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The Big corporates back crypto ‘plumbing’ despite currency caution

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Source Reuters

Major finance and tech firms are pouring money into startups building technology to develop the crypto market, even though they’re steering clear of the volatile currencies themselves.

Venture capital investments in crypto and blockchain startups that included funds from corporates have raced to $850 million so far this year, data compiled by PitchBook for Reuters shows. The 13 deals put the flows on track for a second straight annual record.

Such bets, by companies including London Stock Exchange Group and Microsoft Corp, spiked over five-fold to a record $2.4 billion over 117 investments in 2018. This suggests large companies see promise in the nascent technology, even as it struggles for acceptance.

They have mostly given digital coins, including bitcoin, a wide berth, avoiding direct investment because of worries over tightening regulation, frequent security lapses and high volatility.

The lack of mainstream embrace has sown serious doubts over the potential of cryptocurrencies to evolve from speculative tokens to means of payment capable of rivaling fiat money.

Bitcoin slumped by three-quarters last year after nearing a record of $20,000 in its frenzied 2017 bubble. It’s still prone to wild price moves, underscored by a recent 20 percent jump that caused puzzlement among traders and analysts.

And though blockchain has found some use in sectors such as trade finance, its application has been relatively narrow.

Firms are looking at how, and if, blockchain and related technologies can be used in ways that could spark deeper change, said Richard Hay, UK head of fintech at law firm Linklaters.

“There are two dynamics at play,” he said. “We can get something up and running and achieve cost savings, and also look longer term at ways of deploying the technology in more transformative ways.”

Recent examples include a $20 million investment involving the London Stock Exchange and Banco Santander in a London startup whose platform can be used to issue debt on blockchain, the technology that underpins most digital coins. Graphic: Corporate bets on crypto and blockchain soar.

“BASIC PLUMBING”

The investments span startups from makers of cryptocurrency mining gear and exchanges, the PitchBook data to April 8 shows.

One key driver is a growing expectation that the “tokenisation” of assets from stocks to oil – essentially digitizing them and allowing them to be traded on blockchain – will upend markets, lawyers and consultants working with fintech firms said.

“People are really enamored by tokenisation – the ability to produce coins or other forms of value – so that’s where we see all of the action at the moment,” said Anton Ruddenklau, global co-head of fintech at KPMG.

“They are investing as a technological hedge as much as anything.”

Bets involving corporate venture capital are usually small, the data shows. Deals this year had a median value of $6.5 million, a notch below the $8 million of last year.

Others are much bigger.

Bakkt, a cryptocurrency trading platform founded last year by New York Stock Exchange owner Intercontinental Exchange Inc, raised in December over $180 million from investors including M12, Microsoft’s venture capital arm.

The rush of corporate venture money comes as traditional venture capital (VC) investments also pour into the sector. Last year 617 deals totaled a record $5.6 billion worldwide, the data shows, as venture capitalists assess how the technologies will impact the online economy.

“There is a huge experimentation in effectively the basic plumbing for a native economic layer to the web,” said Jamie Burke, CEO of Outlier Ventures, a fund that has led investment in around eight blockchain-related projects.

But with that experimentation has come examples of failure.

In December, cryptocurrency project Basis said it would shut down and return funds to its backers including Google owner Alphabet’s venture arm GV and Bain Capital Ventures because of concerns over regulation.

Cryptocurrency miners and exchanges make up the four biggest VC-backed firms by valuation, according to the PitchBook data.

Some have struggled amid the slump in bitcoin prices. The $12 billion-valued Bitmain Technologies, for example, last month shelved a planned initial public offering in Hong Kong.

Others have fared better. San Francisco-based exchange Coinbase, valued at $8 billion, saw non-U.S. revenue grow 20 percent last year to 153 million euros ($173 million), a filing to Britain’s corporate registry last week showed.

The exchange’s UK arm, which books the firm’s non-U.S. revenue, accounts for almost a third of the firm’s overall revenue, said Coinbase UK chief executive Zeeshan Feroz.

That suggests, according to Reuters calculations, worldwide revenue of around $520 million last year – a rare glimpse into the financial health of a cryptocurrency exchange.

Coinbase declined to comment.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Got Pain? A Virtual Swim With Dolphins May Help Melt It Away

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Source: npr- Virtual reality is not new. But, as people search for alternative ways to manage pain — and reduce reliance on pills — VR is attracting renewed attention.

Imagine, for a moment you’ve been transported to a sunlit lagoon. And, suddenly, it’s as if you’re immersed in the warm water and swimming. That’s what Tom Norris experiences when he straps on his VR headset.

“It’s fantastic, I really feel like I’m there,” says Norris, who is 70 years old, retired from the military, and lives in Los Angeles with his wife. As dolphins frolic and swim by in the virtual scene, “I get a strong feeling of pleasure, relaxation and peace,” he says.

It doesn’t take long to produce that effect — about 10 minutes or so, via the headset.

Norris is no stranger to pain. He’s got chronic pain through his spine, back and hips, from injuries that go back years.

Ever since he was introduced to virtual reality, he’s been hooked. In addition to swimming with dolphins, he’s tried other VR experiences, such as wilderness walks.

Forest Bathing: A Retreat To Nature Can Boost Immunity And Mood

Forest Bathing: A Retreat To Nature Can Boost Immunity And Mood

“I relax. My attention is diverted and it makes the pain more manageable,” he says. Norris was on his deck when we spoke, drinking a morning cup of coffee and watching the hummingbirds. “Pain is part of my life,” he told me.

He uses lots of tools to help him cope, he says, including peer support groups, which he helps lead. But he says he finds VR particularly helpful. For him, the feeling of relaxation and ease that comes from a virtual swim with dolphins tends to linger for several days.

Can You Reshape Your Brain’s

Norris isn’t alone in his positive experience. A study published this month in the journal PLOS ONE is just the latest to document that an immersive, virtual reality experience can be an effective strategy for reducing pain.

VR “changes the way we perceive the pain,” explains study author Brennan Spiegel, a physician and the director of Cedars-Sinai Health Services Research in Los Angeles.

The research was done in a hospital where participants were undergoing treatment for various conditions; some were experiencing pain linked to cancer and others had orthopedic pain. “We divided the patients into two groups,” Spiegel explains.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has been testing the value of virtual reality devices in hospital settings for a number of years.

Courtesy of Cedars-Sinai

One group tried VR. They used Samsung Oculus headsets that were each fitted with a phone that had a VR app. Patients could select from a library of 21 VR experiences available on the app.

They were free to use the VR devices as much as they liked, but were advised to aim for three daily sessions, 10 minutes per session. The other group of patients got to watch a health and wellness channel on TV, as much as they wanted.

“We found that virtual reality reduced pain by about three times as much as watching TV did,” Spiegel says. Using a zero to 10 pain scale, the virtual reality experience led to a 2 point drop in pain, compared to a half-point drop for watching TV.

Spiegel’s study was partly funded by a grant from Applied VR, a company that sells VR software, but the company played no role in the conduct, data collection, data interpretation, or write-up of the study, he says.

It’s not exactly clear how VR works to help reduce pain perception, but pain specialists say there are likely multiple explanations. Distraction in just one element.

“When the mind is deeply engaged in an immersive experience, it becomes difficult to perceive stimuli outside of the field of attention,” Spiegel and his collaborators write in their journal paper. In other words, when something captures our attention and uses all our senses, we focus on it. It’s like a spotlight — and everything else falls into darkness — at last temporarily.

So, a virtual swim with the dolphins can overwhelm our visual, auditory and other senses. “VR is thought to create an immersive distraction that restricts the brain from processing pain,” the authors conclude.

The study adds to other evidence pointing toward potential benefits of VR to manage pain. Going back more than 15 years, studies have shown the technique to be useful in a range of settings — from helping people cope with anxiety to helping reduce acute pain during medical procedures, during physical therapy or during dental procedures. And, there’s some evidence VR can help with chronic pain, too.

Still, there are some unanswered questions, says Zachary Rosenthal, a clinical psychologist at Duke University who has been involved in research on VR’s effect on pain. “Distraction is helpful for pain,” he says. “That’s an understood phenomenon. … But why should VR be better than any other kind of distraction?” he wonders.

Spiegel’s research “starts to answer this question,” says Rosenthal. “I do think this study moves the needle forward.”

If you’re new to virtual reality, Spiegel has some advice: “It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor first, whenever self-treating symptoms. But in general, it is safe to use VR at home,” he says. About 5% to 10% of people who try it get cybersickness, which is basically a feeling of dizziness or vertigo, similar to motion sickness. So, it’s good to be aware of this risk.

“For people who own an Oculus Go or Oculus Quest [headset], I suggest Nature Trek, which is an outstanding set of content that is peaceful and meditative” for the treatment of pain, says Spiegel, who has no financial ties to the company. And there are other companies that make a variety of software specifically aimed at easing pain.

“For cheap and easy access to VR experiences, you can simply visit YouTube and search its massive library of free VR content,” Spiegel says. “If you want a virtual trip to the beach, type ‘VR beach’ into the YouTube search engine. Or ‘VR forest.’ It’s all there for the taking.”

VR is certainly not a panacea, but it can be another tool in the pain management toolkit. Spiegel and his collaborators say there’s still a lot to learn as to which types of VR may be most effective.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Nearly half of people don’t change their Underwear Daily- and some wear same for a week.

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Source: Mirrow- Recently we discovered that a worrying number of people aren’t washing their underwear correctly.

And now to make matters worse, we’ve just found out that there are plenty of people out there who don’t put on a clean pair of underwear everyday.

Yes, really.

According to new research by underwear maker Tommy John, around half of people in the US (45 percent) don’t change their underwear daily – and a disturbing 13 percent of those they spoke to even confessed to wearing the same pair of knickers or pants for an entire week.

Ew!

Men are 2.5 times more likely to wear the same pair of pants for seven or more days (stock photo)

It’s probably time to throw out your old undergarments and buy some new ones (stock photo) (Image: iStockphoto)

Men were found to be the worst for doing this, with the survey of 1,000 Americans showing that males are two-and-a-half times more likely than women to wear the same pants for seven days or longer.

The research also revealed that people felt a strong sense of loyalty for their underwear, with 46 percent of participants admitting that they had owned the same underwear for a year or more.

Around 38 percent also said they’d had their favourite underwear for so long, they couldn’t remember when they bought it.

But this behaviour goes against the company’s recommendations, as they advise their customers to throw out their old underwear and buy new pants every six months to a year.

This is because underwear collects bacteria that can lead to nasty infections in the long run.

And as for bras, Marks and Spencer’s bra fit expert and technical manager Julia Mercer recently spoke to MirrorOnline about when you need to get a new one.

She said: “In my opinion, a bra is at its best in its first year of being worn”.

So there you have it folks, if you’re wearing underwear you’ve had at home for more than a year, it’s probably time to nip to the shops and treat yourself to some fresh new ones.

@ Anttention Fresh,                
We work hard to ensure that any news brought to you is legitimate and valuable so we leave out the noise. This material, and other digital content on this website, may be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part BUT give us credit as your source. 

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