New Listings: €5 bn

Stockholm Listings: €4.5bn

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Visa Makes Investment In Klarna, Fueling The Swedish Unicorn's Banking Business

Via Business Insider:

Visa and Klarna announced today they have reached an agreement for Visa to make an equity investment in the Swedish fintech company.

The announcement comes just two weeks after Klarna secured its Swedish banking license. The two companies are also committing to a strategic partnership with the aim to accelerate online and mobile commerce, says a joint press statement.

With a partnership, Visa will get better access to the online merchant realm whereas Klarna — according to CEO Siemiatkowski — will be able to “strengthen its global presence and product portfolio”, giving the Swedish payment company access to Visa's s 50 million offline and online customers.

“The Visa and Klarna partnership is a natural fit. We both understand consumer credit and the value of consumer centricity in developing innovative payment solutions”, said Seimiatowski.

The pair is targeting a growing online retail sales market, which is expected to grow 12 percent per annum in Western Europe by 2021 according to Forrester.

“Visa has invested in Klarna for its proven expertise in consumer credit and online purchasing. Together, we share a vision for how today’s online and mobile commerce experiences can be as simple as they are in the real world”, said Jim McCarthy, executive vice president, innovation and strategic partnerships, Visa Inc.

”They have their bank licence, a broad customer base and plans to expand beyond their current markets. Klarna is a natural partner," Bill Gajda, Visa's Head of Innovation said to Di Digital.

The end goal of the partnership seems clear: to acquire as many merchants as possible both online and offline, and provide them with a broad range of payment and personal finance products.

The two companies didn’t disclose how much equity Visa will receive, and said that further details on the partnership will come at a later date.

Visa's planned investment is part of a global strategy to open up the company's ecosystem to digital players and follows on previous bets in U.S. payment giants Stripe and Square (10 percent stake in the latter). Visa has also recently opened an in-house startup accelerator, Collabs.

Valued at more than $2 billion, Klarna has become a leading online payments provider with more than 60 million customers and 70.000 merchants across Europe. Its Visa partnership will provide it instant heft in a pivot into personal banking services, and might also ease its entry into the U.S. market.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The US Is "Flatlining" In Social Progress Compared To Countries Like Finland And Denmark

Via Business Insider:

While much of northern Europe continues to provide affordable healthcare, promote equality, and minimize poverty rates, across the Atlantic the US is getting more divided and less tolerant.

In the 2017 Social Progress Index, a ranking of 128 nations looking at quality of life, the US is 18th out of 128. Michael Green, the CEO of SPI, said the US was "flatlining", primarily due to its falling scores on measures of tolerance and inclusion.

"Compared to other countries with similar GDP, the US is lagging in its homicide rates, terrorism, and its traffic deaths", Green told Business Insider.

But the country also fell well below other nations, including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Canada, and Sweden, because of its poor scores on information and communication. The category measures a country's access to the internet, mobile phone subscriptions, and level of press freedom.

"A surprisingly low number of people have access to the internet in the US" relative to the rest of the industrialized world, Green said. The US ranks 27th in the world. It also showed a weak performance in environmental quality (33rd), health and wellness (34th), and nutrition and basic medical care (36th).

The strongest category for the US was education. The country placed first, but Green points out the ranking did not take cost into consideration.

Declining scores in tolerance and inclusion highlight the growing political and cultural divides taking place in the US, most noticeably in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. A Gallup poll published in late November 2016 found the number of Americans who viewed the country as divided was at a record-high 77%. SPI's ranking shows US discrimination against minorities ranks 39th in the world. Religious tolerance ranks 92nd.

Enough countries show poor scores in tolerance and inclusion, in fact, that Green believes the data reveal how fractured much of the world has become in matters of immigration.

The US joins France, Kuwait, and Saudia Arabia as the only countries that stood out for their poor performance relative to their GDP. Generally speaking, countries with higher GDPs were more socially progressive, according to SPI's ranking.

Countries such as Uganda and Ghana showed great improvement since 2014, Green said. The rise of mobile phones in East African nations has enabled more people to come online, boosting their countries' overall scores.

Green said that in order for under-performing countries like the US to improve their scores in 2018 and 2019, they'll need to embrace long-term investments in protecting people's rights.

"The US is not under-performing because of the Trump administration or the Obama administration", he said. "It's about the story of long-term under-investment in the justice system, in the education system, in healthcare. Those are the real challenges".

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Macron Faces Challenges After Foretold Victory

Via EUobserver:

On Sunday (18 June), French president Emmanuel Macron will have achieved the most spectacular takeover in French modern history.

But he will face risky challenges: managing a massive but heterogeneous and inexperienced majority in parliament in a country that is socially unstable.

According to the latest opinion polls, Macron's party, La Republique en Marche (LRM, The Republic on the Move), could capture up to 470 seats in the second round of the legislative elections.

That would amount to more than three-fifths of the 577-seat National Assembly, the French parliament's lower house.

It would leave the two main traditional parties, the center-right Republicans and the Socialist Party, with only 70 to 90 seats and 20-30 seats, respectively.

The far-right National Front (FN), whose leader, Marine Le Pen, faced Macron in the run-off for the presidential election in May, would get one to five seats, behind the radical-left Unbowed France (five to 15 seats).

Le Pen's defeat, as well as her poor performance in the presidential debate against Macron and an internal party controversy over whether to continue to defend a French exit from the euro, have demobilised FN voters during the legislative campaign.

The victory of LRM, a political movement that was founded only a year ago and is still not officially organised as a party, will follow Macron's own victory with 66.1 percent against Le Pen in his first ever political campaign.

Macron chose a Republican prime minister, Edouard Philippe, with a government that includes members of the right, centre, and left, as well as non-politicians.

In the process, he destabilised the established parties and will benefit from France's political tradition by which voters give the new president a majority.

Restive public opinion

But Macron's triumph remains fragile.

In the first round, last Sunday (11 June) only 47.62 percent of registered voters cast a valid ballot. The turnout is expected to be as low on Sunday, and would be the lowest since the 5th Republic was established in 1958.

"The new majority should not make the mistake of thinking that voters gave them a blank cheque", political scientist Yves-Marie Cann told Les Echos newspaper. "They have been lucky that there was no mobilisation against them".

According to a poll by OpinionWay published on Thursday, only 48 percent of people said they wanted that Macron has a majority.

If he is unlikely to have to deal with strong opposition in parliament, Macron could face a restive public opinion when he tries to introduce controversial measures such as a reform of the labour code to make lay-offs easier.

French voters have shown that they were ready to push out their leaders and vote for radical candidates on the left and right.

But Macron and Philippe could also have to manage a chaotic majority in the assembly.

'Avoiding a mess'

"We're going to have many elected people, almost too many. We will have to supervise them to avoid a mess", Macron was quoted as saying by the Canard Enchaine weekly, which is usually well-informed.

Big majorities are usually difficult to manage, because "subgroups or political clubs are created", political scientist Olivier Rozenberg pointed out in Liberation, a daily.

In addition, LRM is an assembly of people with different political views who are disillusioned with their traditional parties on the left and right, as well as of people with no political experience at all.

Next week, as the new MPs take their seats, Macron will participate in his first EU summit in Brussels.

Almost two months after his shock election, he will start to be tested on both his domestic and his EU ambitions for reform.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Finland’s Government Crisis Resolved Last Minute By Unexpected Rupture Of The Finns Party

Via Business Insider:

Monday’s political crisis caused by the election of hard-line ultra-nationalists at the Finns Party conference last weekend has passed – but not for the Finns Party itself. While driving to the President’s Naantali summer residence to hand in the government’s resignation, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä got the news that over 20 Finns Party MPs had resigned from their party and formed a new parliamentary group called ‘New Alternative’.

Sipilä turned round and held a different media conference at Turku Airport to explain that, “There is now no need to resign,” and that the government would continue – subject to a vote of confidence – with the new band of defectors. The split in the Finns Party started Tuesday morning when two MPs announced they could not accept the new leadership under party chair Jussi Halla-aho and his fellow travellers who are virulently anti-EU and anti-immigration to the point of being racist. Resignations then flooded out to the media.

The final figure of rebels is 21 with one wavering, leaving the Finns Party bloc just 15 MPs. But all the big guns, meaning three ministers, speaker of the Eduskuntatalo (parliament) and parliamentary group leader were all among the band who jumped from the FP ship. First and foremost was ex-FP leader for 20 years until last Saturday and current Foreign Minister Timo Soini.

“The group is ready to continue as part of the Sipilä government with the same programme and constitution,” said MP Simon Elo, who is now the new grouping’s spokesman.

“Today we are not just politicians but also acting on behalf of our country. It’s not just about Halla-aho’s election, but those elements that have taken over the party.” He echoed many others stating that the party was not now the one he joined.

The swiftness and decisiveness of the split caught commentators and others completely by surprise – none more so than the new Finns Party leader himself. “It was expected that one or a few MPs might go, but I didn’t expect such a large scale movement”, he bleated.

“Among the people (who have gone) were individuals of whom I would have least expected. All were disappointing, but some more than others”.

His rump Finns Party is left with just 15 MPs now and the rift has rippled out throughout local government too. While the scale came as a shock, the reasoning behind it was obvious. Halla-aho and his cohorts now in charge of the Finns Party have a chequered past of blatant racist comments and speeches not to mention his position as MEP when holding strong anti-EU opinions. This attracted accusations of hypocrisy due to his willingness to take Brussels money while still intending to run the party from there.

Other losers, though on a much smaller scale, are the two parties that were swilling to step into the void left by the Finns Party. The Swedish People’s Party and Christian Democrats are now dreaming of what might have been. But they would have only brought 15 MPs, leaving a putative coalition with a majority of just one with 101 seats in the 200-seat parliament.

With a minimum of 21 MPs, the ‘new’ government of the Centre and National Coalition parties with New Alternative has a more comfortable 107. Maria Louhela, still Speaker and New Alternative member said that a vote of confidence would probably take place next week. So while the government may breathe a sigh of relief, for the Finns Party it will be a sharp intake of breath and an aspirin to ease the sudden headache and find a new image to replace its current tarnished reputation, as many media have stopped calling it populist – it is now ‘ultra-nationalist’.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Finnish Government Is Falling Due To New Finns Party Leader

Via Business Insider:

The election of MEP Jussi Halla-aho has plunged Finland into a political crisis, with many expecting the three-party right-wing coalition to collapse over his strident anti-EU, -euro and anti-immigrant stances. The Finns Party leadership is now occupied by far right-wingers with the party congress last weekend choosing MPs Laura Huhtasaari as first vice-chair and Teuvo Hakkaraine as joint second vice-chair.

Previous leader for twenty years, Timo Soini, who is the current Foreign Minister, took a more moderate and practical position. He took over from the defunct Finnish Smallholders Party when it was in danger of extinction and led it to a high of nearly 20% of votes in parliamentary elections.

Both Halla-aho and Hakkarainen have been convicted of racist crimes in 2012 and 2016 respectively. In his acceptance speech, the new leader was not conciliatory at all, drawing up future policy battle lines instead. He criticised other parties, which includes his now coalition colleagues, for their positive EU viewpoints especially on integration.

Parroting typically modern populist parlance, he said the EU's freedom of workers policy distorted labour markets and the euro weakened nations to control their budgets. Although he admitted that leaving the EU was not possible now, he said, "I believe staying in the EU is not in Finland's long-term interests".

"Our job as the only Eurosceptic party is to instigate and maintain critical well-founded discussion on the topic. We should seek allies in countries which are also sceptical about loss of national sovereignty".

So links will be established with the Swedish People's Party and Danish People's Party, which together would give the Finns Party leverage in the European Parliament and Nordic Council.

Crisis Meeting

But just as Halla-aho and colleagues were celebrating what they assumed is a new dawn, government coalition partners, Centre Party and National Coalition Party (Kokoomus) and their leaders proved notto be in the mood for surrender.

PM Sipilä called immediately for a meeting today (Monday) due to Halla-aho's decision that Soini could not continue as FM. "The Finns Party is a completely new party with new policies now," Sipilä growled, adding that no negotiations on immigration or other previously agreed government programmes would take place.

NCP leader and Finance Minister Petteri Orpo stated his party would re-consider whether it should remain in a Finns Party government coalition. "The NCP will not stay unconditionally," he said, "This is matter of principles.. Finland is open, rich in languages and culture".

Others are waiting in the wings, with both the Swedish People's Party and Christian Democrats announcing they would possibly be willing to be part of a new coalition. The SPP, despite its name, is based on the Swedish language and is mainly a broad umbrella of opinions, but not anti-EU or immigrant.

However, whatever the outcome, the fact is that the Finns Party is sinking in the polls - the last in April showing support at 9%. In 2015 Finns Party got 17.7% of the vote and 38 MPs. Now at half that figure and with, by Finnish standards, an extremist holding the reins, its future looks grim. In addition to his conviction, it recently came out that Halla-aho had a child with a woman with whom he had a long affair.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Danish Math Wizards Use Big Data To Cut Airport Waiting Time In Half – And Next They’re Doing The Same With Hospitals

Via Business Insider:

Danish startup Copenhagen Optimization has become the go-to-guys for making airports run more smoothly. Like they did at Genève Aéroport where the average waiting time was reduced by more than 50%.

“It’s all about numbers”, says Anders Dohn, Managing Partner and co-founder at Copenhagen Optimization, ”At the core, we have a number of sophisticated mathematical models that we apply to each specific operational area. We use data to find patterns we can utilize in terms of optimization. For instance, we know that passengers use more trays at the security checkpoint in the winter because people wear more clothes. But with our model, we predict the pressure on security, treating each day as unique. That allows for a much more efficient allocation of resources”.

Since 2015, the startup has worked with 20 airports around the world, improving their operations. At Dublin Airport, passenger throughput increased by 10% and in Stockholm Arlanda, peak in check-in counter demand was decreased by 5.5%.

The passenger leaves a data trail through the airport.

The math experts have chosen to work with airports for two main reasons. Firstly, both Anders Dohn and his co-founder Kasper Hounsgaard have practical experience from managerial positions at Copenhagen Airports. Secondly, airports have vast amounts of data at their disposal, enabling them to follow the passenger's every step, almost.

”The passenger submits data all along the way, from checking in to having the boarding pass scanned at an airport shop. Furthermore, many airports have Wi-Fi or sensor technology to track passengers within the airport.

That means that we know when the passengers arrive, how long they stand in line, how long they take to pass through security, where they are in the airport and how many passengers are boarding the plane”, says Anders Dohn.

Airports are late on strategy and technology.

With all that data at their disposal, you would expect airports to excel at analyses and forecasts but that is not the case.

”Other industries like retail are way ahead of airports when it comes to tracking people”, Kasper Hounsgaard explains, ”I think it is cultural. Airports are really good at making things work in real-time. But they can improve planning by working in more structured ways with data and thinking long term”.

In order to help airports getting better - and to expand the business - Copenhagen Optimization recently launched software-as-a-service solution, Better Aiport. The client can subscribe to services such as Better Border Control and Better Forecast.

Next destination: Hospitals

Airports are not the only people-intensive facilities in need of optimization, and the Danish startup is now turning to hospitals. ”The challenge is similar to airports. You have a large number of people that need to move through the infrastructure, but at the same time you must pay attention to their situation and needs”, says Kasper Hounsgaard.

The startup is working with the pathology department at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark's largest hospital.

”The department handles a large number of different samples and the prioritization of tasks is complex. We analyze the extensive data available to help them improve their processes”, Anders Dohn explains.

Copenhagen Optimization has been in operation for two years and employs 15 people. It has been without external funding until recently when the company got additional capital from The Danish Growth Fund (Vækstfonden), and three private investors.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The 1000 Richest Families In Scandinavia Evade A Third Of Their Taxes, Finds A New Bombshell Study

Via Business Insider:

A new study indicates that Scandinavia's wealthiest families are moving their money abroad to avoid paying taxes.

Research study: The richest families in Scandinavia avoid paying up to a third of their taxes

The study estimates that the 1000 richest families in Scandinavia have withheld as much as 32 procent of the taxes they would otherwise be required to pay.

The researchers behind the study imply that the wealth gap in Scandinavia in the last ten years has increased more than previously thought. The study's results, published on Monday, have made waves in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

“Up until now there’s been an assumption that most of tax evasion is done by small business owners who bend the rules, but these results show something completely different. It’s actually the wealthiest people who are avoiding taxes to the largest extent”, said Annette Alstadsaeter, a professor at Handelshoyskolen in Oslo involved in the study, to SVT.

Alstadsaeter worked together with her research colleagues Niels Johansson at Copenhagen University and Gabriel Zucman at Berkelely in California. Their estimates are partly based on the Panama Papers and Swissleaks (an extensive leak of Swiss bank accounts) as well as an investigation into Swedish tax evasion previosuly done by SVT.

The rich prefer Swiss bank accounts

Based on their study, the trio could conclude that the wealthier the individidual, the higher the likelihood of tax evasion. This is likely because the rich have better opportunities to hide money abroad.

Having compared bank account details in Swissleaks with tax declarations in Denmark and Norway, the researchers posit that almost all Swiss bank accounts set up by Scandinavians are being used for tax evasion.

“Normally it’s not illegal to have a bank account in Switzerland. But this shows that 95 percent of the accounts are not included in tax declarations. This means we’re talking about tax evasion”, Alstadsaeter said to SVT.

The study also found that as a whole, tax evasion leads to three percent less tax revenue in Scandinavia. The researchers do not know the identities of the concerned individuals, as bank account details were anonymized ahead of the study.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Helsinki Airport Has Successfully Trialled Using Face-Recognition Technology Instead Of Travel Documents

Via Business Insider:

Finavia, Helsinki-Vantaa airport’s operating body, has just concluded its most advanced test of facial recognition technology to date. Run in cooperation with Finnair and digital solutions company Futurice, the test-run was conducted over a period of three weeks in May, to follow-up on a preliminary trial last year.

Phase two was conducted in the Finnair normal priority passenger check-in and 1.000 frequent flyers were invited to take part. The participants used a trial app to send their face profiles to the test software platform. The travellers were then forwarded to a designated check-in desk that contained the facial recognition tech.

The fact that image recognition technology can now recognize your face didn’t prevent passengers from liking the seamless check-in.

“I’m happy to report that the customers involved in this latest test were delighted with their experience, so of course, even though we are in assessment stage concerning the facial recognition technology in a holistic sense, this bodes well for larger-scale utilisation in the future”, says Heikki Koski, Vice President of Helsinki Airport for Finavia.

The goal is to apply the technology on a much larger scale.

Though the tests are preliminary, the hopes are that they will eventually lead to a point where biometric scanning in departure and transfer halls will become the norm. One day, it may be that all you need to bring to the airport is your good self, and the rest will be taken care of by itself behind the scenes.

“We want to make air travel flow even smoother and be involved in further developing the customer experience”, says Heikki Koski, Vice President of Helsinki Airport for Finavia. “Facial recognition is part of the larger megatrend of biometric identification, and it will enable ‘hands-in-your-pockets-travelling’, where you no longer need any travel documents. When all travel-related information is digitized, it takes less time and is easier to get through the checkpoints at the airport”.

The system used in the test was supplied by Futurice, and built using existing hardware/software and cloud-based services.

“We use facial-feature-based face recognition technology, which turns facial images into untraceable biometrics IDs”, says Tugberk Duman, Project Manager at Futurice. "This enables us to identify registered passengers on the go without having to store images. This test will provide useful information on the use of this solution for environments with large customer flows and tight security needs”.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Plato's Cave Is Real According To Einstein, Feynman And Others

Via Above Top Secret:

I'm watching the really good show on NatGeo called Genius about Einstein and he showed with Relativity that we live in a timeless universe and the evolution of any 3D experience isn't objective reality. He said:

“Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent ‘now’ objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence”.

From his book Relativity

We're looking at Plato's Cave.

He also said the distinction between past, present and future is just a persistent illusion. So in this context, we can't look at our universe as any sort of objective reality. It's subjective relative to four dimensional spacetime.

There's all sorts of spacetimes different than ours that are outside of our light cone. They could be in curved spaces different than ours based on their reference frame.

For 3 dimensional objects, we can experince different times and different space based on our acceleration. The things that are constant are the speed of light and spacetime intervals. So an object traveling close to the speed of light will will experience time ticking more slowly and their length will contract and it will get smaller.

So time is connected to spacetime intervals between events. The faster you go towards C means spacetime interval ticks between events gets slower and more stretched out. Here's a couple of videos that talk about spacetime intervals.

So this raises questions about things like free will which I believe is answered by quantum randomness and things like the free will theorem which speaks to the quantum nature of consciousness. So events can be seen in different order and in different ways by observers in different reference frames.

Say you have observer A and observer B.

Observer A sees these 3 events in order.

JFK's election

The Cuban Missle Crisis

JFK's death in Dallas.

Observer b can be moving in a different reference frame because they're accelerating at a different speed and are at a different angle relative to observer A. So observer B sees:

JFK's election

The Cuban Missle Crisis

He doesn't observe JFK's death though. His past light cone just contains these 2 things and not JFK's death. The question becomes, does observer B have to observe JFK's death or can JFK assassination just become an assassination attempt? JFK then serves 2 terms and lives to be 85 in the future light cone of observer B.

Einstein would say, observer B would have to see JFK's death. This is because he didn't think God played dice with the universe therefore he didn't like quantum randomness or things like entanglement.

If he were here today, he would probably support parallel universes because quantum mechanics doesn't lock observer B into observer A's worldline. So just because observer A saw JFK's assassination it doesn't mean observer B has to see the same thing if JFK's assassination hasn't happened for observer B yet.

Richard Feynman saw time in a similar way with sum over histories which indicates the direction of our ordinary clock time is simply a path in space which is more probable than other directions.

Other worlds are just other directions in space, some less probable, some equally as probable as the one direction we experience. Sometimes our world represents the the path that's unlikely. Feynman's summing of all possible histories could be described as a timeless description of a multitude of spacetime worlds all existing together in a simultaneous way. Here's Feynman talking about the universe as a glass of wine (Plato's Cave).

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Two Former Nokia Engineers Did What Google And Apple Wouldn't - Now Their Software Runs On 1.5 Billion Mobile Devices

Via Business Insider:

The success story of Realm is annoyingly simple.

”We were a couple of Danish engineers with an idea but no connections to Silicon Valley whatsoever. So we contacted Y Combinator by filling out a form and then they invited us over for a meeting”.

That was three years ago when Alexander Stigsen and his co-founder Bjarne Christiansen came up with the idea for a mobile database while working for Nokia in Denmark.

Databases need to run on the device itself, not on some remote server.

Today, Realm is running on more than 1.5 billion devices. Apps using Realm include Netflix, Starbucks, Ikea, Samsung, and BBC.

”Every interaction is moving to mobile. That means more and more data on the device, hence the need for a mobile database at the same place. The more data you can keep within the actual app the faster the app can work and respond to the user. Traditional databases run on online servers. Our database runs on the devices themselves”, Stigsen explains.

The Realm Mobile Database is now the most popular third-party database in the world replacing SQLite, the default database for both Android and iOS.

Too overwhelming for Google and Apple, so this startup stepped up.

While the need for mobile databases is evident, the development is a complex endeavor.

”It takes a long time, three to four years, to build a modern mobile database. That is why even the big vendors like Apple and Google do not have their own mobile databases. It just seemed overwhelming and they never really got started. This is where we saw a market opportunity”.

The market is about apps and getting through to the user. In order to achieve that, apps need all the speed and responsiveness they can get.

”The mobile space is extremely competitive. The average users have 20 apps on their phone while they have millions to choose from. You need a high performing app to be part of that club”.

Serverless is the new black in mobile apps development.

The impatient user is also the driving force behind the latest trend in mobile, serverless. That doesn’t actually imply not having servers, but a new degree of cloud computing where the app developer gets cloud functionalities such as code execution.

”Serverless is a huge trend right now because the traditional way of running apps is too slow. With a fully serverless interface, you can build an entire app on your platform in the cloud. That is why we see a move towards serverless with services like Google Cloud Functions”, Stigsen explains.

The need for faster data is ever increasing as the developers are pushing new functions craving data such as Augmented Reality (AR) and collaboration.

”We see a clear move towards interactive features and AR where the user interacts with the surroundings in a digital way. There are lots of opportunities for developers but they still need the app to be fast. We also see an increase in the use of collaborative tools for the workplace such as Slack. It is a natural next step towards the mobile platform for the enterprise”.

Realm has received a total of $29 million in funding to date. Investors include Y Combinator, Khosla Ventures, and Scale Venture Partner.

Monday, May 22, 2017

EU Leak: Sweden Has To Adopt The Euro By 2025

Via Business Insider:

Frankfurter Allgemeine has taken part of documents detailing plans to introduce the euro in all member countries by 2025 – including Sweden.

The leaked "reflection paper" outlines discussions between EU officials who met on Monday to prepare for an upcoming EU-commission meeting on the future of the euro on May 31st, writes SVT.

According to Frankfurter Allgemeine, the officials discussed a target that would force all EU members to join the euro by 2025.

The idea woule be to give the EU-parliament "democratic control" over the euro area's fiscal policy, as opposed to the current setup, where euro area finance ministers make decisions behind closed doors.

But shortly after the leak became public, it was refuted by EU-commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, who took part in Monday's meeting. He claims the true purpose of the plan is to "complete" euro area cooperation, not to force member countries into the currency.

"Of course we do encourage all member states to join as soon as they meet the prerequisites. But there is no specific time limit", Dombrovskis said, according to news agency Direkt.

Under the current EU treaty, Denmark would have the right to opt out if a "forced" decision were to be taken.

Additional EU-countries without the euro are Czech Republic, Croatia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Nordea Has Decided To Move Its HQ From Sweden, Sources Say

Via Business Insider:

The Nordics’ largest financial group, Nordea, has reportedly taken the decision to move its headquarters from Stockholm. This according to Svenska Dagbladet, which cites high-level sources.

The decision will be formally taken on Nordea’s board meeting on May 30th, headed by chairman of the board Björn Wahlroos.

The news of a move are not unexpected as Nordea has been in an open dispute with the Swedish government regarding its proposals for higher bank fees into the so called resolution reserves.

Nordea faces up to SEK 5 billion (∽$570m) higher annual fees, if the Swedish government — which has a tougher stance on finance than most of the EU — gets its way.

Earlier this year, CEO Casper von Koskull said a HQ move would be “highly, highly likely” in case the new fees would come into effect.

The most likely candidates for a new HQ are Helsinki and Copenhagen.

According to Svenska Dagbladet, Copenhagen has the upper hand within Nordea, in part because employees would prefer living there, and in part because the Danish government has made assurances that no new fees will be introduced in the country.

Although the decision is dramatic, and will have direct consequences for thousands of employees, the bank's corporate and investor clients may not notice the move as much, says Erik Ekman, Nordea's head of Commercial & Business Banking and Swedish country manager.

“These customers don’t see that big of a difference on Nordea regarding where the headquarters are located”, he said during a capital markets meeting in London recently.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Human-Made Protective Shield Surrounding Earth Has Been Detected By NASA Probes


Humankind created a protective barrier around Earth. That protects us from harmful particles found in space. Who knew that something so wondrous can be a by-product of man's waste and creations back down on Earth? Scientists believe this was created by very low frequencies(VLF), which are mostly found in military installations and engineering projects. They have discovered that VLFs interact with particles in space to influence how and where they move. VLFs can penetrate into space but are also used for deep underwater communication between submarines.

Scientists are elated to unhinge this discovery as knowing how VLFs can shape and influence the spatial region surrounding Earth is the gateway to more amazing discoveries, such as better protection for our satellites in Space. The discovery was made by two space probes sent up into our Van Allen Belts back in 2012, where they had orbited at 3.200km/h for the past five years before this amazing discovery was made.

The barrier is now termed the "impenetrable" barrier by Dan Baker, University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. However, scientists such as Dr. Baker are skeptical about other effects that frequencies down on Earth have on the spatial environment. After all, not all can be good. NASA has added their own explanation in this, claiming that radiation is a major problem. Now that nuclear weapons are a necessity for national defense, way up there in space, many major satellites have actually been damaged by them.

To be able to create an almost indestructible space barrier seems like something out of a sci-fi movie, however, this is real life. Every single day, humankind is making miraculous discoveries at any point in time. Now that we know that not everything created by humankind is destructive, one can only hope that humankind can have more positive influences in the galaxy we live in.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The SeaBin Was Made To Clean The Sea From Trash – And Has Found One Of Its Biggest Supporters In Finland

Via Business Insider:

The first SeaBin in northern Europe was installed last Tuesday 9 May at a jetty on Uunisaari island, in Helsinki. Thus the Finnish capital became one of a select six ports where a SeaBin prototype is being tested by pilot partners before its official sales launch later this year. The Finnish technology company Wärtsilä, which has a global marine business unit, is backing the SeaBin in Finland with six to be put into the water altogether – and is supporting the project on a global level for three years.

SeaBin’s concept and development has a cosmopolitan background with three Spain-based Australian friends and their Spanish mate the main driving forces. Keen water sports fans, they were only too aware of the problem of floating litter, especially plastics, visually spoiling the sea surface while doing greater damage to the general marine environment and eventually to human beings.

It was Andrew Turton who came up with the idea of having a floating litter bin much like those on shore. He and his fellow co-founders have since invested around four years and lots of their own money in research and development, to finally get to the point where commercial sales are finally in sight.

The basic operating principle is simple enough - rubbish is sucked into the SeaBin and held by a mesh bag inside while the seawater is pumped out.

“It can clean up to ten kilos of rubbish before it needs to be emptied,” CEO Pete Ceglinksi claims, “Imagine the total for a year”.

Being an environmentally friendly bunch, the four co-founders did not want any harm to come to any aquatic inhabitants. However, it has been observed that the SeaBin’s action keeps fish away from its rim. Should any happen to fall in anyway, they will remain alive in the water and can be released when the bag is emptied.

In all, six SeaBin V5s will be procured by Wärtsilä for both Helsinki and Turku, where they will be installed at marinas and harbours with the results collated and analyzed after three months. Other sites chosen by the SeaBin team are in France, Montenegro, Bermuda, USA and Mallorca in Spain, where SeaBin is headquartered.

On his second visit to Finland, at the setting-up ceremony of the first SeaBin, CEO Pete Ceglinski said that "The installation of the V5 SeaBin here in Helsinki marks a real turning point in the fight against plastics and littering. Wärtsilä is the first big industry entity to partner with the SeaBin Project, which is a world first. We hope that this partnership with Wärtsilä inspires other big industry players to partner with smaller businesses that have big ideas for a cleaner environment".

“The floating rubbish bin has been developed by people who are passionate about solving problems. I hope that Helsinki strengthens its reputation as a place where creative people discover and experiment with solutions to the world's problems," said Helsinki's Deputy Mayor, Anni Sinnemäki, a representative of the Green Party.

With the planned commercial rollout of a SeaBin, hopefully in August, a peak will have been ascended by the Aussie-Spanish outfit. Ceglinski is the first to admit it has been exhausting, “We have been running on fumes finance-wise for a while”. Being young and optimistic has helped, along with the modern trend of crowdfunding to raise much-need cash for the idea.

The SeaBin team has high ethical standards too.

“We could have had them made in China, but SeaBins will be made in Europe. We could have sold the idea, but we think it is important that it’s not just a product – it’s part of a holistic approach that includes education, promotion, help and action,” explains Ceglinski, “Because SeaBin is just one part of the [marine environment] solution”.

Within the foreseeable future, the SeaBin will be powered in the by sustainable energy sources like solar, wave and wind, depending on the local situation. A herculean task lies ahead: over 8 million tons of plastics are dumped annually into the Earth’s oceans and can take up to 500 years to be broken down. Even then micro-plastic particles find their way into the food chain of animals and humans. But even some of these smallest particles will be caught in the SeaBins’ bags.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Google Just Teamed Up With Volvo To Take On Apple With One Of The Most Important Features In New Cars

Via Business Insider:

Google has partnered with Volvo to build a next-generation infotainment system into future vehicles as part of a push to corner the rapidly growing connected car market and take on Apple CarPlay.

New Volvo cars released in two years will feature Google's next-gen system that runs on Android. But unlike Android Auto, the new system won't require a smartphone to operate. That gives Google access to drivers who might use services like Google Maps in their cars, but don't own Android devices, ensuring its services and apps are in continual use.

The partnership is also meant to improve the customer experience by better integrating apps and services into cars rather than shoving phone screens into car displays. Drivers will be able to access apps developed by Android, Google, and Volvo.

"Google's platform and services will enhance the user experience by enabling more personalization possibilities, while Android will offer increased flexibility from a development perspective", Henrik Green, Volvo's senior vice president of research and development, wrote in a press release.

Google will show off live demos of the system at its annual I/O tech show on Wednesday.

Google joins several others in the race to advance the connected car experience, including Blackberry with its QNX Operating System and Apple with CarPlay.

Customers have generally been reluctant to use in-vehicle systems that can be clunky and difficult to use. In fact, more than 50% of car owners never used their infotainment systems after 90 days of purchase, according to a 2016 study led by J.D. Power.

That's problematic for car companies that are investing heavily in the data-generating entertainment systems. McKinsey & Co. predicts Big Data from cars will become a $750 billion industry by 2030.

The Android operating system won't send any data to Google on its own, but drivers that use apps like Google Maps or Spotify can elect to share data to improve services.

The move will give Google a stronger foothold in the auto tech market and the potential to use data that could be useful for its other platforms.

As Bloomberg points out, it could also set the foundation for Google to introduce its artificial intelligence system Android Auto into vehicles. Apple currently has an edge of Android Auto by integrating Siri into its in-vehicle system.

Meanwhile, for Volvo, the move could help encourage consumer adoption by improving the in-vehicle experience.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Finland's Basic Income Experiment Is Already Lowering Stress Levels — And It's Only 4 Months Old

Via Business Insider:

Four months after Finland's social-security institution Kela launched a two-year experiment in basic income, a system of wealth distribution in which people receive a salary just for being alive, some of the 2,000 recipients are already reporting lower levels of stress.

The $600 they receive each month might not be much, but it's enough to put some people's anxiety at ease, Marjukka Turunen, head of Kela's legal benefits unit, told Kera News.

"There was this one woman who said: 'I was afraid every time the phone would ring, that unemployment services are calling to offer me a job'", Turunen recalled of a woman who needed to care for her parents, and so couldn't work.

Basic income is foremost a solution to poverty. Advocates say the system gives poor people exactly what they lack: cash. It puts money in their pocket to fix a leaky roof, buy a car to get to work, or save up for emergency funds. It's not enough to live on, but it prevents people from slipping through the cracks.

With that financial security comes additional benefits, says Scott Santens, a basic income advocate and writer. Santens has been receiving a basic income for the last couple years from the crowdfunding site Patreon. He says basic income redistributes power into the middle-class — namely, to turn down unappealing jobs — and promotes trust.

Basic income "says everyone should be given a minimum amount of trust, because the way we currently use pieces of paper to measure and distribute trust is fatally flawed without it", he says, offering the example of supermarkets being full of food while millions of hungry people can't access it. "Everyone is worth enough trust to enable their basic survival".

Finland's program is a modified version of basic income, since most advocates claim the system must be unconditional. Finns had to have been unemployed when they applied in 2016 to receive the benefits.

However, if they happened to have found a job after applying or after the experiment started, they will continue to receive the $600 each month.

Turunen emphasizes that Kela won't provide any formal data on the trial's effectiveness until 2018. The participants who speak to the press may not represent the entire pool of recipients, she told Basic Income Earth Network. "The results must be very carefully analyzed according to the information we only get at the end of next year".

Turunen has expressed high hopes for the trial. Experiments in Kenya and elsewhere have shown basic income can work on a small scale. As she told Business Insider in January, however, the long-term data still doesn't exist.

"Some people might stay on their couches, and some might go to work". she says. "We don't know yet".

If there are couch potatoes, they at least seem to be relaxed.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Blind Mystic Baba Vanga Predictions For 2017


Baba Vanga, the blind Nostradamus of the Balkans, made some troubling predictions about World War II three that have aroused the imagination of conspiracy lovers.

The prophetess, who died 85 years in 1996, is accused of having made hundreds of predictions about the future of humanity, with an accuracy rate of 85%, of her house in Sofia, Bulgaria.

On an inspection of his predictions - with the permission of some creative internet sorts - it appears that Baba Vanga also warned of Syria conflict, nuclear war and the disappearance of the US President.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

People Are Throwing Money At This Swedish Startup – With Earplugs That Shut Out Noise But Let You Continue Talking

Via Business Insider:

Do you find the noise level at your workplace disturbingly high? If so, you should definitely check out Malmö-based startup Ear Labs’ new campaign on Kickstarter.

The smart earplugs, called dBud, are designed to protect your ears from harmful noise – for use at the workplace, but also when clubbing or going to concerts. The company is targeting the mass market, comprising pretty much everyone except perhaps hermits living alone in the wilderness.

dBud’s unique selling point is that even with the earplugs on and protecting your ears you can still have a normal conversation with your colleagues, and you don’t have to miss out on the gossip in the office. As Ear Labs exemplifies in the promotional video, the earplugs are designed to be used by anyone from a DJ to a kindergarten teacher or a copywriter to shut out noise while working in any environment.

dBud has an “advanced acoustic filter” and a volume slider so you can adjust the amount of decibels to filter out. The volume slider has two positions: in the open one the noise reduction is about 15 dB and in closed position about 30 dB.

“In the open position dBud reduces the perceived volume with around 65% and actual sound pressure with as much as 97%. In closed mode the perceived volume reduction is about 87.5% and actual reduction of sound pressure as much as 99.9%”.

The campaign has got off to a flying start. In less than two weeks, it has secured almost $90.000 (approximately SEK 800.000). Due to the high engagement, the company has decided to raise the goal from $50.000 to $100.000 and to include an additional pair of foam tips in the offer.

A single set of air plugs will cost you $54, including worldwide delivery. You’ll get a discount if you're buying two or more. Deliveries to the first customers are estimated to be made in October 2017.

According to the company, as many as one billion young people are at risk of hearing loss. Elevated sound levels during a longer period of time can cause problems like "hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance and sleep disturbance”, according to the product description.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Happy Valborgsmässoafton!

Via Radio Sweden:

Sweden celebrates Valborg or Walpurgis Eve on the last day in April every year. Like many holidays in Sweden, this traditionally Christian celebration no longer has much to do with religion, but rather is a celebration of the arrival of spring.

Swedes welcome spring on Walpurgis Eve across the country with music, alcohol, and community bonfires. It is also the day when students don the traditional white captain’s hats and sing songs in university towns.

Radio Sweden spoke with Jonas Engman, head of archives at Nordiska Museet, about the rituals of drinking and bonfires as well as how the holiday started.

"Valborg celebrations coincided with a lot of other customs that we had. For some reason it became very popular," he said. "The Church was really concerned about Valborg...They were really upset about people going around screaming, shouting, and even drinking in the villages".

Saturday, April 29, 2017

EU Signals Northern Ireland Could Join If United With Ireland

Via The EUobserver:

EU leaders are to confirm at a summit in Brussels on Saturday (28 April) that if Northern Ireland reunited with Ireland it would automatically become part of the bloc.

The issue could irritate London ahead of 8 June's general election and the soon-to-begin Brexit talks.

The Irish commitment, which had always been an informal understanding, will not be part of the EU 27’s negotiating guidelines, but it will be annexed to the document as part of the minutes of the discussion upon Ireland's request.

The British government has a similar understanding.

Brexit secretary David Davis in a leaked letter in March said: "In that event [Irish reunification] Northern Ireland would be in a position of becoming part of an existing EU member state, rather than seeking to join the EU as a new independent state".

On the other hand, if Scotland broke away from the UK to become a sovereign state it would have to apply for EU membership.

The Scottish government said it wants to hold a new independence referendum because Scots voted to stay in the EU in the Brexit referendum last year.

The Irish pledge is the only new element that has emerged in the EU's position as it prepares for its first ever formal summit without the UK under the Article 50 exit procedure.

Key elements

Leaders are expected to agree on the so-called negotiating guidelines that sets out the red lines for the bloc.

Upholding the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that, which brought an end to decades of violence over Northern Ireland's status, is one of the key issues.

The EU wants to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, while maintaining the external borders of the EU, which will shift after Brexit.

Safeguarding the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and of UK citizens residing in the EU is another key element for the EU in the Brexit talks.

We need "guarantees that are effective, enforceable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive, and which should be accompanied by simple and smooth administrative procedures", European Council chef Donald Tusk said in his invitation letter to leaders.

EU officials are looking for UK guarantees that the rights of EU citizens who live in Britain will accumulate until the day of withdrawal, meaning that if someone moved to the UK the day before the UK left the EU they would still be entitled to their full rights as an EU passport holder.

"Assurances so far from UK government that acquired rights will be protected is not enough", one senior diplomat told EUobserver.

The third key element is the "bill" the UK will have to pay when it leaves to honor its previous financial commitments.

Another senior EU official quipped that he had never seen EU states, who normally fight over who foots the bill in the EU budget, work so closely together as on British prime minister Theresa May's divorce settlement.

The final figure of that bill is unlikely to be clarified until the end of the process.

EU countries first want to reach on understanding with the UK on the methodology of what should and should not be included in the settlement, before moving onto the next phase of talks.

Phased goodbye

Tusk has reiterated that, contrary to May's expectations, the talks will have to be two-phased.

"We will not discuss our future relations with the UK until we have achieved sufficient progress on the main issues relating to the UK's withdrawal from the EU", he wrote in his letter on Friday.

The EU-27 will decide when that "sufficient progress" has been reached, in a unanimous political decision by the EU nations.

"It is not a matter of tactics, given the limited timeframe, it is the only possible approach", an EU official told this website.

The divorce deal will have to be agreed and ratified by March 2019.

That is when the UK automatically leaves the EU even if there is no deal in place, unless the EU-27 agree to give more time.

A transitional arrangement is another possibility to bridge the time between the withdrawal and the deal on the future relations entering into force.

Relocate agencies

On Saturday, Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will also propose a roadmap on relocating the two EU agencies that are based in the UK - the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority.

EU leaders are expected to agree on the procedure and criteria for relocations in June, and EU officials are aiming for a decision this year.

Fighting for EU agencies is a toxic issue for member states.

May on Thursday accused the 27 of "lining up against Britain", to which a senior EU diplomat bluntly reacted: "She is right".

Officials highlighted rare unity of the 27 member states in the process so far.

"It took the UK nine months to prepare the notification letter, the 27 have their position in one month", a senior EU official said.

Sources said that that unity would be tested, however.

"Over time it will be difficult. It will be relatively easier to keep the unity in the withdrawal part of the discussion and more challenging in the future relationship talk", said one EU official.

Saturday's meeting is expected to be short and devoted only to Brexit.

The negotiating directives for EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will be officially agreed by EU affairs ministers on 22 May, making the EU ready to kick off the exit talks.

Officials said it was likely that the 27 leaders would have to meet on Brexit during the upcoming June, October, and December EU summits as well.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Spotify Acquired Blockchain Startup Mediachain

Via Business Insider:

Spotify has announced that it has acquired blockchain startup Mediachain for an undisclosed amount.

The New York-based startup raised $1.5 million from venture capitalists Andreesen-Horowitz and Union Square Ventures, according to Crunchbase.

The startup was building a distributed database linking original creators and authors to the content they create. It started with photography, partnering with Getty Images and the Museum of Modern Art, and had the goal of expanding into all kinds of media.

A blog post announcing the startup's funding round said: "Imagine being able to connect with the artist of a viral GIF you see in your feed, learn the history or origin of any image, or automatically reward a musician whenever you press play".

In a press release Spotify said: "The Mediachain team will join our New York City offices and help further Spotify's journey towards a more fair, transparent and rewarding music industry for creators and rights owners".

In a blog post Mediachain explained its team has past experience in the digital music industry. The startup's CTO, Arkadiy Kukarkin, was the first engineering hire at HypeMachine and co-founder Jesse Walden previously ran an artist management firm.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Russian Mathematicians Decoded The Mysterious Voynich Manuscript


The CIA tried to decipher it and failed. The FBI tried to break the code and also failed. Academics, truly intelligent cryptologists and people all over the world have been trying for 600 years to decipher a mysterious book known as the Voynich manuscript that is written in an unbreakable code; some theorize it was written by foreigners. The chess is finally over. A team of Russian mathematicians says they solved the enigma of the manuscript. And he says …

Not so fast. A breakthrough like this must be revealed slowly. The manuscript is nominated for the anti-revolutionary Polish tsarist and book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who bought it in 1912 in a Jesuit college outside Rome. The codex was illustrated with radiocarbon datings from medieval Italy between 1404 and 1438. The photos are mostly herbs and plants, along with other pharmaceutical, astronomical or biological objects. Writing ... well, writing is gibberish.


Mathematicians of the Institute of Applied Mathematics deciphered the Voynich manuscript, now preserved at the Yale University's Beinecke Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts, with a technical code break. They first suppressed all the vowels and spaces, turning the Codex into what looked like a very long Russian name. That, obviously, was not the solution. But believe it or not, it was close.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Icelandic Is At Risk Of Becoming An Extinct Language — And Technology May Be To Blame

Via Business Insider:

The people of Iceland, settled by Norsemen over 1,100 years ago, have developed a unique dialect based on Old Norse.

Having preserved many ancient elements that are now lost to the rest of the Nordics, Icelandic (like the Sami language in northern Scandinavia) is distinct also because of its inseparable bond with life at the edge of the Arctic. Hundslappadrifa, for example, means "heavy snowfall with large flakes occurring in calm wind", notes Egill Bjarnason at Associated Press.

But as the language is spoken by fewer than 400.000 people in an increasingly globalized world, many linguistics experts have started to wonder if Icelandic can survive the widespread use of English, which is “boosted by mass tourism and voice-controlled artificial intelligence devices coming into vogue”, says Bjarnason.

Former President Vigdis Finnbogadottir told The Associated Press that Icelanders must take serious steps to protect its language.

"Otherwise, Icelandic will end in the Latin bin", she warned.

She is not the country’s first president to champion a proactive stance to preserving the Icelandic language. In the 19th century, when the island nation belonged to Denmark, Icelandic vocabulary and syntax were heavily influenced by Danish.

Since Iceland became fully independent in 1944, both presidents and other independence movements have seen language as key to preserving the national identity.

But now, worries keep mounting for this very particular Viking language.

"The less useful Icelandic becomes in people's daily life, the closer we as a nation get to the threshold of giving up its use", said Eirikur Rognvaldsson, a language professor at the University of Iceland to AP.

Rognvaldsson has conducted the largest study to date looking into the use of Icelandic language, with 5.000 respondents.

"Preliminary studies suggest children at their first-language acquisition are increasingly not exposed to enough Icelandic to foster a strong base for later years", he said.

Here are the main indicators of the decline of the Icelandic language, according to AP:

1. Deteriorating Icelandic skills, starting in school

“Teachers are already sensing a change among students in the scope of their Icelandic vocabulary and reading comprehension”, notes Bjarnason.Teachers are even hearing English being spoken among students, according to a local teacher.

Moreover, most students are no longer assigned the Saga of Icelanders, medieval literature that chronicles the early settling of Iceland. It’s been a standard coming-of-age rite for teenagers to be able to fluently read these epic tales, originally written on calfskin.

2. The dark side of tourism

In the past years, tourism has boomed and become the country’s single biggest employer. According to analysts at Arion Bank, one in two new jobs in the sector is being filled by foreign labor, which indicates that Icelandic is diminishing in importance.

And unfortunately there really aren't that many expats who would be ready to learn Icelandic.

3. Digital technologies and voice-controlled devices

Icelandic is among the least-supported languages in terms of digital technologies (along with Irish Gaelic, Latvian and Maltese), according to a recent report assessing 30 European languages.

Asgeir Jonsson, an economics professor at the University of Iceland, says that this accentuates brain drain in the country. He sees the problem compounded by new voice-recognition devices that do not understand Icelandic, because it's too complicated.

"Not being able to speak Icelandic to voice-activated fridges, interactive robots and similar devices would be yet another lost field".

It would cost about 1 billion Icelandic krona, or almost $9 million, to fund an open-access database that could get Icelandic accepted as a language option, according to Iceland's Ministry of Education.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spotify Has Signed Its Second Big Licensing Deal

Via Business Insider:

Spotify has agreed another major licensing agreement to ease its way to IPO - this time with indie label representatives Merlin.

Merlin represents a bunch of smaller labels like Beggars Group, whose artists include Radiohead, and Domino Records, which looks after Arctic Monkeys.

Crucially, the deal means indie artists can release new albums to Spotify's paying users first, if they want to. Free users would have access up to a fortnight later. Spotify came to a similar arrangement for its first licensing agreement with Universal, announced earlier this month.

According to Spotify's press release, artists will also have "improved marketing and advertising opportunities, and enhanced access to data".

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said: "Indie music has been a huge part of our success since day one & I am super happy to say we have a new, multi-year deal with Merlin".

Charles Caldas, Merlin's CEO, added: "Merlin was a launch partner to Spotify back in 2008, and our partnership has thrived ever since.This new agreement lays the path to future sustainable growth for us both, and we look forward to remaining an integral part in the service's continued success".

Spotify's getting its house in order for a rumoured IPO

The order in which Spotify is announcing its licensing deals is interesting. The company is trying to renegotiate its agreements with record labels ahead of a reported IPO, but has only signed two out of four main partners so far.

Universal was the first to sign a deal which, controversially, would allow artists to release albums to Spotify Premium first. The other two major labels are Sony and Warner, which have yet to announce deals.

Mark Mulligan, veteran analyst at Midia Resarch, told Business Insider at the time that Universal had a track record of being "the ice breaker on new deals", citing its 2006 partnership with music downloads service SpiralFrog as an example. He said Universal's Spotify deal would lead to a "domino effect" where the other labels would quickly jump on board.

A key point of negotiation, Mulligan said, would be reducing the amount of revenue Spotify has to pay rightsholders, even if it's a tiny reduction. This allows it to go to potential investors and show that it still has control of its business, even though it's hugely dependent on its label partners to provide its music catalogue.

In return, however, Spotify will have to demonstrate it can grow, Mulligan said. "That's the only way this [streaming] model starts to evolve", he said.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Volvo Will Produce Its First Electric Car In China – The World’s Largest Market For EVs

Via Business Insider:

At a car exhibition in Shanghai, Volvo’s CEO Håkan Samuelsson revealed that the Volvo’s first electric car will be produced in China, Expressen reports.

Considering that China is one of Volvo’s most important markets, and increasingly so, and that the country is also the world’s biggest market for electric cars, the decision does make a lot of sense. Expressen does point out, however, that Volvo’s increasingly common practice of producing models exclusively in China to export to the rest of the world could prove a costly stratagem as President Trump considers increasing tariffs on US imports from China.

More surprisingly, Volvo, also announced that the EV would be built on the car-manufacturers smaller platform corresponding to the 40-series car models, which goes against previous communications about an electric SUV.

Volvo has previously declared its electric ambitions to be one million EV’s and hybrids sold by 2025. The electric car to be produced at the Luqiao factory is expected to reach the market in 2019.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Swedish Government Just Presented The New Budget - Here Are The Main Points

Via Business Insider:

Today, Sweden's Minister for Finance Magdalena Andersson presented the government's spring budget at the Riksdag. The budget came with minor changes directed towards four objectives: decreasing unemployment, improving educational results, improving national security and continuing to work towards a better climate.

Here are the main points of the budget according to the government's website:

Reinforcement of the Swedish Police Authority, SEK 700 million

Reinforcement of total defence, SEK 500 million

Increased funds to maternity services and women's health, SEK 500 million

Increased investment in mental health services for children and young people, SEK 100 million

Reinforcement of social care for children and young people, SEK 150 million

Increased funds to schools with a low percentage of students eligible for national programmes, SEK 500 million

Reinforcement of the upper secondary Introduction Program, SEK 150 million

Reinforcement of the Climate Leap, SEK 500 million

Though economists are reacting to the budget with little surprise, the opposition has voiced critique against not pursuing more major reforms at a time when the Swedish economy is strong, employment is at record levels, and the Swedish public debt is at its lowest in 70 years, and expected to continue shrinking with the government surplus in the upcoming years.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sweden’s Leading Department Store Had A PR Hiccup After Being Hit By Terrorist Truck — Here’s What It Should Have Said Instead

Via Business Insider:

The truck that drove into crowds in central Stockholm last Friday ended its murderous journey by crashing into the corner of one of Sweden's largest department stores, Åhléns, and catching fire.

The day following the attack, as Åhléns was closed for repair work, an email was sent to customers expressing the company's values of an open society.

But it also said there would be a 50% discount on smoke-damaged products when the store was due to open Sunday.

Instantly, this kicked of a public outcry.

The announcement of a “smoke-damage” sale were met by comments questioning how Åhléns possibly could even be thinking about making profits on Friday’s tragedy.

As a first reaction, Åhlens’ CEO Gustaf Öhrn responded to the comments by stating that the decision was in line with the company’s values of openness and resistance to fear and that the sale was going ahead – no matter the reactions.

However, by Sunday morning they had changed their mind, and announced that they would push the opening another day.

Expressing regret for the initial email, Åhléns said it had acted in a rush and that they were “deeply miserable by both the decision and the email”. Åhlens’ distanced itself from the claims that their motive would have been to make profits of the event.

“People probably didn’t understand why Åhléns acted this way. It wasn’t bad itself, but it was the way in which they communicated it” explains Johan Almquist, CEO for the branding strategy company Grow, to SvD.

According to Almquist, the anger arose when the terror attack got associated with money, due to an unclear message from the department store. Furthermore, he points out that the decision seemed rushed.

“If they had to get rid of the damaged products fast due to practical reasons it would have been better to put them on sale, but donate the money to a cause linked to what happened” Almquist suggests.

Another advice he shares with SvD, aimed at other companies that he hopes will learn from this incident, is to really think about who you are and what values underpin your business. That decreases the risk for this type of mistakes.

However, Almquist thinks that neither Spendrups nor Åhléns will be hurt by the events in the long run.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Chinese, Finnish Presidents Meet Winter Sports Athletes

Via Xinhuanet:

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto met skaters' representatives from the two countries here Wednesday evening, with both sides pledging to enhance cooperation in winter sports.

The athletes just attended the World Figure Skating Championships 2017, which ran from March 29 to April 2 in Helsinki, Finland.

Xi congratulated Finland on hosting a successful sporting event and commended the athletes for their outstanding performance.

He noted that sports exchange is an important bridge in promoting the China-Finland friendship, saying that China has a lot to learn from Finland as the Nordic country excels in winter sports.

The two countries should take the opportunity of Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Olympic Games to strengthen exchanges and cooperation in winter sports, thus promoting their respective sports development as well as the health of both peoples.

Niinisto said that Finland is willing to share experiences and deepen cooperation with China in winter sports and games preparations.

He added that Finland supports China in hosting a successful Winter Olympics.

The Chinese duo of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took gold in the pairs competitions at the just-concluded World Figure Skating Championships, while Jin Boyang of China won the men's singles bronze medal.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

China, Finland Agree To Advance Ties, Deepen Cooperation

Via Xinhuanet:

China and Finland agreed Wednesday to establish and promote a future-oriented new-type cooperative partnership, with both sides pledging to enhance political mutual trust and deepen pragmatic cooperation.

During talks between visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto, the two heads of state stressed that to build a more forward-looking and strategic bilateral relationship that keeps pace with the times is in the fundamental interests of both countries and their peoples.

"China and Finland are good friends and partners who respect each other, treat each other as equals and enjoy mutually-beneficial cooperation", Xi said. "The peoples of our two countries have always cherished a friendly sentiment toward each other".

Noting that the development needs of China and Finland fit well with each other, Xi called on the two sides to increase high-level exchanges, build up strategic mutual trust, explore potentials for cooperation and give support to each other in development.

Niinisto expressed warm welcome to the Chinese president for his visit on the occasion of the centenary of Finland's independence.

Finland highly values China's achievements in development and its important role in international affairs, he said.

The Finnish side hopes to carry out more high-level contacts and exchanges in all areas with China, and deepen cooperation in economy and trade, investment, innovation, environmental protection, tourism, winter sports and the Arctic affairs, as well as within the framework of the Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative, Niinisto said.

Finland also wants to strengthen communication and coordination with China on major international issues and push for an even closer cooperation between the European Union and China, he said.

The B&R Initiative was put forward by President Xi in 2013, aiming to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Swedish Billionaire Who Met “Egocentric” Trump: He Will Be Out Of Office In Four Years

Via Business Insider:

Sweden’s 44th richest person, real estate magnate Sven-Olof Johansson has aired his opinions of USA:s president Donald Trump. Johansson met Trump back in the 80’s, when buying construction services from one of his companies.

While he was cautiously optimistic about Trump's ability to affect change right after the election, Johansson has since changed his views.

Sven-Olof Johansson wasn’t impressed by Trump - but thinks he is “efficient”

”He is a very, very egocentric person and not at all pleasant to deal with. But he is efficient”, said Johansson to Svenska Dagbladet.

He was convinced Trump would tone down his flamboyant style and boost the American economy by deregulating the financial sector and launching infrastructure programs.

After 70 days of President Trump, that view has changed

A few months in, the effect has been quite the opposite, according to Johansson. Consumer uncertainty has led to saving instead of spending, leading to stalling car sales and retail spending. Moreover, many of Trump's Wall Street reforms are unlikely to pass.

Johansson thinks it will be interesting to see how Trump is going to react to the “political wall” he faces, considering that the American billionaire is used to getting his way, writes Veckans Affärer (VA).

But Johansson doesn’t think Trump can hold onto power beyond a first term

”I think he only intends to do the changes he has commited to, and that he won’t be interested to serve another four-year term”, he told VA.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Putin Is Keen On Meeting Trump — In Finland

Via Business Insider:

Russia's President Vladimir Putin says he would be keen to meet up with Trump in conjunction with a potential Arctic Council summit Finland, where the Nordics would participate together with fellow members U.S., Canada, and Russia.

"If it happens, I would be happy to participate", Putin said in a speech in Archangelsk, according to Interfax.

Finland is to take over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in May. It has been reported that Finland's President Sauli Niinistö is planning a summit in order to ease geopolitical tensions.

If the meeting were to happen, it would be the first time Putin would meet USA:s new President Donald Trump.

Putin said the two will otherwise be meeting when the G20 group of nations convene in Hamburg this summer.