Bitcoin, Nationless Currency, Still Feels Government’s Pinch


Bitcoin Art (Photo credit: btckeychain)

If Bitcoin is a bubble, as its critics contend, it is showing signs of deflating.

A rapid succession of moves by governments around the world has cast doubts on the legitimacy of the virtual currency, and its price fell about 60 percent at one point on Wednesday morning from its high earlier this month. It recovered some as the day went on.

The price volatility is underscoring Bitcoin’s sensitivity to decisions by government officials despite its promised status as the first global currency free of government intervention and oversight. Money, it turns out, is still a government prerogative.

“This tight regulation is really counter to what a lot of folks thought was going to happen,” said Mark T. Williams, a finance professor at Boston University who has been tracking Bitcoin. “Regulation is the future of e-currency, not decentralization as many had hoped.”

The most damaging news for the digital currency has come out of China, where the largest Bitcoin exchange, BTC China, said on Wednesday that it would no longer accept deposits in renminbi, the Chinese currency.

“For reasons we all know, BTC China has had to cease renminbi-account charging functions,” the exchange said in a message on its verified account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like messaging service. It said that it would continue operating and that existing deposits and renminbi withdrawals would not be affected.

By Wednesday evening, the Shanghai-based BTC was quoting Bitcoins at about 3,200 renminbi, or $530, each. That was a drop of nearly 40 percent from the price on Tuesday and less than half of the peak price of 7,395 renminbi on Dec. 1.

The development comes less than two weeks after the Chinese authorities barred mainstream financial institutions from dealing in the virtual currency and a series of moves that followed elsewhere.

China had been the fastest-growing part of the Bitcoin world, but it is not the only place where government officials have started to address virtual currency. Over the last week, the European Banking Authority and the authorities in Denmark, Norway, Australia and New Zealand have all raised an alarm about the speculative nature of the new online currencies.

The Danish Financial Supervisory Authority issued a warning on Tuesday that gave a long list of dangers, including that the “value of your virtual currencies can change very quickly and can in principle fall to zero.”

The warnings have led to a sharp reversal for Bitcoin after the price of a single coin rose nearly 500 percent in November, fueled by hopes that the currency could serve as a cheaper global payment system.

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World E-Waste Map Reveals National Volumes, International Flows


Duma (Photo credit: celesteh)

By 2017, all of that year’s end-of-life refrigerators, televisions, mobile phones, computers, and other electrical and electronic products could fill a line of 40-ton trucks around three quarters of the equator. This represents a global jump of 33% in just 5 years.

The startling forecast is based on data compiled in the new online E-Waste World Map, produced by the Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative. This unique interactive map presents annual data from 184 countries, showing the estimated amount of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market and how much resulting e-waste is generated.

The initiative will help governments and companies plan e-waste management. Reflecting on the launch of the map, Prof. Kazuhiko Takeuchi (Director, UNU-ISP) said that “E-waste is a pressing global problem and UNU is committed through its research, and also through coordinating the StEP Initiative, to provide science-based but applied recommendations to policymakers in governments and industry. And knowing and understanding the magnitude of the issue is key.

The map shows, for example, that almost 48.9 million metric tons of used electrical and electronic products was produced last year—an average of 7 kg for each of the world’s 7 billion people. And the flood of e-waste is growing. Based on current trends, StEP experts predict that by 2017 the total annual volume will have risen by a third, to 65.4 million tons—a weight equivalent to almost 200 Empire State Buildings or 11 Great Pyramids of Giza.

“The lack of comprehensive data has made it hard to grasp the full magnitude of the problem,” said Dr. Ruediger Kuehr of UNU-ISP’s Operating Unit in Germany,SCYCLE, which leads the StEP Initiative. “This constantly updated, map-linked database showing e-waste volume by country together with legal texts will help lead to better awareness and policymaking at the public and private levels.”

The StEP E-Waste World Map database shows that in 2012, China and the United States topped the world’s totals in market volume of EEE and e-waste. China put the highest volume of EEE on the market in 2012 – 11.1 million tons, followed by the US at 10 million tons. However, the world’s two biggest economies were far apart in terms of annual e-waste per person, with each American responsible for an average 29.8 kg of hi-tech trash—almost six times higher than China’s per capita figure of 5.4 kg. For Japan the figure was 21.5 kg.

The map also provides information on e-waste rules, regulations, policies and guidance, obtained, highlighting the huge variety of requirements and lack of consistency in tackling the e-waste issue throughout the world.

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China Moon Rover Landing Marks a Space Program on the Rise


China’s first moon rover rolls out from its stationary lander after touching down on the moon December 14, 2013. Credit: Xinhua/Li Xin

China cemented its reputation as the fastest rising star on the space scene this weekend by landing a rover on the moon—a challenging feat pulled off by only two nations before: the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

“This is a very big deal indeed,” says lunar scientist Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. “Landing on the moon is not something easily attained—it requires precision maneuvering, tracking, computation and engineering. It is a delicate task and the Chinese success reflects a mature, evolving and capable program.”

The Chang’e 3 mission touched down on the moon Saturday (December 14) after launching December 1 on a Chinese rocket. The lander included a four-legged stationary probe and a six-wheeled robotic rover that, with mast deployed, stands about 1.5 meters tall. The spacecraft is the first man-made object to land on the moon in 37 years, and coincidentally touched down exactly 41 years after the last humans departed the lunar surface. Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt launched off the moon to begin their return trip on December 14, 1972, space history expert Robert Pearlman points out at

The Chang’e 3 landing is “no small achievement,” says Roger Launius, associate director for Collections and Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. “There is a measure of pride at home and prestige abroad that accrues to the Chinese space program.” At the same time, he adds, China is replicating an achievement the U.S. and the Soviet Union mastered decades ago, and one that private teams, some of which are made up of undergraduate and graduate students, are aiming to match in the near future for the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition. “Some people who might be concerned that the Chinese are demonstrating these capabilities, and who are running around with their hair on fire—I’m not sure that’s appropriate.”

Those in a tizzy about China’s growing space prowess might include the members of Congress, led by Congressman Frank Wolf (R–Va.), who passed a law in 2011 that explicitly forbids NASA from cooperating with China on any space activities.

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Chinese scientists upbeat on development of invisibility cloak


via South China Morning Post

One team has already made a cat ‘disappear’ with a device that has huge military potential

Mainland scientists are increasingly confident of developing the world’s first invisibility cloak, using technology to hide objects from view and make them “disappear”.

The central government has funded at least 40 research teams over the past three years to develop the idea, which until now has largely been the stuff of science fiction and fantasy novels like the Harry Potter series.

The technology would have obvious military uses such as developing stealth aircraft, but Beijing believes the research could lead to wider technological breakthroughs with broader uses, scientists involved in the research said. The teams involved include researchers at Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The main approaches are developing materials that guide light away from an object, creating electromagnetic fields to bend light away from what one is trying to hide and copying nature to make hi-tech camouflage materials.

A team led by Professor Chen Hongsheng at Zhejiang University released a video last month demonstrating a device that made fish invisible. The same technology also apparently made a cat “disappear”. The device was made of a hexagonal array of glass-like panels, which obscure the object from view by bending light around it.

Other mainland teams have made similar breakthroughs.

Many other top universities and research institutes are also involved in invisibility studies in China. They include Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing Institute of Technology, Xian Jiaotong University, Harbin Institute of Technology, Tsinghua University and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China.

Some researchers declined SCMP’s request for an interview due to the military sensitivity of their research.

A team at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, for instance, was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China to develop “full invisibility” technology and material for hypersonic jets similar to NASA’s X-43A scramjet.

The hypersonic vehicle could be used to delivered nuclear warheads around the globe with speed at least five times faster than sound.

“We are invisible people studying invisible technology,” said a researcher involved in the project.

Professor Ma Yungui, an optical engineering specialist at Zhejiang University, said his team would soon announce their latest finding: a device that stops objects being detected by heat sensors or metal detectors.

Ma’s device is as large as a matchbox, but it could be increased in size to allow weapons to pass through security checkpoints. Another potential application is to stop agents or troops moving at night being caught by infrared cameras.

“Many people have asked me if the technology can be applied on fighter jets so they can get heat-seeking missiles off their tail. Well, we may work on that,” he said.

Ma said a useable and practical invisibility cloak might still be decades away as it needed super-materials that could not be produced with current technology, but the central government was still pouring funds into research because the theoretical knowledge gained could produce many potential spin-offs.

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Power boosting self-cleaning solar panels


English: Image (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

High-power, self-cleaning solar panels might be coming soon to a roof near you.

There are two obvious problems with photovoltaic cells, solar panels. First, they are very shiny and so a lot of the incident sunlight is simply reflected back into the sky rather than being converted into electricity. Secondly, they get dirty with dust and debris caught on the wind and residues left behind by rain and birds. Now, research published in the International Journal of Nanomanufacturing suggests that it might be possible to add a nanoscopic relief pattern to the surface of solar cells that makes them non-reflective significantly boosting efficiency and at the same time making them highly non-stick and self-cleaning.

Zuobin Wang of Changchun University of Science and Technology (China), Jin Zhang of Xi’an Technological University (China) and colleagues at Cardiff University (UK), who are partners of the EU FP7 LaserNaMi project, have devised an approach to lithography, the process used to “print” microelectronic circuits, that allows them to add a pattern to the surface of a solar cell. The features of the pattern are so small that individual parts are shorter than the wavelength of light. This means that incident sunlight becomes trapped rather than reflected passing on more of its energy to electricity-generation process that takes place within the panel.

The same pattern also makes the surface of the solar cell behave like the surface of a lotus leaf, a natural material that is known to be very water repellant, or hydrophobic, so that particles and liquids that land on it do not become stuck as there is no surface to which the droplets can grip. When it rains any deposits are sloughed away and the rainwater runs off efficiently leaving the panel clean and dry after the downpour.

The team’s work indicates that a patterned layer on top of the active part of the panel can avoid the energy losses due to reflection from the surface. It directly boosts absorption of sunlight in the visible spectrum and into the near-infrared part of the spectrum, all of which contributes to a boost to the overall electrical efficiency of the panel. The team suggests that printing the surface of the photovoltaic cell so that it is covered with nanoscopic cones would provide the optimal combination of making the panel non-reflective and hydrophobic and so self-cleaning.

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