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New York sticks with Crypto, opening blockchain center

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Ethereum. Photo: Pixabay

INTERNATIONAL – New York isn’t giving up on the digital-ledger technology that makes Bitcoin and other tokens work even after last year’s collapse of the cryptocurrency market.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation said its Blockchain Center in Manhattan will open Thursday a part of a partnership with affiliates of venture-capital fund FuturePerfect Ventures and the Global Blockchain Business Council, a trade organization. The city may also start testing the use of blockchain technology in the fall.

The centre is opening at a difficult time for the industry. After digital coin prices tumbled last year by as much 90 percent, many startups working on the technology have been forced to lay off staff or even shut down as funding dried up.

Some companies have also stalled trials and deployment of the technology, which makes it easier for multiple parties to share data in a trusted way. The technology is already in use at companies such as Walmart.

“We are playing the long game,” Ana Arino, chief strategy officer at the EDC, said in a phone interview. “It’s a nascent technology, so there’s bound to be uncertainty around this evolution from year to year. While we don’t know what the future holds, we want to make sure we have a seat at the table shaping it.”

The 4,000-square-foot centre, located at 54 W. 21st St. in the Flatiron District in the centre of the city’s Silicon Alley, will offer everything from coding classes to lunch lectures for software developers to the general public. 

Tenants of the 12-story building include data aggregator Quovo Inc., startup investor Palm Drive Capital LLC and beauty services outfit Glamsquad.

While the city is providing the one-time initial investment of $100,000, the operators will seek to raise money through membership dues and through corporate partners, which already include Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines, according to Jalak Jobanputra, a managing partner at FuturePerfect Ventures.

“This is a neutral spot, there’s no one platform or company that has undue influence over programming,” Jobanputra said in a phone interview. “What we want entrepreneurs to have is a choice.” Plans to establish the centre were announced in May.

Last year, New York’s blockchain startups received more than $500 million in venture capital funding, up 500 percent from 2017, according to the EDC. Several of the largest blockchain employers in the world – including IBM, R3 and Coinbase– are rapidly growing in the city.

 Last year, New Yorkers had seen more than 2,200 blockchain-related job postings, up 80 percent from the year earlier, the agency said.

The centre is not the first blockchain-related community space in the city. Bitcoin Center NYC, which is self-funded, has been around since 2013, is open every day and hosts events monthly, according to founder Nick Spanos.

Bloomberg

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Government should not manage railways, says review

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Crowd of commuters at Waterloo Station in LondonImage copyright
PA

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Commuters delayed at Waterloo station

The man tasked with working out how to improve UK railways says a “fat controller” type figure, independent from government, should be in charge of day-to-day operations.

The former boss of British Airways, Keith Williams, said government involvement should be limited to overall policy and budget decisions.

But he said the Department for Transport should not manage the system.

His review of the rail system will be published this autumn.

The Fat Controller is a fictional character who manages the railways in Thomas the Tank Engine, the children’s television series based on the The Railway Series books.

Mr Williams said he also believed that, in the future, rail franchises should be underpinned by punctuality and other performance-related targets.

The government launched the review after passengers in northern and southern England experienced chaos over several weeks last summer following the introduction of a new timetable.

By December, punctuality across the country had dropped to a 13-year low.

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Getty Images

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Southern Trains has faced numerous strikes in recent years

In a BBC interview Mr Williams insisted the interests of passengers would shape every aspect of his work and that the creation of an individual or organisation with oversight of the entire rail system would be “key for regaining public trust.”

“Someone needs to be accountable to the public,” he said.

He is still to decide on what relationship the individual or organisation would have with government but he said Network Rail, the public company managing rail infrastructure, should not take on an overall managerial role.

The idea has echoes of the Strategic Rail Authority, a body which, from 2001 to 2006, provided “strategic direction” for the industry.

Mr Williams had already said that the current rail franchising model was finished, but he has now indicated that a franchise should last longer than the current average of seven to eight years.

Performance targets

He argues that if train companies were in charge of networks for more time they would have more incentive to invest.

As things stand, under a franchise agreement, a train company will make a series of commitments to the government which have to be delivered.

According to Mr Williams, a franchise should no longer be about “how many ticketing offices there are in a station”.

His team is looking into how franchises could focus instead on performance targets such as punctuality and whether or not services have the correct number of carriages – something which continues to be a problem for passengers in the north of England.

The rail review also looks set to recommend an overhaul of the complicated rail ticketing system, which has not been reformed since the mid-90s.

“Pay-as-you-go across regions and cities has been difficult to implement because of the fares system that exists today,” said Mr Williams.

He said a national system should be created to allow more third-party companies like thetrainline.com to improve the way people buy tickets.

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Amazon Warehouse Workers Around the World Are Striking For Prime Day

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Amazon workers around the world are going on strike today to bring attention to the working conditions they endure. “Some are arguing that buying from Amazon during Prime Day is akin to crossing a picket line,” reports Quartz. From the report: As the two-day bacchanal of discounted Amazon offerings begins, workers at its fulfillment centers around the U.S. continue to complain of extremely odious quotas, limited bathroom breaks, mandatory holiday shifts, and the need for pain medication just to get through their 10-hour work days.

The U.S.: Workers at a Shakopee, Minnesota fulfillment center will be walking out during a six-hour period that overlaps with the end of the facility’s morning shift and the start of its evening shift. There are about 1,500 full-time employees at the facility, according to the Daily Beast.

Germany: Hundreds of employees at seven facilities will be striking today and tomorrow, over longstanding issues with employee pay. âoeWhile Amazon holds a giant Prime-Day bargain hunt, employees are deprived of a living wage,â Orhan Akman, a representative from the German labor union Ver.di, said in a statement shared with Quartz.

The UK: The GMB trade union will be staging protests at Amazon facilities across the country. Some of the most shocking accounts issues of issues faced by Amazon warehouse workers have come out of the UK. One undercover writer said they witnessed co-workers urinating in bottles to avoid missing quotas by taking bathroom breaks.

Elsewhere in Europe: Workers in Spain and Poland will also be organizing demonstrations at Amazon facilities across their countries throughout the week. Here’s what Amazon had to say about the demonstrations and walkouts: “Events like Prime Day have become an opportunity for our critics, including unions, to raise awareness for their cause, in this case, increased membership dues. These groups are conjuring misinformation to work in their favor, when in fact we already offer the things they purport to be their cause — industry leading pay (full-time employees at our Shakopee facility make $16.25 – $20.80), benefits, and a safe workplace for our employees. We can only conclude that the people who plan to attend the event on Monday are simply not informed. If these groups — unions and the politicians they rally to their cause — really want to help the American worker, we encourage them to focus their energy on passing legislation for an increase in the federal minimum wage, because $7.25 is too low.”

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Ramaphosa files urgent court application against Public Protector – report

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President Cyril Ramaphosa has reportedly filed an urgent court application against the Public Protector.

He wants the court to declare that he had complied with remedial actions set out by Busisiwe Mkhwebane as she had directed in her recently released report into the pension payout of Ivan Pillay, the Mail&Gaurdian reports.

Mkhwebane, in her report, found that an early pension payment made to Pillay, when Pravin Gordhan was finance minister, was irregular.

Mail&Guardian reported that in his affidavit, Ramaphosa claims he had complied with Mkhwebanes’s orders.

The publication adds that the president says since the nature and timing of the disciplinary action was left to his discretion, the appropriate course was to await the outcome of the court case brought by Gordhan against Mkhwebane.

Last Wednesday Gordhan filed court papers in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria in an urgent bid to interdict Mkhwebane’s remedial actions surrounding the so-called “rogue unit”.

Pillay followed suit and filed an affidavit stating that he intends to pursue a review of findings against him in a Public Protector’s report he says detrimentally affects him.

The publication further reported that Ramaphosa said in the papers that he had informed Mkhwebane of an implementation plan as she had directed him to provide to her.

“I accept the binding nature of the Public Protector’s reports and remedial actions. I accept that the Report is under review but that this does not stay the implementation of the remedial action, in the absence of a court order,” the publication quoted Ramaphosa.

The presidency could not be reached for comment by News24 at time of publication.

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