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

Via Disclose.tv:

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.

UNTIL NOW...

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.